Use the News

American Building Today

Here’s how to gain traction with your media outreach, as published in American Building Today on August 2, 2012. The publication has closed, so here’s the story.       

By Joanne Cleaver

Scroll through local news websites and watch local news reports: the real estate economy is constantly being covered. How often, though, do you catch yourself talking back to the screen with comments of your own?

It’s frustrating when you realize, too late, that your own experience, knowledge and observations would have been a perfect fit for a news story — if only you had known that it was underway. Serving as an expert source for news stories builds your reputation and that of your company. And, being included in a story drives long-term traffic to your website, because such links are highly valued by search engine formulas.

But to reap those benefits, you have to get in on stories while they are in development. Here’s how.

Understand ‘paid’ media vs. ‘earned’ media. You are already familiar with ‘paid’ media: it’s called advertising. You pay for the space and control the message in it. You dictate when it is published and where.

But the rules are different for public relations outreach, which includes being interviewed for stories. You can’t pay for such exposure. But it’s not free. You earn it by winning the trust of the gatekeepers for stories, features, blogs, social media channels and other outlets. The effort is significant. You must be equipped with compelling facts, case studies, and insightful, concise comments about industry trends, consumer preferences and technical issues. You must be available to comment on their timetable, not yours. And, you do not have control over the finished article or content: the gatekeeper, not you, will decide who is quoted, the tone, length and prominence of the piece, and when it is published. When the piece comes out, it is up to you to capitalize on your moment of fame by promoting it across the channels you do control and influence: your company website, marketing and social media channels, and possibly those of trade and professional groups to which you belong.

It’s essential to follow the ‘rules of the road’ for earned media. If you try to control the content of a story underway by the reporter for your local newspaper, you will quickly find yourself cut from the process — and, worse, labeled as ‘uncooperative,’ undermining future opportunities. Earned media is a long-term game that pivots on developing relationships with reporters, editors and influencers (such as well known bloggers). When they know they can count on you for thoughtful, factually correct comments, you will be at the top of their lists.

Give them what they need. When journalists are researching stories, they are developing a specific angle. You will have a good chance of being included in the story if you serve up what they need. The most common types of information include:

  • Commentary on emerging trends. If home sales are picking up, what does that mean for the building industry in your area? You are in the industry, so you most likely have an informed opinion, based on what you see happening right now. That opinion is insightful to readers.
  • Insight into consumer trends, and access to consumers. What do customers want, and why? Many stories, even those for business sections and trade publications, also address what the end customer is buying now. If you can introduce the journalist to a homeowner or customer who is willing to be interviewed on the record, you will win that journalist’s neverending loyalty.
  • Technical expertise. How do current zoning regulations affect economic development in your area? What are the best products for winterizing an old house? What three questions should a homeowner always ask when interviewing contractors? Concrete information that readers can use to solve problems not only positions you as an expert, but is the most likely to be shared via social media channels.

Serve the readers, not yourself. It’s tempting to provide a partial answer and then to say, ‘Call us for more.” But that’s a sales pitch, not a useable quote for a story. The journalist won’t use that, especially when other sources offer useful information that stands on its own.

Get found. By the time a story comes out, it’s too late. Here are three sure-fire ways to ‘get found’ by journalists.

  • Monitor HelpAReporterOut ( Three times a day, you’ll receive an email of dozens of inquiries from reporters seeking qualified sources for stories in the works. Quickly filer them and decide what you can offer (use the three categories in “Give them what they need,” above, to match appealing opportunities with what you can add).
  • Be involved in associations and organizations. Board members and committee chairs for local organizations are assumed to have their fingers on the pulse of their industries because they are listening to members. Make sure that your name and contact information is included in associations’ leadership listings.
  • Master Twitter. Journalists and influencers love Twitter because it’s a constant stream of quick comments. By following the news organizations, specific journalists and influencers, you will get a sense for what they are working on, and can contact them directly.

You’ll have plenty of chances to exercise these tactics. Real estate is an essential component of the American economy, framing the wellbeing of families, businesses and communities. That means that reporters, editors and influencers are continually searching for fresh angles and fresh voices. With persistence, you’ll soon be talking with them — not just talking back to the screen.

Joanne Cleaver was real estate editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for four years. Her stories about the real estate market have been published in Inc., the Chicago Tribune, and Crain’s Chicago Business. She leads strategic communication firm Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., which offers media readiness coaching and training for organizations and experts; Wilson-Taylor also designs and manages content, editorial and research projects in all media. Contact her at