Best practices for story development, communication and building relationships
One of the most effective ways to draw attention to your credit union is to actively engage with the media in order to generate positive news stories. Most people quoted in news articles are either the most prominent sources the reporter could find or they have reached out to reporters directly through a public relations process called pitching. Quality pitching, when done correctly, can increase awareness among local media and help position the credit union’s spokesperson as a reliable news source.
Creating a Story
Pitching is most effective when you have a good story that will be of interest to the media outlet’s own target audience. The story should be timely and provide perspective a consumer would want but could not have gotten elsewhere. Potential topics that would be of interest to the community could include tips for dealing with such timely financial issues as how to get a mortgage in the spring during the home-buying season or how to secure a line of credit when disaster strikes after a storm.
A great place to start when developing a pitch is to look at existing articles already being published by the media. You cannot re-pitch a story that’s already been published, but these articles help illustrate what resonates with the reporters you’re pitching to. Another source of information might be an editorial calendar, which some media outlets provide on their websites to list future story topics for potential advertisers. In addition, when you have an existing relationship with a reporter, you can simply ask what topics their media outlet plans on covering.
The media justifiably complains about irrelevant story ideas being pitched, and over time this builds up resistance to pitched articles among many reporters. Your pitch will stand out if you take the extra time to develop a great story that excites the media.
The most common pitching tools are either email or a quick phone call. Pitching is more effective if you can find out which communication method an individual reporter prefers. A credit union’s public relations practitioner should be equally comfortable with either.
- Email: The best pitches sent by email can be summarized effectively in the subject line. The reporter will only open an email if they are grabbed by the subject line, so make sure it is direct and attention-grabbing. A written pitch should only be a paragraph or two, offer a credit union spokesperson and include contact information for the credit union’s staffer who is responsible for arranging a potential interview.
- Phone: Pitching by phone can be challenging, because many reporters screen their calls. Be prepared to leave a powerful voicemail that would include what the story is, why the media outlet’s target audience would be interested and your contact information—all in less than 15 seconds. Reporters’ voicemail systems are so jammed full of bad pitches that you run the risk of having your message deleted before it’s heard if it isn’t as short and direct as an emailed pitch.
You should describe some kind of visual element in your pitch when reaching out to television stations. An example of such an element could be a ribbon cutting at a new credit union branch office, which is creating jobs in the community.
If a reporter follows up with you regarding a pitch, make sure you respond quickly, because they may be on deadline and a slow response can signal to a reporter that you are not a serious news source. Sometimes a reporter may prefer to do a story only loosely based on your pitch but still want to include your spokesperson in the story. Make sure your spokesperson is comfortable with an alternate topic before booking the interview.
Treating Media As Members
Pitching efforts are successful when credit unions treat the media as if they were members. Credit unions generate goodwill by providing the types of story ideas to reporters that generate extra attention and enhance their credibility as a news source. If a credit union builds up its media reputation, reporters may proactively reach out to the credit union for future stories.
Chuck Meyers is a vice president at William Mills Agency, the nation's largest independent public relations firm focusing exclusively on the financial services and technology industries. The agency can be followed on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or its blog.