How to Get a Reporter's Attention

Looking to get media coverage for your startup? The first step is to remember that the “media” is made up of real people whose job it is to tell interesting and important stories to their audience. If you want one of those people to tell your story, the first step is to get their attention.

So how can you get a reporter’s attention? These four strategies tend to work.

1.  Tell them something that’s the opposite of what they think to be true.

We’ve all seen the contrarian pieces in online media: “Going to College Is Bad for You” or “Mother Teresa Was Actually a Terrible Person.”

They’re irresistible to us as readers because they fly in the face of the accepted truths and norms we live with every day. They spark our curiosity and get us to click, read, share, and engage.

Offering a counterintuitive data point or information nugget to a reporter can be a great way to get their attention because it suggests that you have a story to tell that isn’t the same old narrative everyone else is publishing, which means they could get to tell that counter-intuitive story to their audience.

A few caveats here.

First, whatever you tell them has to be true. That should go without saying, but let me go a step further: it should be true and it shouldn’t be misleading. You don’t want to do the equivalent of citing a low price in big numbers and then writing “per month, plus shipping and handling” in fine print. That may get a reporter’s attention, but in the wrong way.

Second, you need to be able to support whatever you’re saying. That might look like proprietary data you can share or a personal narrative you’re willing to tell. It might be a video or a series of screenshots. Whatever it is, it has to offer reasonable evidence to back the claim you’re making. Otherwise, the reporter may be less likely to investigate.

So how can you find these insights?

  • Analyze your own data. When you notice something surprising, try to figure out why it happened. If you can, you might have a story.
  • Be an expert. In many industries, buzzwords dominate media coverage but miss some of the finer points of a story or trend. If you can clear up these misconceptions, you may have an in as a thought leader.
  • Offer up your quirks. This won’t always work, but if you’ve achieved something notable in a non-traditional way, a reporter may be interested in hearing your story.

Here’s an example of a story that uses a myth-busting hook: It Turns Out You May Have Been Saying “Reese’s” Wrong Your Entire Life. Sorry.

2.  Tell them something secret or new.

Launching a new product next month? Or maybe you’re compiling original data into a report? Find a top priority reporter and let them in on the secret – you may get yourself a story.

This is called giving a reporter an exclusive. It can work because you're offering the reporter information that nobody else has. You know, a scoop. It’s a competitive media environment out there, so if you can give a reporter an edge over their competition, you’re doing them a favor. And in return, you can expect more attention and a deeper, more meaningful dive into your story.

When a reporter gets the information first, their outlet will be the original source for the news or the data, which offers major credibility for their audience and can help improve traffic, clicks, and engagement – all of which can help ensure revenue in a difficult industry.

The classic example here is the exclusive, as in this piece: “Exclusive: A Pair of Uber Executives Are Leaving to Join Electric Scooter Startup Bird.”

3.  Tell them something surprising.

You negotiate with your employees to pay them more than they ask for?

You require your team to take lunch away from their desks?

You’ve decided to get back into faxing?

A reporter might want to hear about it. As with secrets and news, we’re all interested in hearing about people who are breaking the mold – especially if it’s leading them to success.

Most of us understand this idea implicitly: when we read a story or watch a movie, we don’t wonder, “Why are we seeing this family or this particular period of time?” When storytellers do their job well, we immediately understand why: because this family is different from all other families. This night is different from all other nights.

If your business does something that doesn’t follow the conventional wisdom about what ought to bring you success, consider letting a reporter know. They might be interested in surprising their readers by telling them your story.

Two great examples:

4.  Teach them something.

One of my favorite genre of online articles is the “55 most amazing life hacks ever” because I walk away feeling smarter. Use the dustpan to funnel water into the bucket when I mop? Hell yeah. See you later, wet sleeves.

When you teach a reporter something, you give them the chance to bring that feeling to their readers. The good news is that most business owners know a ton about their industry that the average person could learn from, so you probably have plenty to offer.

To see this tactic in action, check out this Inc. piece on how to hire top talent and this article from Entrepreneur on how to make your workplace more human.

To Get Media Attention for Your Startup, Do Your Homework

Even if you have a great hook for a reporter, keep in mind that you still need to target your message. If your business offers marketing SaaS, you won’t get coverage by pitching a sports writer or someone who covers retail. And if you’re trying to tell a story about your quirky-but-successful holiday marketing strategy in July, even the right reporter might not care.

For more insight into how to figure out which reporters’ attention you should focus on getting, take a look at our guide to DIY PR for startups.