October 7, 2014

What Fishing Taught Me about Media Relations

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“The early bird catches the worm.” It’s a phrase I’ve heard many times, but hearing it from my father at 4:30 AM was the early morning motivation I needed to hop out of bed. After all, nothing is more thrilling than the possibility of catching a fish larger than yourself, right? And there are health benefits! According to science, fishing makes you a better person.

I received my first fishing reel and pole shortly after I learned to walk. Growing up along the southwest coast of Florida, I spent many weekends launching the boat – right before sunrise – in the backwater of the Everglades, searching for my next big catch. It was rare not to be covered in fish scales, salt, and remnants of sunscreen at the end of the day, which usually meant we had great catches and plenty of tales to share.

Every year from the time I was eight to 18, my father entered my brother, sister and myself into the Gene Doyle Backcounty Release Fishing Tournament. The first year we were entered, I won Grand Champion of the Youth Open Division. My father prepared me for that win after years of learning the techniques of fishing, but what he and I didn’t realize was I would later apply those same skills to my career as a media relations coordinator at TechnologyAdvice. Recently, I realized the strategies of fishing are very similar to the strategies used when pitching content to reporters.

Search for the Right Spot

To catch the particular type of fish I was looking for, I didn’t drop my line and lure in just any spot. Each fish species is different, and the ocean has vast amounts of unique, underwater habitats. For example, to catch trout, I would visit shallow, seaweed patches. For snook, I would throw my line out to the edge of the mangroves. Understanding the differences in each habitat is important, and having a plan before heading out on the water makes all the difference. Study maps, the flow of the tide, and even talk to the “old salts” to find out the best strategy for catching the kind of fish you want.

This technique is similar to the beginning stages of pitching a press release, white paper, or similar content. It’s not wise to pitch content to just any reporter or media outlet – you need to have a specific type of media outlet and beat in mind, depending on the type of information that will be pitched. Take the time to research media outlets that might be interested in your content, and dig deeper within those outlets to find the reporter who covers that beat. By doing your research and crafting a media list that fits your content, you can help ensure that your story aligns with the interests of your targeted reporters. Eventually one of them will bite!

Start Small, Then Go for the Big Ones

For first time anglers, it’s a great idea to start fishing for smaller species, such as trout. Once the art of landing a fish, reeling it in, and getting it inside the boat is mastered, it’s time to tackle bigger, stronger fish such as snook, tarpon, and marlin. Starting with small fish and moving to larger species allows you to learn from your mistakes, so when you finally land the type of fish you really want, you know how to get it in the boat swiftly and smoothly.

For pitching strategies, especially if your company is a start-up, begin by reaching out to local media reporters to build contacts and credibility within the surrounding community. This allows you to learn what kind of materials and content local reporters are interested in featuring. Once you have a few local stories under your belt, start pitching content to national, mid-range, and top-tier media. Reporters at high level media outlets are more likely to use content and information from a company when it appears legitimate, and starting small can help establish credibility. Like fishing, if it were easy to catch a marlin on your first try, everyone would be doing it. Like fishing, if it were easy to catch a marlin on your first try, everyone would be doing it.

Pitch and Wait

Once a spot is chosen, the time comes to cast the fishing line, bait, and to wait. Fishing isn’t for people who lack patience. You can sit for hours sometimes before a single fish is caught. But, this is the exciting part, as I can only dream of what could possibly bite the line. I don’t know how big of a fish I will reel in, and it’s the anticipation that excites me.

Pitching and waiting is also important in media relations. There are numerous groups of reporters I am constantly pitching content to, and it is up to the reporters if they want to use it or not. Reporters receive hundreds, if not thousands, of pitches every week, so the amount of time it takes for them to get back to you – if they get back to you – about your content can vary from a day to several weeks. Like fishing, you generally don’t have an idea of which reporter or media outlet is going to “bite.” It could be anyone from a local reporter to a national editor – the key here is that patience truly is a virtue, and if you’re targeting the right individuals, eventually your wait will pay off.

Catch and Release

I have one rule when fishing – once I catch a fish, I release it back in the water. Some might say I have a soft heart, but the real reason is that I hope to catch that fish again one day or let someone else have the same exhilarating experience that I had.

When reporters include your content in an article from a pitch you made, thank them for including your content, share their articles on your company’s various social media platforms, such as Twitter or Facebook, then let the reporters go about their business. This doesn’t have to be the end of your relationship with them though. If they liked your information the first time, they’ll likely be interested in more of your content in the future. Continue to interact with these reporters in subtle ways, such as commenting on their articles. Cultivating relationships will increase your chances of “catching” reporters again. Cultivating these relationships will increase the chances of you “catching” the same reporters again.

Whether it’s fishing or pitching to reporters, landing the “one” is all about strategy. Doing your research beforehand will help you find the right spot to pitch. If it’s your first time, remember to start small and then go for the big ones, while keeping in mind that patience is key. And once you’ve hooked them, release them in hopes of catching them again!

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If fishing isn’t your cup of tea, you’ve probably participated in a sport or activity that has similar techniques and strategies to the job responsibilities you currently have. We want to hear them! Share your experiences in the comments below.