Five Stages of Landing Your Brand in The Wall Street Journal
The crème de la crème of business journalism – The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Financial Times – is on most companies’ dream list of publications. It’s an honor to be quoted, featured, or even mentioned in these coveted outlets, but it’s also some of the toughest to break into. Hiring a PR agency with business media savvy and strong relationships is a start to securing top-tier placements in this “Grand Trifecta”, but the secret to landing these outlets takes more than that. It’s a combination of time, patience, compelling news and stories, and sometimes – a little luck. In fact, landing yourself in one of the Trifecta publications is a lot like finding the right romantic partner. There are stages of getting to know a reporter at one of these outlets, nurturing the relationship, and commitment necessary for a long-term company-reporter relationship to thrive.
Here are the five stages of wooing one of the big three – The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Financial Times – for the coverage of your dreams.
Stage One: Courting
Like romance, building a relationship with a top-tier journalist requires a period of courting, building a foundation, mutual trust, and nurturing. While PR agencies live and die by their relationships with media, it’s just as critical that your company spend time nurturing those relationships once an introduction is made.
Leave the chocolates and flowers at home. The courting stage with a journalist begins with the old-fashioned networking rule of service. Remember that journalists are people, too, and gravitate to sources who are helpful, thought-provoking, and collaborative. Cold pitching a top-tier journalist may work when there is a big piece of news but a fruitful, long-lasting partnership usually starts months or years before there that news even exists. As such, connect with the relevant journalist in your sector at conferences, social media, and show an interest in their stories.
Often, the best relationships between a company spokesperson and a journalist comes from unrelated opportunities – a chance meeting at a conference, connecting over coffee, chatting over Twitter, or sharing a mutual love for a sports team or restaurant. A top-level journalist is more likely to take your executive’s call or respond to a pitch if there’s a foundation already established.
Stage Two: Commitment
Eventually, the courting stage ends and it’s time for a more serious commitment. Top-tier reporters are worthy of your best news and exclusivity, so in the words of pop culture icon, Beyonce, “if you want it, then you better put a ring on it.”
This is the phase where a company really leans on their PR agency to determine if and when a piece of company news is substantial enough to pass along as an exclusive to a reporter. For example, a company acquired by a publicly traded company would be considered compelling enough to the right journalist. However, it’s entirely up to the reporter to decide whether or not to accept the exclusive and if there is enough information to work with for an interesting story.
Private companies often miss the mark on M&A announcements because they’re unwilling to disclose financials or don’t offer up enough advance notice for a reporter to gather the information. A top-tier journalist will dig into all the financials, seek out details and ask questions. If your company is unwilling to hand this over – the equivalent of sharing a key in most romantic relationships – then it’s unlikely the exclusive will be accepted or the news covered.
Stage three: Love & Marriage
At this stage, your company or executive is a regular resource for a few handfuls of top-tier journalists. That reporter may call directly for a story he or she is working on, or you may also feel comfortable calling to meet for coffee and speak generally about what is happening in the industry. This is a highly desirable phase to be in with any reporter because it signals a level of trust and mutual respect is established.
The love & marriage stage is ideally, a long-lasting one, and like real-life marriage, requires regular communication and friendship in order to thrive. It’s important at this stage to still be thinking about meeting the journalist’s needs. After all, relationships are a two-way street; you are a resource, and the reporter still has a job to do. Be considerate of their time and always, always meet the deadline. It can take years to build a strong relationship but only minutes to ruin it.
Stage four: Happily, ever after (most of the time)
A key to landing in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Financial Times is to ensure that your conversations or pitches are always relevant to the reporter. Top-tier journalists tend to cover breaking news and current events. Even if you have a good relationship with a journalist, it’s unwise to pitch them irrelevant story ideas or company news that are self-serving, self-promotional, and irrelevant to the trends happening in the industry.
Breaking news will often dictate news cycles and headlines, so if you have a big announcement that happens to land around the same time as a big national event, expect to drown in the noise. In early January many companies experienced this when an unexpected insurrection unfolded on TV and the world reacted to the shocking events. Here is where your PR agency can be your strongest line of defense – and offense. Look to their guidance on what to do next, how to pivot, and rework your approach. It’s unlikely that reporters will be paying attention to any unrelated pitches during a week like that – unless of course, your company can be a valuable resource for commentary or pitch an angle or perspective that ties into that news cycle. Times like these can be tricky to navigate and we caution companies to approach these situations with sensitivity. The key to keeping your happily ever after is not always a black and white strategy, so make sure you know what you’re pitching and be flexible on when.
Stage five: Raising children and furbabies
This final stage is where you and the reporter finally get to work together on a story and bring your baby, or in this case – the article – into the world. When the time comes to pitch in a company announcement or a unique industry perspective, there’s always a chance that it might not work with the story the reporter is writing, or it gets edited out from the final version. This is outside of anyone’s control. Yet, securing placement in one of these publications is an impressive accomplishment. The Wall Street Journal and the like don’t cover just anyone – they’re the best of the best in their field and it is a huge win to be included in an article.
Landing your brand in the most elite publications in the world is a great accomplishment and usually the result of many people’s efforts – PR professionals, spokespeople, a marketing team. It takes a village to make this possible, but it all starts with a little wooing and building a great relationship long before you need it.