Five tips for getting coverage from leading Tampa Bay business journalists

By Liz Taylor

When you get three leading Tampa Bay business journalists together to talk about today’s big stories and trends, you don’t expect the main topic to be food.

But when the trendy grocery chain Sprouts opened a store in Clearwater last month, the news got more clicks than almost all other news headlines locally, the journalists said at PRSA Tampa Bay’s recent “Media Crystal Ball” program.

“The Sprouts story attracted the most interest in our readership. It was off the charts – not even close compared to other stories,” said Mark Gordon, managing editor of the Business Observer.

It was the same  at the Tampa Bay Times. “Yes, Sprouts is the No. 1 story” compared to all the other news stories of the day, said Times business writer Susan Taylor Martin.

“So it doesn’t matter what it is, just put Sprouts in the subject line,” quipped Alexis Muellner, editor-in-chief of the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

This isn’t exactly the kind of advice nearly 50 PR and communications professionals expected to hear.But the foodie talk drove home an important point about getting media attention today.

Even when publications have print editions – as all three of those represented do – their digital presence is what’s driving many media decisions when it comes to story coverage. For example, Martin described how a giant screen ranking headlines and their views is prominently displayed in the Times newsroom, and reporters all get a daily report telling them how their articles are playing based on the numbers.

While “being clicky” isn’t the only factor, stressed Gordon and his colleagues, the fact that media can instantly measure what’s attracting readers creates interesting opportunities for savvy PR pros and companies.

Here are five tips on getting coverage – some related directly to today’s digital reality and others based on solid journalistic and media relations principles:

  1. Get up early: With journalists looking to publish online much earlier in the day than the old afternoon print deadlines, early morning releases can capture their attention. “I get in at 7 and try to get stories up on the web by 10. We’re pushing all day to have fresh content,” said Martin. “If you have good stories, get them to us early.”
  2. Expand on published stories: With digital speed, you can get more mileage and keep stories alive by supplying updates in the hours and days following the first publish. Readers are especially hungry to know more about big stories like the recent announcement of a 50-story condominium and hotel development in St. Petersburg. You can also get ideas from reader comments on the story. If you can supply more images and key details, get them to the reporter.
  3. Get leaders to take a stand: Muellner said Tampa Bay Business Journal is looking for guest columns from leading executives, but they don’t get enough submissions. “We want business people to take a stand and be brave” on issues like education and transportation,” he said. Gordon added that The Business Observer also finds it challenging to get business leaders to speak out on issues.
  4. Be clear about what a company does: Martin said press releases often fail to explain what a company, product or service actually does in terms an average reader can understand. “This is particularly true in the technology field,” said Martin. “If we can’t figure it out, it’s not going to get covered.”
  5. Hook readers with brilliant stories: The internet and social media may have turned traditional media upside down, but the value of good storytelling is not changing. Look for ways to surprise and entertain readers. Even though a story is about development, it can still have a funky angle that will get a reporter’s attention, as well as their readers.   

“Remember, businesses don’t make business news, people do,” said Muellner.

And when all else fails, just mention the magic word: Sprouts.

Liz Taylor is a freelance content writer based in Tampa. She can be reached at LizWritesBiz.

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