While social media has allowed businesses and athletes to ‘cut the middleman’ and talk directly to an audience, there is still a lot of value in appearing in the press. Professional media outlets provide a stamp of credibility that you just can’t get on your own channels, which are clearly promotional. There’s also a relationship of trust with the audience. It’s not simply based on commerce, there is a ‘greater good’ purpose to inform and enlighten.
Our equestrian media business, which includes Heels Down Mag, the Heels Down Happy Hour podcast, and the Heels Down Brief daily newsletter, receives roughly 40-50 press releases daily and a handful of personalized pitches weekly. I would categorize them in three types:
The majority of press releases we receive come from horse show or governing bodies (US Equestrian, FEI), and contain competition results, “So and So Wins X Grand Prix”, or pre-event information, “The Stage Is Set for ABC Horse Show”. The bigger the event, the more press coverage it receives but events should. This is the bread and butter of our industry. Equestrian news outlets couldn’t possibly send journalists to cover every horse show, it would be too expensive, so they rely on those press releases to offer their readers complete coverage of the sport. So if you send a press release with horse show news, it’s almost guaranteed that a media outlet will reprint it. In our case, even though we don’t do straight competition coverage, we use them to find stories that we can pursue or extract an interesting quote for the newsletter.
Of course, the best way for an athlete to get free press coverage is to win big events and often but it’s not the only one. You can develop a media plan and pitch outlets. Rider pitches can come from a PR firm, the rider’s own press manager, or in a more informal way from the rider’s students or fans “You should do a story on So and So”. We do rider stories and interviews all the time in Heels Down Mag, so this is right in our wheelhouse. But here’s where a personalized pitch – from someone that understands what the specific media outlet is looking for – can make a huge difference. A press release stating “Rider X has sold Y horse” can be of interest to equestrian news outlets but it wouldn’t be published in Heels Down Mag, a lifestyle publication. We’re interested in personal stories, expert tips and opinions. It’s very easy to see from the website. So email a story idea that fits well with the rest of the content, and your chances of getting press just skyrocketed.
Another factor that affects press coverage is the rider’s personality. A fun guest has more chances of being invited back on the Happy Hour podcast. Someone who returns phone calls and gives good quotes in an interview increases the likelihood of being interviewed again.
Equestrian Business PR
The third type of press release aims to get coverage for a business. They are the least likely to get picked up by the media. Mainly because there is a section for commercial content in media, it’s called advertising and it’s not free. But there are exceptions, where what a company is doing is newsworthy. For example, ‘ABC Company Congratulates Sponsored Riders That Did Well at a Big Horse Show’ is not all that interesting from an editorial perspective. But an innovative product that shakes up the industry, like the air-vests when they first came out, would be. Or if Kaley Cuoco launched an equestrian fashion line, that would be newsworthy too because of the high profile of the person involved in the business.
As a business looking for free press, your only currency is being able to offer a story that helps the publication grow its audience. It has to be out of the ordinary and impactful. Or at the very least, captivating. Sadly, most businesses send bland press releases and then wonder why their strategy is not working. An infusion of creativity and bold thinking would do wonders.
Another way to get free press is to offer your services as an expert or a source. Many articles require an expert to weigh in on a particular subject. We use veterinary and equine science experts regularly but we’ve also talked to fashion designers, psychologists, equine insurance specialists, even sport agents for various stories. While the article is not written specifically about the business, the company gets exposure. You don’t have to do anything extraordinary here, you just have to be credible and be known as an expert in your field.
The bottom line is that there are many ways to get free press coverage, but you need to be strategic. You need to understand what is valuable to the media and give the press what they want. Think of serving their needs, instead of simply thinking about yours. It’s not rocket science, it’s the basis of good marketing.