Using the Media to Convey Your Unique Story
Community banks reflect the customers and communities they serve. When powerful messaging amplifies those efforts and communicates their role in the creating communities of prosperity our industry shines.
ICBA’s “Tell Your Story” toolkit was specifically designed for our members and includes customizable resources to help craft compelling narratives along with tips and best practices to help you get noticed and showcase your brand.
Use the following pointers as a frame of reference as you establish and build your reputation with the media to make the most of every opportunity to demonstrate the value of community banking and your role as a difference maker in the community.
Establishing Relationships with the Media
Outreach to reporters and other members of the news media is a proactive strategy that represents time well spent. Media coverage of your community bank’s efforts and products and services will educate customers and local consumers, promote
your bank, and position you as a responsible business leader within the community.
Here are 10 tips to help you engage and establish mutually beneficial relationships with the media.
- Identify the appropriate contact. Reporters are frequently assigned “beats” or areas of coverage. News distribution services provide searchable databases with reporter contact info, but you can also track these individuals
by subscribing to and following relevant media outlets and their staff (including on social media).
- Do your research. It all comes down to the reader finding value in what you have to offer. Reporters appreciate when you take the time to read their work and study the news outlet to understand how your story fits in with their
coverage and the news outlet’s broader narrative.
- Be a trend spotter. Set up alerts and use social monitoring tools to stay ahead of news, emerging trends, and the conversation around it to help develop timely narratives.
- Craft your pitch. Organize your thoughts to determine what you want to convey, what is unique about what you have to say, and how it is germane to their readers before sending your pitch.
- Respect their time. When you connect, introduce yourself and quickly explain the reason for your outreach. If the reporter is on deadline ask if there’s a more convenient time to reconnect.
- Be clear and stay on message. Talk plainly and provide specific examples and anecdotes, when possible. Stick to your key messages. If the reporter doesn’t ask questions that prompt your messages, volunteer them.
- Be a constant resource. Use your unique perspective to put the news in context. Be helpful and responsive and follow up with important developments, data, and customer stories. Also, recommend other noteworthy experts such as
staff members or customers when appropriate.
- Follow the news. You expect reporters to follow and know your business, and they expect you to do the same. This is particularly important before any outreach and helps identify any breaking news that may alter their schedule.
- Broaden your communications touch points. While email outreach is the primary contact method for most journalists, consider other channels (social networks, phone, networking events) and experiment with the content of your pitches,
which can also include remarks, original data, customer testimonials, and visuals.
- Seek out opportunities to connect in person. Telephone, email and even Zoom virtual coffees are great, but there's nothing like sitting across from a table with a reporter to learn more about them—their beats, their interests,
and the types of stories they want to tell.
This YouTube video offers additional tips from Alexander Levitt, a former Wall Street Journal columnist with tips for how to approach reporters.
The proliferation of media platforms and shifting beats and priorities following the pandemic, are just a few ways the news game has changed and by extension, how you interact with the media. Consider these additional tips from Prowly , a PR software solutions provider, on how to reconnect with reporters and build new relationships in the new media landscape.
Writing and Placing a News Release
There are many avenues to get media exposure, among them—the tried-and-true news release. Nearly half of journalists (47%) surveyed by Cision cover five or more beats and nearly as many file seven or more stories per week. Giving them information
up front including insightful data, relevant quotes, and accompanying images will go a long way to piquing reporters’ attention and avoiding the dreaded trash bin.
- Make it newsworthy. Ask yourself, “Does this story warrant a news release?” Here are a few noteworthy topics for consideration.
- Grab them with a compelling headline. More than 1 in 4 journalists receive over 100 pitches per week so the more you can do to capture their attention the better. Aim for 70 characters or less, because email applications and Google’s
search engine will cut off text over that amount.
- Get to the point but don’t forget the sizzle. Reporters are busy people so make the most of the first three lines and hit all the major points. Avoid industry jargon and use stats and punchy quotes and multimedia assets
to increase the likelihood of pickup.
- Proofread before hitting send. There is nothing more embarrassing than sending a news release with inaccurate information. Be on the lookout for these common oversights:
Provide contact information. A release should serve as an information gateway to your organization and spokespeople. Include relevant contact info and links and be ready to answer questions (or direct them to subject matter experts)
if reporters follow up.Time your release and avoid keyword stuffing. Fifty-two percent of copy is sent on the hour and half hour. Stand out with an off-time distribution like 8:03 a.m. and try to average one keyword per every 100 words. Send a follow-up message. Tie your pitch to something the reporter is interested in, has previously written about, or is currently working on. This is where doing your research pays off and can make a reporter’s life easier
by providing relevant and timely information. The optimal time for a follow-up pitch is between 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.Include multimedia elements. According to a Cision PR Newswire analysis, press releases with multiple images received six times the level of engagement than text-only releases.Offer customer perspectives for added interest. Don’t be afraid to be persistent and follow up, which can increase your odds of getting picked up and establishing an ongoing relationship with the reporter,
which ultimately benefits everyone.Get social. Journalists are constantly pursuing social media for the latest news and information. Leverage social media as an opportunity to make an introduction and pitch via direct message.
- Hyperlink errors
- Incorrect datelines
- Grammar mistakes
- Day/date discrepancies
Responding to Media Inquiries
You’ve sent a press release and gotten a bite. What’s your next move? How you respond is even more important than the inquiry itself. Here are a few pointers to remember.
- Respond quickly. Reporters often work on short deadlines. They appreciate quick responses, even if it is to decline an interview or tell them you don’t have the information they need right away but are working on it.
- Ask for specifics. Gather pertinent details (story angle, potential questions, deadline, etc.) and take a minute to gather your thoughts and prepare for an interview or craft an appropriate response.
- Stay on message. These are the high-level points you want to cover during the interview. Find a way to insert these messages into your answer or bridge to them whenever the opportunity arises. If there’s no obvious entry
point to relay your key message, volunteer them, as appropriate.
- Be substantive. State your messages in positive, proactive, and substantive terms. For example, rather than saying, “Community banks are there to serve their community,” say that “community banks provide more than 60 percent of all small-business loans and are preferred lenders for America’s economic engines.
- Don’t feel compelled to answer every question. Never feel like you must provide an answer if you really don’t have one, which could put you in an uncomfortable position. You can say, “That’s not something
we’ve dealt with at this bank, so I don’t know” or “Let me get back to you on that question.”
- Speak plainly and be succinct. Avoid jargon, acronyms, and technical verbiage when possible to ensure your point is understood. If you do not want something to get lost in translation, keep your responses so simple and clear that
no translation is necessary.
- Refrain from going off the record. The risks involved with this strategy generally outweigh the benefits. If you don’t want to see it in print, don’t say it.
- Provide background material. Offer to send pertinent information to help the reporter round out the story or support your messaging. General information about community banks is available at www.icba.org/about/community-banking.
Mastering the Interview
Telling your community bank’s unique story is important. Media interviews give you an opportunity to showcase your bank and the great work you are doing in your community. Here are a few tips to help you navigate a media interview—whether
for print or broadcast.
- Get the facts up front. When the reporter requests an interview, make sure you ask questions to gain insight into what the reporter intends to ask and what the story will entail. Relevant information you’ll want to gather
Avoid impromptu interviews. If a reporter calls and wants to speak with you at that moment, take the time to ask the questions above and then schedule a time to talk so you or your staff expert can prepare.Prepare for the interview. Gather talking points and do your research on the topic and the reporter. It’s helpful to look at a reporter’s past stories to identify likely angles (this is especially important if the
reporter doesn’t provide much detail to the questions above. Also, come up with some sound bites that the reporter will want to use, which can increase your likelihood of getting quoted.Be thoughtful in your responses. During the interview, think about what you’re going to say before you say it. There is no such thing as “off the record.” Don’t volunteer additional information unless it’s
in line with your key messages so you don’t venture into foreign or unwanted territory.Speak clearly and concisely. Some people are naturals at public speaking; others are not—and that’s ok! Perfecting the art of interviews takes practice and preparation. Record yourself and listen back. Writing down
what you want to say in advance is another trick to being succinct. Groups like Toast Masters, which have chapters all over the country can also help strengthen public speaking skills. Nothing beats peer-peer feedback.Confirm spellings and titles. Always spell your name for the reporter and provide your title, along with the name of your community bank. If the spokesperson has an official bio, you can also send it to the reporter ahead of the
Use the opportunity to the fullest. If the reporter asks you if there’s anything you’d like to add before the interview concludes, use this as an opportunity to reiterate your key message or provide links to additional
information for more insights.
- Story angle or focus,
- Potential questions,
- Other sources contacted
- If it’s a one-on-one or roundtable interview (important for broadcast)
- Reporter’s deadline, and
- Target publish date.
Print and Online
Newspaper, magazine, and online media interviews can take place in person, via email or over the phone or Zoom. The interview length and deadline will vary depending on the type of publication. For example, monthly print publications typically have
long lead times, whereas newspaper and online media reporters typically have the narrowest beats and, consequently, tend to have shorter deadlines.
- Review your message points and keep them in front of you during the interview.
- Ask the reporter if the interview is going to be recorded. An increasing number of interviews (even those for print publications) are recorded to ensure accuracy and for liability protection.
- Establish an “interview atmosphere” and mindset. Clear your desk and visualize the outcome you’d like to achieve.
- Don’t assume that you’ve been unclear if the reporter asks the same question several times in various ways. This is often a technique used to elicit a specific answer.
- The emphasis is on the voice, inflection, and pace. Speak visually and personalize your delivery.
- Most reporters are happy to go over statements you’ve given to ensure accuracy, but it’s unlikely they’ll allow you to see a story before it’s published. If they do allow for a review, be considerate of deadlines and provide
Radio and Podcast
- During an audio interview, the emphasis is on voice, inflection, and pace. Typically, reporters will prefer that you use a landline, but cell phones are becoming more acceptable.
- Establish an “interview atmosphere” and mindset. Typically, audio interviews are done over the phone or in studio. Minimize outside noise as much as possible because it will be picked up in the recording.
- Speak visually and personalize your delivery. Be conversational and animated.
- (Quiet) notes are okay. It’s fine to refer to notes to reference key messages but try not to rustle papers that can be distracting to listeners.
- Don’t assume that you’ve been unclear if the reporter asks the same question repeatedly in various ways. This is often a technique to elicit a specific answer.
- Always assume that the microphone is on. If you don’t want something to be broadcast, air on the side of caution and refrain from saying it altogether.
Television and video interviews
Television and video interviews are visual mediums so your physical appearance and mannerisms and presentation style are very important.
- Remember to have good posture. This means sitting up straight while leaning slightly forward.
- Gesture naturally. Sitting with your hands folded or inanimate will make you appear unapproachable.
- Make eye contact with the reporter. In the case of broadcast, pretend the cameraman or monitor are not visible.
- Speak with brevity. Work on a few eight-second “sound bites.”
- Put your most important message up-front.
- Don’t assume that you’ve been unclear if the reporter asks the same question multiple times. This is often a technique to elicit a specific answer.
- Speak in a regular voice and volume for the audio check and always talk over, not into, the microphone.
- Assume that the microphone is on. If you don’t want something recorded air on the side of caution and refrain from saying it all together. This is also true in pre- or post-interviews when wearing a microphone.
- Avoid wearing small stripes, checks, herringbone, or high-contrast colors. They are hard on the camera’s “eye.”
- Avoid wearing short skirts.
- If you are wearing pants: wear high socks.
- If you are wearing a suit: sit on the back of your suit jacket to keep it from bunching at the shoulders.
- If you are standing button your jacket.
- Don’t wear large, shiny, or noisy jewelry or even pens. It will reflect light and distract from the interview.
- Make use of natural lighting when possible or use lamps to diminish the appearance of shadows. Particularly for interviews conducted via video meetings.
- Limit background distractions (furniture, people, and pets) during home interviews
- Center yourself and take up as much of the frame as possible.
- Consider using a concealer under the eyes to hide blemishes and a light translucent powder to take away shine.
Making Your Voice Heard Through Op-eds
Opinion pieces are an excellent way to elevate your spokespeople and your community bank on the local or national level, while making your voice heard.
Op-eds further the narrative of community banking, while providing context and examples that bring to light an important issue. The following tips are for aspiring op-ed writers on effective writing for placement.
Writing an Effective Op-ed
- Write for your audience. Before you even begin writing, think about your intended information and keep this information in mind as you begin writing. Information concerning word counts and other publishing requirements (including
whether it needs to be an original submission) can be found on most company websites.
- Articulate the main message in the first paragraph. Getting to the point quickly will help ensure readers get the gist of your argument even if they skim the piece or don’t read to the end.
- Be precise and persuasive. Keep your sentences and paragraphs tight and defend your point of view.
- Use data, colorful anecdotes, interesting facts, and vivid language to support your message will help keep readers engaged.
- Write what you know. Your credentials give credence to your point of view.
- Don’t just get on your soap box. Raise and answer your critics’ strongest arguments. Use stats and figures to further bolster your argument.
- Avoid the passive voice. Project a tone of confidence. You are a thought leader. Use this op-ed as an opportunity to differentiate yourself and your bank.
New York Times op-ed columnist Bret Stephens offers additional tips on how to successfully write an op-ed for publishing.
Placing an Op-Ed
- Ensure that your op-ed meets the word count requirements set forth by the publication.
- Find out the name of the editorial page editor (contact information is usually available in the paper, on the website or by phone). If you have a good relationship with reporters at the publication you may want to ask for suggestions on whom to
reach out concerning your op-ed.
- Write a short cover letter or email to the editorial page editor. In the message:
Follow up with the editorial page editor. Half of the battle of placing an op-ed is following up and being persistent.Use the news cycle to your advantage. If you are writing about a hot issue, make sure to tout the timeliness and relevance of your op-ed in your initial outreach.Accept the offer. If the editor offers to post your op-ed online, in lieu of print, accept the offer. Online editorials can be just as effective.Abide by editorial choices unless they alter your meaning or are inaccurate.
- a. Introduce yourself and your background,
- b. Explain why the subject of your op-ed matters to readers, and
- c. State your position and its role in the ongoing debate.
Effective PR is all about relationships. Whether it's creating new connections or strengthening existing ones, it's important to plan your outreach in advance to improve your chances of coverage.
Of course, you need a compelling story--something that is newsworthy and of interest to your targeted audience so take the time to research outlets and relevant journalists.
Keep in mind the number of pitches they receive so be clear and concise in your messaging and give them enough to pique their interest and an incentive to follow up with you to learn more.
Once you've caught their attention and landed a coveted interview make sure you're well prepared. Use talking points to stay on message and volunteer useful information that supports your position and could improve your chances of being included in
the story. For example, ICBA had great success in our IRS reporting coverage because we were able to showcase original data that explained consumer sentiment and engagement on the issue.
If you've put in the work and continue to cultivate relationships with key contacts you’ll improve your chances to amplify your message throughout the year, and when it’s needed most. As a valued local it’s only a matter of time
before you land that coveted media hit—reaffirming your brand as trusted financial service providers and a resource for your customers and your community.