Imagine you’re considering whether to eat at a new restaurant. You might be skeptical of a magazine ad touting the “great food” or a blog post from the restaurant’s website highlighting the “unique atmosphere,” wouldn’t you? But reading the very same accolades in a local newspaper article may convince you to give it a shot. Why? Because you assume your local newspaper has nothing to gain from spreading misinformation, so you might be more likely to trust what you read. This is the difference between paid media (the magazine ad,) owned media (the blog post) and earned media (the newspaper article.)

Earned media has automatic credibility and the added benefit of being practically free but, like its name implies, it’s something that must be earned. So while paid media requires an up-front cost and owned media requires time and creativity, earned media requires strategy, planning and finesse. To get you started, we’ve prepared a brief guide.

Know Yourself and The News Climate

Before you research a single newspaper or compose a single email, you need to do some introspection. In one sentence you should be able to summarize how your company is unique and how it fits in with a current trend or event. Sounds tough but your pitch may be one of hundreds your reporter must sift through; one sentence may be all you get.

 Identify Key Players

If you only do business locally, research what newspapers and magazines serve your area. Some of these won’t be a good fit for the story you want to pitch, so remove any that don’t regularly cover similar topics. Research the remaining publications and identify a specific journalist who has written stories similar to the one you want to pitch. Selecting a specific writer lets you tailor your pitch and gives you the best chance of receiving press. If your business is national or global, then you’ll want to target larger publications and bloggers. But the process is the same: identify outlets (newspapers, websites, magazines, blogs) that cover your industry and find an individual who has written stories similar to your own.

 Craft Your Message

With the brief summary of your business and its news value and a list of individuals who should be interested, you can begin crafting an effective pitch. A brief email is usually the best way to reach out initially. Start with the one-sentence summary and proceed in descending order of importance; your reader should be able to stop reading after four sentences and understand what you do and why it’s newsworthy. It’s also a good idea to link to supporting material such as photos, quotes and interviews. Mentioning previous articles the journalist has written can strengthen your pitch but only do this if you have interesting insights to offer. Keep the email short and think of it less as a story pitch and more as the start of a relationship between you and the journalist.