Looking to get more press coverage for your company? Walking a day in a reporter’s shoes and becoming a resource for journalists can help your defense firm stand out.
Defense contractors, like many companies, often seek out the news media to raise their profiles. A steady stream of positive press coverage can help companies achieve their business objectives.
Some defense contractors are more successful at media relations than others, however.
To find out more about what defense contractors can do to increase their chances at earning more press coverage, I spoke with Jill R. Aitoro, senior staff reporter at the Washington Business Journal. Aitoro’s beat is federal contracting, and she has reported extensively on the business of defense contracting.
Aitoro shared with me a few thoughts about what works and what doesn’t when pitching the news media:
1. Winning a contract is not necessarily news.
Defense contractors live and die by their contracts, and winning them is vitally important. But the fact that you have been awarded a contract is not necessarily newsworthy. Every day she receives news releases from defense contractors that have won an award. Rarely do they turn into a story.
Instead, look for a news angle (beside the dollar amount), such as what novel way your firm won the contract, how that contract will impact your business, how your business will change because of the new contract, etc.
2. It helps to tailor your pitch.
For better or worse, media database and press release distribution services have enabled anyone to send news releases to hundreds or thousands of reporters with the click of a mouse. Paradoxically, as more and more news releases are sent this way, reporters pay less and less attention to them.
Here’s why: When a news release is blasted out that way, a reporter is less interested in it because her or she knows that every other reporter has the same information.
Further, each reporter tends to cover the news in a unique way. A few minutes of research will tell you what kind of stories a reporter tends to cover and the news angles her or she pursues. By tailoring your pitch, you can offer up an exclusive angle on a news story that is both consistent with the reporter’s style and is exclusive to that reporter.
There are a number of public relations professionals working for defense contractors (many of whom have journalism backgrounds) who do an excellent job of tailoring their media pitches.
When pitching reporters, find out how they like to be contacted. For Jill Aitoro, the most effective way is email. And the subject line is important — it should be tailored to her with the exclusive news angle.
3. Reporters are not trying to play “gotcha.”
Reporters are, first and foremost, trying to get the facts right and present all sides of a story. Even if you have bad news, it’s best not to avoid the reporter. Doing so risks not getting all the correct information presented in your defense.
Aitoro gives an example of this with a new story about Lockheed Martin’s unfunded pension liability. While this story was not favorable to Lockheed Martin, there was nothing to gain by clamming up and refusing to talk to the Washington Business Journal. Instead, Lockheed Martin’s Chief Financial Officer Bruce Tanner answered all of Aitoro’s questions and provided additional background to make sure that all the facts were presented in the published piece (below).
There have been several instances when companies refused to speak to Aitoro while she was researching a story, only to call her after it ran to complain that it didn’t include all the facts. If they had spoken to her beforehand, they would have had a much better chance of representing their sides of the story. There are times, however, where for legal or other reasons, a company has to say “no comment.”
4. Defense contractors have a lot of great news to share.
Because of the secretive nature of defense contractors’ products and services, some companies have an inclination not to talk to the press. But that’s a crutch, according to Linda Hudson, former president and CEO of BAE Systems Inc.
In this video interview by Jill Aitoro, Hudson talks about the reflexively secretive nature of defense industry firms and why that is more of an excuse for not speaking with the press. According to Hudson, much of what defense firms do is not classified and, in order to recruit the best talent and build their brand awareness, they should be more transparent and willing to share what they do.
Bonus: Cut the BS
Finally, I offer one more thing defense contractors should remember when pitching the media: Reporters have the most sensitive BS meters in the world. They are unimpressed by boilerplate and jargon-laden marketing messages and rarely use that information. Reporters appreciate people being candid and straightforward with them.