6 Tips for Pitching a Renewable Energy Reporter
In an environment with myriad emerging technologies, business models and product innovations, there are countless occasions for RE companies to tout their latest news. A wide array of trade publications, journals, news sites, and blogs cover this dynamic marketplace, ranging from highly specific to broad and generalized. Renewables—from utility scale to residential DG—are often lumped in with associated topics like environmental science and climate change; related green-tech categories like energy efficiency, EVs, and green building; and other generation technologies including fossil fuels and nuclear. Industry outlets focus up and down the supply chain, including power generation, transmission and distribution, system design and engineering, utility management, policy and regulation and finance, while business and general consumer media cover market dynamics and end-user applications.
So how can you improve your RE story getting noticed and covered? Valuable, well-placed, brand-positive media is earned. It is most often the result of proactive, strategic outreach to the reporters, editors, bloggers and other influencers that speak to your customers and potential customers. It is a process, one that takes time, focus and persistence.
Adopt these best practices for navigating media relations and garnering more reach with your message.
1. Know the publication’s editorial focus and the reporter’s beat.
This is media relations 101 yet it is still the most disregarded. Knowing where and why your company, technology, product, or service fits in the editorial ballpark is one of the most time-consuming parts of the process, requiring constant research and exploration. It isn’t enough that an outlet covers the same general industry, e.g. pitching a T&D-focused outlet on solar racking will not produce results.
Spend the time to know what your highest-value reporters have written in the last several months. Closely monitor their social media activity, and see who they follow. Explore their involvement in past or pending conferences. For example, a reporter posting about attending a session at a recent GTM event may indicate what might be on her mind relevant to your industry. Also note that it’s common for a RE journalists to contribute to more than one publication.
And ask them. It’s perfectly acceptable to connect with a reporter and ask what types of topics (within their beat) are of special interest right now. You then can appropriately tailor your pitch to fit.
2. Don’t assume the reporter has a scientific or technical background.
While most reporters are generalists who cover diverse topics, many energy reporters either have been on the beat long enough to know their topic or came from a related role within the industry. Nevertheless, their job is to clearly and accurately describe a technology, market, or trend to their readers, not to sound smart to them. So, steer clear of overly technical language and obscure acronyms, and pitch as if you are speaking with someone new to your industry so that the essence of your message is glaringly apparent. This is not about “dumbing down” the subject or material, it's about respecting the language of the reporter and his audience.
3. Pitch the story first.
Your “news” must first be news. Project groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies were marginally cool in 2012 but rarely qualify today—unless it sets a record (first, largest), employs a new or unique design or technology, or features a superstar participant. Flagrant brand-serving pitches will mostly be rejected as well (though they might draw some attention from the ad sales folks).
The reporter has one question in mind…Why should I care? So pitch the story, not the brand or product. Identify the broader implication of your news up front. Don’t rely on the reporter to infer it, it won’t happen or will be misinterpreted. Clearly illustrate how it:
o Is new or previously unknown
o Represents a significant advancement
o Goes against current scientific, technical, or social consensus
o Relates to current events
o Impacts daily lives
Also, because there is a big picture, it’s likely other brands will be included in a story that you initiated. That’s acceptable, and sometimes welcomed if an article affirms your market leadership or superior product characteristic relative to your competitors.
4. Provide context, assets, and access.
Newsroom resources are lean and workloads heavy, so time is precious. Improve your chance of reporters covering your news by making the process as easy and efficient as possible. Establish context by sharing findings from relevant renewable industry research (GTM, NREL, RMI), analyst reports (IHS Markit, PennEnergy, Navigant), and even past material published by the reporter. Provide (or link to) the assets that support a good article—fact sheets, high-res photos, video, infographics, interactive map, etc. (Specify any required credits and use restrictions). Be clear on your ability to provide access to subject experts, including company execs, industry analysts, and trade and advocacy groups.
5. Be a useful source.
The process is called media relations for a reason, and establishing credibility and trust is essential. Many PR agencies rely on “appointment setters,” young, novice (low-pay) newcomers that hammer the phones to secure interviews with a company exec, but most often they cannot speak intelligently enough on the subject to be useful to the reporter. Know your topic and the industry well enough to guide the conversation and be quoted in stories. Also, provide value (without a self-serving expectation) by sharing relevant industry developments or news about other companies you think will be of interest to the writer, not just your own.
6. Have patience.
Media covering solar, wind, and other renewables are expected to produce an incredible amount of content, with constant deadlines and interruptions. Timing is everything, and good stories take time to cultivate. If your pitch isn’t breaking news, there is a strong chance it could take several weeks for a reporter to respond. Tenacity is important, but there is a fine line between being persistent and being aggressive. If you’ve done your homework, and followed the tips above, the call will come.
Today, the pace of renewables and green-tech coverage is fast, and it’s accelerating. There is a growing appetite for education and insight surrounding renewables, both with a B-to-B and B-to-C focus. Investing in the process, and the relationships, will pay dividends.
Tim Braun is principle of b2,inc., a communications firm that helps emerging and evolving companies engage with key audiences through strategic public and media relations, integrated marketing communications, and brand management.