How to Position Yourself as an Expert by Pitching Your Local Media

Summary: In this week’s training episode, coach to freelancers and entrepreneurs Jennifer Lee, provides some very practical tips and strategies for positioning yourself as an expert through local publicity.

Pitching local media

Local publicity is a proven way to position yourself as an expert.

There’s no faster or cost-effective way to attract great clients than by becoming a recognized expert in your field. Prospects call you to learn more about your services (instead of you calling them to pitch a project). There’s less haggling over price, and landing the job takes less time and effort.

Yes, it's a great position to be in. But becoming a recognized expert is not something you can leave to chance. You have to create and implement a plan to make it happen.

In this training episode, we'll discuss a very powerful (and underutilized) way to reach expert status: local publicity. Local publicity is a proven way to position yourself as an expert. But you have to know how to effectively pitch your local media. That's why I've brought in my favorite expert on this topic, Coach Jenn Lee.

Jennifer Lee has had amazing success with local media in her hometown of Orlando, Florida. She’s a heavily sought after keynote motivational speaker, trainer and coach who works with entrepreneurs, solopreneurs and small business owners. She’s a regular guest on Orlando's (Florida) Fox 35 News and several Orlando-area radio morning shows. She was also chosen as a feature speaker for Good Morning America's "Troy Johnson's Spark and Hustle National Hour." You can learn more about her at www.coachjennlee.com and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/YourCoachJennLee.

What follows is a condensed transcript of my conversation with Jenn. If you prefer to listen to the full audio (30 minutes), you can listen to it (or download it) here:

Download MP3
Ed Gandia: Today we’re going to talk about getting media exposure. Jenn, you’re really good at pitching yourself to local media. You’ve done, I think, a much better job than most solo professionals do. I’m surprised we haven’t addressed this in previous calls.

Jennifer Lee: I know. This is great information you can use anytime.

Ed Gandia: I think people are going to discover that. When you listen to Jenn’s ideas you’ll find this applies to most of us, regardless of what target markets you’re going after or where your clients are. Keep an open mind. You’re going to find some good actionable ideas here.

Let’s start by talking about local media. When we say "local media," who are we talking about specifically?

Jennifer Lee: We’re talking about local TV stations, mostly news stations. News stations are always looking for experts to speak directly to relevant topics. When you watch TV, you always see them bring in a local lawyer, local accounting expert to answer a handful of questions.

TV is actually the easiest media to get on, believe it or not. Magazines that are very specific to local markets are also a great channel. The key, however, is you need to ask yourself, “Who's my demographic? Who am I trying to serve? And what magazine out there shares these demographics and is looking for good solid content?”

These people are looking for good information that’s relevant. So these are your three media: TV — specifically your morning, afternoon and evening news — as well as magazines and newspapers.

Ed Gandia: I remember when I went to your website, the whole TV thing was so impressive, probably because I haven’t been on TV. I think for most people, TV is the one that really impresses.

Jennifer Lee: Definitely. It’s got the biggest bang for the buck. People get to see and hear you. TV has the broadest range of audience. It’s easily duplicate-able too. It’s easy to put on social media.

Ed Gandia: You’ve obviously had great success with local media. Why don’t you give us an idea of the success you’ve had in getting exposure? Where have you been showcased?

Jennifer Lee: I’m showcased most frequently on my local Fox morning news station — I’m on there anytime between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. I’m on there once every 10-12 days now because, as a coach, I can speak to a variety of different subjects.

I can speak to small businesses. I can speak to our lives, decisions, productivity and relationships. I can speak to almost anything, and I try to wriggle in any way I can. What’s interesting is once you get a media spot and learn to leverage it, it opens the door to other media opportunities.

One of my biggest successes was a large, local magazine here in Orlando. It’s called Orlando Magazine. They’ve highlighted the mayor, the president of Orlando Magic and the president of Darden Restaurants. On the last page of every issue they highlight a different profession in “A Day in the Life of….”

Well, they wanted to highlight a life coach. The editor had seen me on TV and gave me a call. I was highlighted in the magazine — a full-page write up just on me. That’s something you would normally pay $5,000 for. That was pretty big. Other local newspapers then picked up on it, and now I’ve become a resource for those newspapers as well. So if you get one and know how to leverage it, it can really explode.

Ed Gandia: So the reason you got the opportunity with that magazine is because this guy had seen you on TV, which creates this cycle that feeds itself and can only move you up the chain.

Jennifer Lee: Right. You have to be able to deliver the goods once you’re on TV or quoted in the newspaper. It has to be smart and relevant and you have to be easy to work with. That’s all the media is looking for. Write these three things down:

  • It has to be relevant
  • You have to deliver content that is unique
  • And you have to be easy to work with.

You have to be able to pick up your phone at any time. You have to be able to answer an email within an hour. The media is working 24 hours a day, so you have to be quick. If you can nail those three things — and as long as you don’t freeze on air — they’re going to call you. You’re going to be on the air often.

Ed Gandia: Very cool. You’re very well known in your area, Orlando, Florida. But not all your clients are local. How do you make the determination as to whether or not this is worth it? Does it make sense to pitch local media if you’re in Atlanta, and you’re calling on people in Silicon Valley and New York City?

Jennifer Lee: Yes, absolutely, and here’s why: Most of my clients, about 90%, don’t live in Orlando. They live outside of the state of Florida, throughout the United States and in Canada. Still, local media is a way for you to get an almost-free video.

My business isn’t built on the fact that I’m on Fox every week. I don’t get phone calls every week from clients who see me there. But what I do is take that video clip and put it on my website.

If you go to www.coachjennlee.com and click on “Media,” you’ll see all of these video clips. If someone’s searching for a writer or graphic designer or entrepreneur and they’re clicking on websites and see one with a video, they’ll say,  “Wow, she was on the local media” or, “She was quoted in Redbook Magazine” or, “Oh, it looks like she was quoted in Success Magazine.” You’re going to stand out. Even if they never watch or read it, just knowing that the media paid attention to you gives you credibility. That’s how I’ve leveraged it. It amps up your credibility. The prospect immediately thinks, okay, they must be real because the media thinks they’re real.

Ed Gandia: That’s a good point. Also, if you’re on TV, then another producer could contact you for a different TV show or maybe an editor could contact you for their magazine.

Jennifer Lee: Sure. My brother is a supervisor of elections here in Orlando. Of all the supervisors in the entire state, the national media contacts him. He’s always sending them pitches for ideas. They’ve never seen him on local TV, but he’s proactively telling them, “Here’s how I can help you in this particular story.”

And so now, Fox News in New York calls my brother in Florida. Whenever there’s an election situation, they call my brother. He’s known. That’s a case of understanding how to pitch the media, and not because you think people are going to call you. You’re doing it because you know it’s going to lend you credibility. Make sense?

Ed Gandia: Yes. You could take that and extend it, too. Let’s say you’re a very specialized type of freelancer. For example, I write for enterprise software companies. Initially, I wondered if it would be helpful for me to be on my local news. How much weight would that carry with a VP of marketing for a software company?

What you’re saying is it’s not so much that my software prospects are going to find out about me through that news segment. It’s that I build credibility by being featured and having all these video clips. So once my prospects land on my website, that's what will impress them — the fact that I've been featured in the media. So it's not a lead generator as much as it is a huge credibility builder.

Jennifer Lee: Correct. Here’s how I want you to think about it. You and I did a training class before on creating pitches for presentations. It’s the same thing with the media. So for you, Ed, I would be looking for opportunities. Ask yourself, where is my expertise? Where could my expertise speak to a news story?

Maybe a story breaks where somebody screwed up the copy for a company newsletter, and it caused a firestorm of HR problems. You could contact someone in the media and say, “Hey, I can speak to that.” They’ll put you on because you’re adding value to that piece of news.

And guess what? It only has to happen one time. Then they’re going to start thinking about it and realize they need someone to talk about small business. Or they need someone who’s in the enterprise software industry. “Who do we know? Oh, we know that Ed guy.”

It’s stuff like that. Use it, put the logo on your website, put the TV clip on your website, tweet about it, write a blog about whatever you spoke on.

Leverage that one piece into something that can walk itself over and over again.

Ed Gandia: I like that. Whereas, with networking for example, I always recommend listening and figuring out where your prospects hang out and then go to there. This is a little different. Here you have to figure out what you can talk about that’s relevant and useful and important, so you can be the person they call when news arises that relates to your area of expertise.

Jennifer Lee: Right. The media’s focus is serving their audience. Ask yourself, “What is their demographic suffering right now? What are their challenges? What are the new trends coming out?” And then ask yourself, “How can I speak to that?”

For example, a graphic designer could pitch the local media and say, “Here’s all the new colors coming out next year,” because a graphic designer knows about all the new trends. “Here’s why we use orange,” or “Here’s why red causes people to get angry all the time,” and it’s attached to something very specific and relevant to the time.

Do you know what I mean? You’ve got to look at what’s relevant to their audience and speak to that. Figure out how you can add value to it.

Ed Gandia: So If I wanted to create a strategy for pitching local media, I would need to come up with topic ideas I can really speak to intelligently. Let’s talk about how to do this in a systematic way.

Jennifer Lee: Sure. The first thing I would suggest is keeping it simple. I would limit yourself to three media outlets you’d like to be on or that share your audience. Think of one TV station, maybe one industry publication. It could be national, it could be local, but think of three only.

Then start reading and watching. What topics do they cover? How do they address relevant scenarios, things that are brand spanking new, things that are hitting the media right now? Do they bring on experts or do they just chat amongst themselves in the newsroom?

Then I would start looking at what’s happening. Let's say it’s the holiday season. So, a graphic designer, for example, could pitch holiday cards that kids can create.

It’s not about you coming up with topics ahead of time. It really isn’t. It’s more about listening and looking at what’s relevant. You have an opinion, so why is your opinion important? How does it add value?

I wouldn’t come up with topics first unless you’ve got an evergreen. An evergreen is a topic not tied to time. It’s always relevant, such as "stress in the workplace." That topic is always relevant, as we all know.

Ed Gandia: I like where you’re going with this. You’re talking about serving the media by helping them serve their audience.

I like the Christmas card example. You might say, “Well, I’m a designer but this doesn’t apply to me. Christmas cards are not the kind of design I do or want to do for clients.”

But you’re saying it doesn’t really matter. Give them something of value to their audience. You’re trying to get exposure, and then you can leverage that exposure for credibility. You’re not trying to get clients from that segment. You’re not going to get calls for Christmas card designs. You’re just coming up with something that’s going to add value to their audience in order to get the opportunity to showcase that media win.

Jennifer Lee: Exactly. It’s free advertising. It’s free "amping" of your brand. It’s duplicate-able, so you can post it, tweet it, Facebook it.

Ed Gandia: Who do you contact at these outlets? Who’s your prospect?

Jennifer Lee: For TV, you want to look for the producers’ names. Often you can just pick up the phone and call the TV station and ask who’s the morning news producer. Pay attention to the reporters who cover your subject area.

Typically, especially in national news media, they have reporters who specialize. Reporters who talk about government or local government or have pieces where they’re out in the community. Look for those people.

Their job is really tough. They have to come up with stories to fill five to eight hours of news a day. They have to pitch ideas to their news director every single morning or afternoon. If you come to them with an idea that’s relevant and fresh and smart, then you’ve done their job for them.

It’s the same thing with newspapers. Who’s the guy talking about business? Who’s the guy talking about law? Who’s the guy with the opinion piece? Those are staff writers, so know those people for your local newspapers. For local magazine pieces, open up the magazine, look on the second page, on the left-hand side usually, and it’s got all the content writers. Contact the writers directly.

This is not a "spray and pray" type thing, by the way. That’s why press releases don’t work. Unless you’re Lady Gaga, they’re not going to read it. Instead, cultivate relationships with a handful of people.

Contact them through email, but only when you have a pitch idea. And keep the subject line short and simple, or maybe shocking. It can’t be more than an inch and a half long on your screen. Don’t send a long email about who you are, how you became that person, and how great you are. They don’t care. Give the bullet points of what you’re pitching. What’s your idea? How can you serve my audience?

Ed Gandia: If they’re interested, you just need to peak their interest, right? All you’re trying to get is a response. Then you can have a dialog about it.

Jennifer Lee: Right. I’m going to give you a real-life example. I sent a pitch to a producer about 10 minutes before we got on this call. She’s already emailed me back.

Ed Gandia: Wow! You’re eating your own medicine.

Jennifer Lee: My pitch was about New Year’s Resolutions. My pitch was literally an inch and a half long. She’s like, “Great! Thursday morning, can you come in?”

Ed Gandia: What did the subject line say?

Jennifer Lee: “Don’t Set New Year’s Resolutions.”

Ed Gandia: So you basically went with a "contrarian" subject line. That’s going to get someone’s attention. And these people already know you, so I can see why it would be a little bit easier. But what if I’m approaching people cold? I’ve narrowed my list to three media outlets. I’ve studied who these people are, what they’re talking about, how they go about it. Now I’m ready. How do I make that first outreach? Should you email them?

Jennifer Lee: Yes. Email them. It doesn’t matter if you have a relationship with them or not. It’s a pitch. They might scroll down and go, “Who is this?” but you’ve captured their attention and have your relevant information — phone number, website and availability.

It’s not that hard. They’re sitting at their desk waiting to fill that spot. A news broadcast is, on average, two to three hours in length, and they have to fill it with a bunch of two-minute segments.

Ed Gandia: That’s a lot of work.

Jennifer Lee: You don’t have to cultivate too much. Just be relevant. You can even say, “Hey, this would be perfect for your nine o’clock segment. This would be perfect for Amy and Keith to talk about on the couch.” The more you can make them see it, the faster they’ll say yes.

Ed Gandia: Which is why it pays to analyze what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, what they cover and who covers what.

Is there anything you need to include in your pitch to add credibility? Or is your website, title and email signature enough?

Jennifer Lee: It’s enough, as long as your website shows you to be credible. If your website stinks, then don’t do that. But yeah, you can say, “I’ve been a freelance writer for 15 years and here’s my opinion on this particular topic.” You can include your tenure if that makes you credible.

Or you can say, “I’ve written for Fortune 500 companies.” That’ll make you credible. You don’t need a long bio. They’re not going to read it. All they ask themselves is, “Is it a good idea? Yes. Is it relevant? Yes. Is it fresh? Yes. Who is this? Where’s the phone number? I want to call them.”

Ed Gandia: We’ve talked about some potential pitfalls. Any others you can think of?

Jennifer Lee: Don’t send press releases. Don’t "spray and pray." I had a client who said she had five standard pitches and would send them out every two weeks to all the producers on her list. She never got a phone call. Can you guess why? It’s old. It’s not relevant. It shows you’re not paying attention to their audience.

Don’t get yourself into that. It’s okay if you only send one pitch a month. This is about you being proactive. You say, “I’ve got something to share and I know your audience is going to like it and that you’re going to like it.”

There’s a whole other side to this with HARO, which is www.helpareporter.com, which is how you and I connected, Ed. This is a place where producers and writers post their needs, and it’s free.

It doesn’t cost a thing. They post their needs and they say, “Hey, who can speak on this topic? I’m looking to talk to twins separated at birth.” That might not help you from a freelancer standpoint, but it can still be powerful.

I'll give you an example of that. I was quoted in Redbook Magazine a couple years ago. On HARO, they asked what are things you’ve done to improve your marriage, from a male and female perspective.

I said, “Oh, I took over paying the bills, and it calms my husband down because he used to get stressed every time we got an electric bill.” So, I got quoted in Redbook because I answered it on HARO. Well guess what? Redbook is now on my website. Then I got a phone call from somebody else about seven months later, who saw that I’d been quoted in Redbook. She said, “Hey, I see you’ve been quoted in Redbook. I have a question about this.”

Ed Gandia: It goes to show how you can leverage each win to get the next one.

Jennifer Lee: And don’t ignore blogs as a form of media. Take the Wall Street Journal as an example. They have a lot of stuff online. So go ahead and pitch your blog post idea to them. Go to their website and look for, “How do I submit a blog post?”

Or contact a writer who writes for them frequently on topics relevant to you. Say, “Hey, if you ever write a blog about this, I’ve got some facts on that.” I got quoted in Success Magazine by doing that.

Ed Gandia: What are some reasonable results you can expect from this effort? How do I know if I’m doing okay based on my effort or if I need to switch gears?

Jennifer Lee: You won’t know until you get a response. A response could be, “Hey, love it, let’s talk,” or it could be, “This sounds good, but we’ll probably hold off until the fall.”

Or you get a response that says, “Hey, stop emailing me. I’m not the right person.” That’s a good response because then you know not to email that person any longer, right? So that’s a good response, even though it feels like a negative one.

It can take time. Some people won’t respond. Don’t use that as an indicator of whether or not you’re doing it right. I’d give it a good six months consistently pitching something that’s fresh and relevant before moving on.

A lot of writers and producers are on Twitter, so follow them. I have a whole Twitter list, my own private list, of media outlets. These are producers I’m following and paying attention to what they say. That’s how one of my clients got on national news. They were following this particular producer via Twitter and the producer says, “Hey, does anybody have a comment on”—I can’t remember what it was—and she tweeted back. They were like, “Great, send us your number,” and she got on.

Ed Gandia: I guess the lesson here is to take a long-term strategy. Don’t look at this as a quick fix. If you need work to pay the bills this month, don’t look to this to save you. You have to keep at it. Do the things Jennifer talked about. Trust that this will work if you’re doing the right things. Maybe when you’re "chill" about it and not counting on this to pay the bills, things will start working for you.

Jennifer Lee: I don’t ever look at this as a way to pay the bills. I look at it as a way to amp my credibility and build my brand. Then it’s my job to leverage that.

Ed Gandia: I think that’s a healthy way of looking at it.

Jennifer Lee: Yeah. It’s not like the "Oprah effect," when you have a product that Oprah says is one of her favorite things. Then you’ll get immediate response. But being an expert, it’s about positioning yourself. People are always looking for experts and then it’s your job to do something with it.

By the way, I am happy to brainstorm with any of your Academy listeners. You’re welcome to reach out to me directly. It’s difficult when you first get started. Who would want to hear from you? Well, there are plenty of people.

Ed Gandia: You can see it because you’ve been doing this for awhile. How can people get a hold of you? How can they learn more about you?

Jennifer Lee: The best way is to head to my website, which is www.coachjennlee.com and my phone number is 321-689-0521. Just say you heard me on Ed's training episode at International Freelancers Academy.

Ed Gandia: We need to give our interviews a name, don’t we?

Jennifer Lee: When we get off the phone, you and I need to brainstorm that! And again, to everyone else out there, feel free to pick up the phone and call me. I’m happy to brainstorm with anybody. There’s no reason for you not to be able to get what you want from the media by doing what you do.


  • Hi Ed,

    My article is being sent to a local newspaper so I can link the two stories. It's great exposure for the animals and animal shelter.

  • Hi Ed and Jennifer,

    This is great information. I bookmarked the article and will bring it into Evernote.

    Jennifer, your website is absolutely eye catching. I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to use it as a guide for my author website. I've been trying to figure out the look and feel of my website. I know I want something bold and outstanding (like yours) instead of a boring 'wah-wah' author website.

    Working with the local media is important for writers. I recently began volunteering with a local animal shelter (I'm in the cat area) and mentioned that I'm a freelance writer and how I loved to be a part of their communications and fundraising teams. Lo and behold I was asked to cover a story this weekend that was featured on the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news. Not only did I cover the story, there's a clip of me writing down notes as I was interviewing someone for my story. This is a win-win situation because I'm able to give back (I love animals), meet new people, and get to know the media. 🙂

    • Oh, wow!! That's super, Amandah! See? it pays to do good in the word. And it's a great example of how just getting out there can help create magic in your biz. Thanks for sharing that! 😉

    • BTW, now you can use this as a media credit. "Featured in 11 Alive News Hartford..." (or whatever)

  • You're exactly right, Diana! I paused several times to make note of how I could use the information for me and how I could pass it on to clients.

    Very helpful. Thanks Ed and Jenn!

    • Thanks, Kelly! Appreciate the feedback. 😉

  • Ed,

    Thank you for sharing the interview with Jenn. Isn't she amazing?! I first met Jenn at the inaugural Spark & Hustle event in Atlanta - her energy is contagious and her advice is priceless.

    Jenn, thank you again for sharing your wisdom and giving us the tools we need to be more effective as we establish ourselves as experts.

    Watch for me - it's my turn to shine!

    • Hi Pamela! Yes, Jenn IS amazing! Love doing these interviews with her. Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious.

      BTW, looks like I'll be presenting at this year's Spark & Hustle in ATL. You planning on going?

      • @Ed Gandia, I already have my 'Alumna' ticket in hand! I look forward to meeting you there. My goal is to be a 2014 Host and Speaker!!

  • This is a great article and all the advice works. What's funny is that over the years I've gotten my clients local press just this way -- on TV, in the local newspapers -- because I pay attention to things and know how to pitch ideas.

    But, I never thought to use these tactics for my own business! I guess I'll be changing that.

    Thanks Ed and Jenn.

    • I felt the same way, Dianna! As I listened to Jenn give out this info, I was thinking, "Why hadn't I thought of doing this?"

      Goes to show how our assumptions can sometimes limit us. I always assumed that the only value of getting local media coverage was to attract local clients.

      Lesson learned!

      Thanks for your comment. 😉