In a previous life, I lived in Chicago and worked in public relations. It was a long, long time ago in a world far, far away. A world where I faxed hardcopy press releases and followed-up with journalists via landline telephones.
It’s been a hot minute since I last pitched a journalist, so I sat down recently with Leslie Bailey from the Indianapolis Star to get current again. She was a wealth of information, and a bright way to start the day.
So without further ado, here’s how to pitch a journalist:
Don’t direct your emails and press releases to “Hello Indy Star Reporter.” And don’t just say “Greetings.” These will most likely get deleted and tossed right away. Find and use the journalist’s actual name.
Per Leslie, some press releases are way, way too long! Don’t include everything you know on the topic. Try to keep your press releases to one page—and then fill in the minute details after the journalist shows interest. Also, use the basic inverted pyramid style of writing, placing the most newsworthy info in the lead (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?), flowing to the important details in the body, and concluding with more background or general info.
In that effort to be short and sweet, don’t fly past the details. Pay attention to key details like dates, times, names, spelling, etc. Don’t give a reporter reason to write you off just because you forgot to check your work.
If you’re going to offer journalists supplementary materials, such as photography, video, b roll, documents, etc., make sure they’re all ready before you make your pitch. Assume your pitch will be so good that a journalist will want to learn more. Don’t scramble around to create/assemble what you’ve already promised.
Speaking of supplementary materials, check to see if the publication you’re pitching accepts photo submissions. Don’t assume they’ll be sending out their photographer to capture your story. Take some pics yourself or book a professional photographer. They’ll be great for you to have available for other pitches.
Know your reporters’ timelines. Find out if they need your info two weeks before. A month before. Five minutes before. Don’t email all pitches on the same day just so you can wipe your hands clean of the task.
Make your contact info easy for journalists (or anyone) to find on your website, specifically your email address. Stop making people fill out a contact form to get in touch with you. It’s like requiring people to know the secret password before entering your business.
Find journalists on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, etc., and see how they interact in those spaces. Some only have a handle because someone told them they needed to have one. Others engage via social media regularly. See which ones do and consider sharing your pitch ideas there. Again, keep it short and sweet, with a link to more info.
If possible, grab coffee with journalists who best align with your company news. Get to know more about them and their preferences. Do they want full press releases sent to them? Do they take phone calls? What’s their lead time? It’ll help you stand out from the crowd and ensure you’re not wasting your reporters’ time.
So there you have it. Now go pitch like a pro!