As a veteran of wire services and newspapers I have received countless pitches from well-intentioned media relations and marketing professionals who believe they have a story worth pursuing and covering. The pitches range from customized or personal notes to pro forma press release emails to the cute and funny ones.
Personal notes have impact because they speak to a prior relationship and journalists will respond usually more often, even if only to say they have to pass on the story at that time. Customized notes show the media relations person gave it a little more elbow grease and perhaps will get a bit more viewing time as a result.
As for pro forma press release emails the assumption would be they have little effect, but in truth, if it’s a hot story, with significant impact – the official launch statement of a new technology or announcement of a market moving corporate alliance – they will get read and covered. The snooze factor comes in when it’s obvious the press release really has no real news value and appears to be designed more for SEO than coverage.
Should a media relations person try cute or funny? Yes, it can work but it must be carefully thought out and in this age of hyper-sensitivity and social media, be very aware whatever you send can wind up in other venues and repurposed, with potentially awkward results. In general, best to be funny if you already really know a writer and feel familiar with their particular sense of humor. Generic cute statements can liven up an otherwise mundane announcement but remember: journalists will be looking past the cute for the actual meat of the story.
Here are five specific ways to help your pitch make it past the delete key:
- Background Check: A banking media relations person once asked me if I had gotten her latest press release. I told her I routinely deleted them. She asked why and I responded: I don’t cover banking. That simple. Be sure you know, to the greatest extent possible, what your journalists cover, and most importantly, what they care about. If a writer primarily focuses on federal health policy, sending them granular detail on the latest vitamin supplement may be a waste of your time, and more annoying to the writer. Besides the social media channels, take an objective look at what they’re covering and use that as the interest gauge and reality check for your specific story.
- A 360 Degree View: We all get bogged down in the minutiae of day-to-day work. Before you pitch anyone, take a step back and look at the 360 degree view of what’s going on in the world, in the particular industry in which you work, in current events. The recent Brexit vote is a perfect example. Smart media relations people knew to examine the upside and downside of commenting on, or trying to relate a story to Brexit. About 99.99 percent of the time it pays to know what is happening in the larger universe and whether it helps your story, whether your story is relevant to a larger issue, or whether it basically pushes your particular story to the back burner.
- Don’t Over Reach: One of the practices that can get media relations professionals in trouble is exaggerating the effect and importance of a story pitch. Are you absolutely sure it’s the ‘first,’ truly ‘disruptive,’ or a ‘game changer?’ Can you sell the story on its factual merits without hyperbole? Keep in mind that journalists get a ton of pitches and when they see obvious attempts to elevate a story, it will be quickly dismissed because inherently you’re raising questions of trust.
- Less is More: Somewhere between Twitter’s 140 characters and a short story lies the right number of words for a pitch. Media relations people speak about an ‘elevator pitch’ and it would be a better world if all who pitch would use this as the metric. Here’s a useful exercise: get on the phone with a friend who is not in your industry and tell them – briefly – what you’re pitching. That’s the pitch. Email pitches that go on for paragraph after paragraph will quickly lose the attention of a busy, harried journalist.
- Speak Plainly: Particularly in the tech world, writers detest pitches with so much technical jargon that it makes understanding the core pitch cumbersome and irritating. More than one journalist has called people out on this via social media so try to keep the technospeak down as much as possible.
The number of pitches that result in actual coverage, as you expect, is but a small fraction. Following these tips will help you raise your chances.