An insight into pitching messages and products effectively, from a former journalist.
If you work in public relations or communications for a business or organisation and you’re trying to get your message out there — I’ve got some secrets to share.
Your main task is to communicate an idea or product to the media to gain some traction and get it out into the market.
But, you have to trust me when I say, the method a lot of you are using can be poorly timed and annoying for reporters.
To give you an insight the media world — TV, radio, print and digital journalists work madly on multiple stories each day to deadline, and barely have time to breath.
The clock is ticking, ticking, ticking…each second is so precious and valuable, as reporters juggle multiple stories, running in and out of the office to jobs, covering breaking news, and trying to get onto at least two contacts for each story for an interview.
Then, they have to actually write or produce the stories and submit them before deadline.
For PR agents and communications teams, knowing when the optimum time to strike will work to your advantage. So will making sure you pitch the right story angle to the right people.
This way, you’ll have a better chance of getting your message heard, and most importantly, actioned.
Okay, so you have an idea or product to pitch, where do you start?
Best contact methods
Begin by emailing a press release to your journalist distribution list. You should have already researched the best reporters to target with your release depending on the topic.
The worst thing is to have a PR person call a journalist with “this great idea”, spending 10–15 minutes of their time, when it doesn’t even suit the publication or news outlet.
Reporters generally need to compile a news list of up to six stories each morning to pitch in a news meeting with their editors and fellow-reporters.
So, for a journalist to arrive to work and be greeted by a handful of good stories already sitting in their inbox (including one from you!) is like finding gold nuggets.
Keep in mind that the media environment is shifting and journalists now work around the clock to deliver you the news.
When is the right time to pitch an idea?
Businesses or organisations can use a press release to convey a range of information to the press, such as:
- A new office opening;
- New product launches;
- Updating existing products;
- Launching a new website;
- Projects your team has worked on;
- New partnerships;
- Providing expert comments on an issue that is already topical and in the news; and
- Achieving an award.
Press release style
Here are some points to make sure you cover when compiling and distributing your press release:
- Make sure the headline is snappy, catchy and attention-grabbing.
- Is your story angle newsworthy? Would it make you want to read it, listen to it or watch it?
- Convey the main point of the story in the first paragraph of the press release — sell your message here and give it all away at the top.
- Make sure it’s succinct.
- Make sure the most critical details are included — the who, what, when, how and why.
- Then include a few solid quotes from your sources/experts to back this up.
- Reporters love data and statistics — so include some into the press release.
- Add links for the journalist to obtain background information on the topic/organisation/business/people involved. You can also add background details of a business/organisation at the end.
- Attach high resolution images or good quality audio.
- Let the reporter know whether the press release is ‘Embargoed’ until a specific date and time, or ready for ‘Immediate Release’ at the top.
- Include your contact details at the top left-hand corner and at the end of the press release.
- Make sure it’s no longer than one page, two pages maximum.
- Make sure you include a masthead/logo at the top.
- If you’re promoting an event, email the release the day before so the reporters can book in their team to attend.
Oxfam also explains how to write a press release pretty well, here.
Here are some great examples of how to lay-out and write a press release:
Don’t call me, I’ll call you
Your next step should not be to bombard the journalist with phone calls and emails to see if they “received the email”. You need to trust the reporters, that if the story is good enough they WILL contact you for further info/interviews/images/footage etc.
Reporters are competitive by nature and would never let a good story pass them by — ever.
Remember, calling is annoying and can be time-wasting.
Especially don’t contact a journalist with “a great story” when they are on deadline. Traditionally, this is from about 3pm onwards. Remember that ticking clock I was talking about earlier?
Sometimes a reporter’s contact will have fallen through and they have to scramble to find another person to talk to for their story. Most of the time they won’t get a response from a politician’s media advisor until 5pm, chasing them up at the end of the day and having to frantically add comments into a story.
The last thing they want is someone calling about a non-related story that they have to sit and listen to the ins and outs of.
Haven’t heard back?
If a journalist doesn’t bite at your idea and return your email, it’s because the story wasn’t suited to them or the publication/news outlet.
Again, don’t hassle with calls and emails and more emails and…yep…more emails to follow-up. It will rarely change their minds.
If you follow this simple formula when pitching a story, I can guarantee reporters will be more receptive.
If not, then go back and review the news angle, who you pitched it to and how you might be able to change it next time.