As a senior public relations student at the University of Florida, I have been trained to write a press release or pitch in my sleep.
Years of basic skill development and a thorough curriculum left me feeling empowered and ready to take on the fast-paced working world of public relations practitioners; AP Style Book in hand, of course.
I was under the impression that I could woo any reporter I wanted with an enthralling lead, some vivid language and a compelling kicker quote.
I’m not knocking the fundamentals, but my time as an intern at rbb has taught me that there is so much more to it than that. It takes in-depth research and tactful implementation to build interest for your clients and the messages they are presenting to the media.
There is absolutely no way I could summarize all of the work that goes into distributing a pitch or press release in just one blog post. (That’s why we have other blog posts on the topic from fellow rbbers, too!) Here is an overview what I’ve learned.
You have to start somewhere:
- Know your audience: When writing a pitch or press release, it is most important to make sure that you have your audience top of mind. The writers and editors you send materials to should cover your client’s beat. Sending the materials to too broad a media list (what some in the industry call “spray and pray”) audience weakens your credibility and turn reporters off from your agency – or worse, your client – in the future.
- Use your resources: If your company has them, database programs like Cision and Vocus are a great way to locate specific editors and writers at larger publications or special interest publications that may be more likely to be interested in your client.
- Get creative with how you search for contacts: Websites like www.epodunk.com have a vast database of information on even the smallest cities throughout the country. It can help you to locate community newspapers and local TV stations in places that you maybe wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. Something that is invaluable when you’re trying to pitch something to a paper in Between, Georgia.
- Ask your colleagues for support: Here at rbb, there are so many experienced professionals with established contacts, and they are always more than willing to help. They may also have various strategies in contacting and pitching media from past campaigns that could be of relevance to you.
Do your due diligence:
Once you have identified the appropriate media contacts, a lot more research is involved in improving the chances that they will be receptive of your media materials.
- Look at the articles that reporters have published in the past 30 days. Make sure they are still covering stories similar to the topics you are suggesting they cover.
- Look at the past successes and failures you have had with certain publications. Maybe there are specific ways they like press releases to be delivered or certain times of year that they are more receptive to your topics.
- Pay attention to the editorial calendars for publications. They may already plan to cover a niche topic in the upcoming year, and timely pitch matching your client’s business may be better received for a dedicated issue.
- Don’t underestimate the reach and importance of publications that may pick up your story. That being said, always manage your and your client’s expectations..
Make it convenient for them:
- Put yourself in the journalist’s shoes to determine when and how you would want to receive a pitch or press release: Are they in a morning editors meeting? Are they working on deadline? Are they being bombarded around a certain holiday or event? Accommodating them is the key.
- Keep everything brief and forward. The subject line of an email should be about eight words or less, and immediately make your material stand out. Pitches should be four sentences or less and tell the journalist the information that is most important to them.
- On the phone, be courteous but to the point. Editors will probably be more receptive if you don’t waste their time with lots of small talk. As you continue to contact the same reporters with additional pitches or press releases, it is always encouraged to establish a positive, respectful relationship. Contacting these reporters at times when you are not asking them to cover a story for a client, but rather to provide a compliment or referral, is a great way to establish that mutual admiration.
- Always accommodate any special requests or responses. Maybe the angle you pitched doesn’t work for that publication, but you can find a way to tailor the story to fit their needs. This provides a great opportunity to secure more placements for your client and build solid relationships with journalists.