Greg Simpson of Press for Attention PR explains how to pitch your stories to the media.
Last week, I assembled a panel of local, regional and national business journalists to help small businesses understand how to pitch their story to the press. I’ve since had many emails from the delegates asking me to critique press releases or just for some guidance. Here’s some tips I tend to give and which have served me well for the last decade, they may be useful to you too.
- Keep it simple. People worry that their efforts don’t sound flashy enough to warrant attention but you aren’t aiming for a Booker Prize, you’re aiming for coherent and interesting NEWS. If the story isn’t new then it just isn’t news and that’s the end of it.
- Structure. Use “Who, What, When, Where, How and Why?” as a framework and imagine yourself as the journalist. Is this definitely of interest to their readers? Is it simple enough to understand? Does it stand up on its own? Ensure that your entire story is summarised within the first paragraph. Ideally, each resulting paragraph should just add to the first with a little more detail. I would stick to 250 words maximum and try and be even more brief if possible. Stay focused on the story/news angle – you can add your “about us” details later.
- Hit them between the eyes. Journalists get hundreds of press releases every day and are not going to scan through them all trying to find something of relevance. I prefer to call the journalist beforehand to outline my story and refine it for their audience. This demonstrates that you are trying to work with them and have their audience in mind.
- Answer the question “so what?” Seriously, why should a journalist publish this news or your opinion piece? What difference does it make to his/her readers? This is a key question and can make or break your story.
- Include a quote. This might be from you, a colleague, a client or a relevant case study. However, as with photos, make sure it adds to the story. There’s no point just chucking a quote in for the sake of it – it won’t get used even if you do!
- Include a call to action. What do you want the audience to do next? Attend an event, visit a website, call a number or start behaving differently? Obviously, the editor is under no obligation to include this, or indeed any of your information for that matter; but hey, if you don’t include it you have no chance of it being seen!
- Add Notes to editor. Signify that the article itself has finished with the word “ENDS” then add a “Notes to editor” section which offers pertinent information about your business (including a little history, your key messages and your website address) and contact details for the journalist to follow up any queries.
- Add pictures and picture captions. Please don’t make the mistake of “saving” on photography by either not bothering with one or sending something awful with it as an afterthought or to tick the box. A good photo can be the difference between a mention and half a page of quality coverage.
A top tip in general is to stop thinking like a marketing manager and instead, start to think like the publisher of the outlet you are pitching to. How can you provide content that is useful to their readers? Work back from there and ensure that what you produce adds value to the audience and as a result, the journalist in question. They will thank you for it with coverage.