How to Get Publicity
Here’s how to open media doors – without getting them slammed in your face. Plus, 10 things to never say to the media.
By Melanie Rembrandt
As an entrepreneur, are you giving reporters what they want? “I get a million PR calls a week and can’t possibly respond to or process them all,” Taylor Mallory, PINK’s lifestyle, franchise and Web editor, told me. “Most of the people who contact me do not have a unique story idea pertinent to our readers, and they waste my time and theirs.”
And Mallory is not alone. I know many press people who have big frustrations dealing with ill-defined pitches from publicists and small business owners. So here are some suggestions to help you pitch reporters effectively.
Do Your Research
The best way to reach reporters is to pick up the phone. But before you start dialing, do your research. Otherwise, you’ll waste time and effort if your pitch does not fit the media venues you’re reaching out to and is sent out to hundreds at one time.
Start by reviewing your PR goals: Whom are you trying to reach, and what is the message you want to convey?
Next, find out what your target consumers watch, listen to and read. Then make a list of these publications, radio programs, television shows and websites. Then figure out what makes each media outlet unique. What is the focus and tone for each? What stories were previously published? What topics do specific reporters cover on a regular basis?
And it helps if you can even get to know about the reporter or editor you’re pitching. “Before pitching, get to know me on my blog,” says Penelope Trunk, author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Successand a career columnist at the Boston Globe and Yahoo! Finance. “Many journalists have their own blogs. A blog is a conversation, and bloggers know the smart commentators on their blog. Journalists are much more likely to pay attention to your pitch if they are already familiar with you as someone who has smart comments on their blogs.”
Develop Newsworthy Story Ideas
Research allows you to craft a personalized pitch to each publication. For example, pretend you’re a midcareer professional woman who just started a quilting business with your best friend after going through a nasty divorce. You could pitch your story in different ways to different media outlets. You might pitch a women’s interest magazine about how to build a great life after a divorce. You could pitch a quilting magazine about your product. And you could pitch a women’s business digital media company (like PINK) about how to start a business with your best friend, or the business side of quilting, or even a story of entrepreneurial triumph after a trying personal disaster.
To figure out your best angles, consider:
• The unique benefits (or competitive advantage) your company has that no one else offers.
• Client success stories that reveal interesting “before and after” testimonials.
• Aspects of your business that apply to a current industry trend or news headline.
• New studies, survey data or research results.
• Personal insights or opinions.
• Upcoming charity events, presentations or community activities that involve others.
And consider sending more than one story angle to each publication or website, in case the reporter rejects your first one. This takes significantly more time than writing a press release, putting it out over PR Newswire and waiting for a reporter somewhere to read it and call you. But it’s much more effective.
Betsy Cummings, a journalist who has written for the New York Times, AdWeek, Smart Money and other business magazines, likes talking to publicists who’ve done their research and who present newsworthy information. “I am interested in features on companies and anything that’s unusual,” Cummings says. “It can be a quirky business story or a strange trend in the marketplace. Include lots of statistics, studies and trends in the pitch. And put the information in bulleted points rather than in a long narrative.”
Call and Keep It Succinct
Now that you have done your research and practiced your pitch, call specific reporters on your list directly. Introduce yourself and provide the key points of your story – concisely.
A Final Note for Success
Finally, don’t get discouraged if you do your homework and your story angles are still rejected. Although it may feel like a door has slammed in your face, it really hasn’t. You have just started to create valuable relationships with key media members for future opportunities. While these story ideas may not have fit in well with the articles the writers were working on at the moment, the story ideas you pitch next month might be just what they’re looking for.
10 Key Things Never to Say to the Media
1. You need to write a feature about our small business. When can you talk to my boss?
2. I just created the best new product in the world. When would you like to cover it?
3. What is your publication about, and do you have a website?
4. What do you write about?
5. How do you spell your name?
6. Our press event is tonight. Can you come?
7. Did you get my fax or e-mail?
8. I’ve called you 10 times in the last two days. Why don’t you return my calls? I just left a message for your boss.
9. Can I edit your story before it goes to print?
10. The New York Times just did a major story about my client. Would you like to do the same story too?
Melanie Rembrandt is an experienced publicist and author of 7 Simple Steps to Startup PR Success. She helps entrepreneurs increase awareness and sales via her business, Rembrandt Communications®, free newsletter and blog.
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