Attracting media coverage is a great way to promote a business, organization, attraction, or event. Journalists, reporters, and other media influencers, however, receive hundreds of pitches every week. How can you make your story so appealing to media professionals that they’ll want to share with their audiences? How can you craft a pitch that will stand out? In this post, I will help you find answers to these questions.
A little bit about me. Before I started working at JB Media, I was the Editor of The Laurel of Asheville Magazine, a monthly arts and culture publication in Western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina. In addition to coming up with my own story ideas, I received dozens of emails each week from people who wanted to get mentions. Some of them had traction; others didn’t. It was up to me to choose which stories made it into the magazine and which ones didn’t. I’d often get asked, “How do you decide?” The answer, as you may guess, is complicated.
In my recent Digital Drop-in webinar titled “Your Pitch Can Hit a High Note with the Media: Here’s How!” I dove into my experience working with a regional publication and how public relations specialists can earn journalists’ trust, why certain topics are chosen over others, what made certain emails stand out. While the advice can generally apply to anyone pitching the media, I specifically geared it to folks in the tourism industry.
One Example of How to Get Noticed
Let me give you a real-life example of how one PR professional crafted a pitch to me that caught my attention and ended up being published in my magazine. This pitch just so happens to have come from Kathleen McCafferty, who is the Content, PR & Community Outreach Specialist at JB Media. Long before we ever met in person, Kathleen sent my magazine PR pitches on behalf of her JB Media clients. She sent me one such email in October 2013, pitching a story for Dog Tag Art, an Asheville-based business that makes personalized pet id tags. Instead of writing something along the lines of, “Dog Tag Art is a cool Asheville business that makes personalized pet ID tags,” Kathleen sent me a story idea. She told me about a man who used a series of Dog Tag Art’s products to propose to his fiancée. It fit perfectly into a love story feature that we regularly printed. We interviewed the couple, wrote the story, and published it. We made mention of Dog Tag Art, but the story was about the romantic gesture.
Rejection is Not Personal
Kathleen continued to email me ideas over the years. Some of them I picked up, others I didn’t. Whether or not your story goes anywhere is dependent on lots of factors, many of which you’ll never know about. Perhaps that publication has already recently published stories on your particular topic and they’re giving it a rest. Maybe you just got picked up by a different publication and they don’t want to share the same story with their readers. They might file it away, though, so keep in mind that sending somewhat evergreen content (content not tied to a specific time) is a good idea. If some space opens up last minute, they may dig in that folder of ideas.
Let’s Pretend You’re a Country Music Singer
To make this presentation more fun, I distilled the pitch process down into an extended metaphor. Instead of a person trying to get media attention, think of yourself as a country music singer who is about to play a show at the Tumblrweed, a popular honky tonk bar and grille.
Whatever your business or organization is in real life, in this make-believe world you are a singer hoping to get more people to share your music. Your audience at the Tumblrweed includes current fans who always come to see you and potential fans who were just hanging out in the bar. (In real life, your audience is composed of journalists, influencers, and other members of the media. Some know your work, others don’t.)
How do you make your show as successful as possible? In other words, how can you create a pitch that will catch a journalist’s ear and make them interested in your story?
Your goal is to get the media (like your audience) to notice you, get interested in what you’re doing, and share your music. You want to make a good impression and ultimately further your bright future as a world-renowned country music sensation.
Prepare for the Show
To prepare for the show, you will:
- Put together a setlist | Select journalists/influencers to pitch to
- Practice | Write and tweak your pitches to express the story you’re trying to tell
- Sound check | Proofread
- Perform | Appeal to the media/hit send
- Encore? | Did you get a reply? Do you nudge?
1. Select Journalists & Influencers to Contact
Create a media list of people you want to contact. Remember to do your research and only choose people whose audiences would be interested in your story. Just as you’re a country singer who shouldn’t be belting out punk rock songs, you should be trying to appeal to audiences that are already intrigued by what you’re offering. Reach out to the right journalist with the right message. If you’re a female entrepreneur, don’t contact a men’s magazine. If you’re promoting an event that takes place in two weeks, don’t reach out to a monthly magazine that is already out on stands (unless you know they published extra articles online).
The media list can include:
- Outlet Name
- Contact First & Last Name
- Phone Number
- sounOutlet Type
- Outlet Frequency
- Outlet Website
What’s a Press Release?
A press release is a PR announcement that lets the media know of company developments/news. Make sure it includes basic information on your business, such as where you’re located, whom you serve, and what you provide. Think of it as the elevator pitch of your business. If they were going to take the story and run with it (without emailing you back), they should have everything they need in this release. That’s also to say that if the date of your event changes or it gets canceled, please let everyone you reached out to know. They don’t want to publish incorrect information—and you don’t want them to either!
What’s a Pitch?
A pitch tells a story. It is not an advertisement. If you don’t have a story or news, you don’t have a pitch. Remember, Kathleen sent me a story of an interesting way that her client Dog Tag Art’s product was used in real life. That’s much more appealing to the magazine’s readers. Publications will only print things they think people want to read. Ads and sales pitches aren’t going to be picked up as stories. Do your research to see how you could work your products or services into a timely topic that fits the publication or influencer’s typical beats.
2. Write & Tweak Your Pitches
For an effective pitch, follow these rules of thumb:
- Your pitch is usually the body of the email.
- A good subject line should reveal what your pitch is about.
- Make it timely.
- Think like a journalist!
- Avoid huge blocks of text.
- Bullet points are your friend.
- Look at what is going on in your industry. You are an expert in your field who can provide insight: Buzzsumo, Google News, and Answer the Public to see what people are searching. You can also check out the free tool Help A Reporter Out.
- Be kind and approachable.
Remember, TV people want something that makes good video: newspapers want good print, but they also have online elements for a photo gallery or short video; magazine people want excellent photos. Avoid mass pitches (aka spray and pray PR). Personalize pitches when possible and tailor each one to the person you’re writing to.
Once you know who you’re reaching and you have a handle on what you want to say, make sure everything is set up for success (just like a sound check):
- Ask someone you trust to read your pitch and press release. They should be proofing it for typos, but (more importantly), they should give you feedback on whether your story is interesting.
- Make sure your website is up to date. If it doesn’t succinctly say what you do on it, you need to add that ASAP. Consider a page dedicated to past press and include a media list.
- Be sure you’re sending the pitch at a time of day that the journalist is most likely to read it. Tuesdays and Wednesdays around 2 p.m. are the best times. Avoid weekends or after-hours.
4. Hit Send
It’s showtime! Just as you’re performing for your audience (remember, you’re a country music singer), you’re also trying to entertain and inform your media email recipients. Remember to:
- Interact with your audience. Sing to them!
- Create an ambiance that reflects you and your vibe.
- Build relationships and earn trust with the press.
- Stay focused under pressure. (Don’t go on tangents in your email.)
- Visuals are important. Make sure you have high-res imagery readily available to provide members of the press at a moment’s notice.
- Be pithy: Don’t overstay your welcome (avoid six-hour-long performances). In other words, don’t message the journalist on every contact form you can possible find on them. They should have an email out there in the interwebs that they prefer to receive info through.
5. Encore? Nudge?
You’ve finished your show! Your email is impatiently sitting in an inbox. Just as there are no set-in-stone rules on concert encores, there are no strict guidelines on follow-ups.
If you don’t hear back, use your judgment. It’s recommended that you reach out again two weeks after your original pitch in case it got lost in the shuffle, but after that, if you don’t receive a response, move on. You’re not likely to get a rejection email. Most journalists will simply ignore emails that they can’t do anything with. Check your spam folder to make sure you’re not missing anything from freelance writers and be sure someone is actively managing your social media accounts in case you are contacted on there.
If the audience is applauding, they want more! Make sure that you respond promptly to journalists who ask you follow-up questions. Respect their time and deadlines. I recently reached out to many businesses for a story in a local outlet and only a handful got back to me. Even if you have to look into the question they are asking you, let them know that! Don’t just ignore it until you have the answer. Say “I’ll have to check and get back to you tomorrow,” or ask “What’s your deadline? I’ll check on this!”
You’re a Rockstar!
Radio silence from the media can often be disheartening. But don’t give up! Your first couple of pitches may not result in much (if any) coverage, but as you develop relationships with the media and figure out how your passions and interests can fit into bigger story ideas, you’re more likely to get some hits. Persistence pays off, but so does research. Make sure that you’re reaching out to the right people and that your emails are direct and friendly. Here’s hoping your next show is sold out!