Journalists are busy people! They get hundreds of story ideas every week. So how can you make your small business story stand out?
Where do you start? Do you have a real story? Should you ring or email? How much information do you need to send to the journalist? Should you follow up when they do not respond?
Here are my top tips:
Make sure your story is a strong story
Think through your story and be brutal with yourself – is it really newsworthy? A new website or a new product in your range might not be as exciting as you think! However, if you can weave it into a stronger story which resonates with the journalist’s audience, it might just be.
Journalists are looking for something new, interesting, unexpected or a 'hook' that will appeal to their readers in some way. Explore your target media by reading their website blogs, magazines or papers over a period of time, and really try to understand their audiences and the kind of stories which typically feature.
Take a moment to find the journalists details and if you are emailing them, make it personal by using their name, but don’t worry too much about niceties. They will want to get straight to the point! You can use an introduction to your story such as ‘I think this would work for your regular slot on….’
However you plan to pitch your story, you should be able to summarise your idea in a short introduction paragraph. Be clear what your introduction will contain. This will be the summary sentence or short paragraph which appears under your killer headline! Write a few drafts when you first start and pass them by your colleagues or friends to see which gains the most applause!
Don’t get too technical or use too much industry jargon. Just imagine you are telling your story to a friend over a cuppa!
Be aware that journalists will often just scan the first few lines of a pitch, hence the importance of a good subject line for your email, followed by your story. If you want to some further information about your company you can do so at the bottom of the email.
Should you phone or email?
The answer is ‘depends’! Some journalists are happy to take a phone pitch, and others prefer an email. It also depends on your comfort levels. If you feel confident and are comfortable using the phone, then there are no reasons why you should not give it a go. Just don’t get too offended if the journalist refuses your call or is a little short with you. They are very likely to be busy!
Avoid calling or emailing on press days. These are when the publication goes to press and if you are aiming for radio or TV, avoid times when the programme is on air or about to go on air.
The journalist may also have to pitch your story to their editor or team, so do follow up with an instant email pitch, so they have something to refer to. To do this you will need to name and email of the journalist, so don’t forget to ask!
Bearing in mind the bulging inboxes of most journalists, do pick up the phone and call if your story is time sensitive.
Try not to send pitches the general email addresses you find on some news sites. These might be news@, press@ or features@ as they invariably do not get checked that regularly.
Do I send a press release or a direct email?
You do not need a press release. You can put the body of your story into a direct email. Press releases do have their value in some circumstances, but if you want to increase your chances of success, then tailor every pitch you send to the publication or programme you are pitching to.So, sometimes not having a press release is a bonus as you don’t get fixated on the content and you will feel encouraged to write fresh content for each approach you make.
Do make sure you include all of your contact details, including your phone number in any emails or press releases. If the journalist is interested in your story, they may want to get in touch with you immediately.
You can pitch the same idea to different publications or programmes as long as you are upfront as to what you are doing. Journalists will cover stories that are being covered elsewhere, and these will invariably be more news-based stories. Others options, such as a more in-depth feature or an article, will require exclusivity so only pitch to the journalist of your choice and let them know you intend that the story is exclusive.
Develop a hard skin!
A constant moan of PR bods and business owners is that journalists do not return calls or answer emails. In all honesty, most will only follow up on stories they want to cover. However, sometimes they do miss a good one, so there is no harm in sending a follow-up email or call. Just don’t overdo it – do it once and then leave it alone!
If they do respond and tell you they are not interested, do feel free to ask them why. You might get a short response, but others will be far more open and let you know why the idea did not work for them. This is so helpful as you can learn from it and take what you learn forward to your next story.
Always ask if there is anything else you can help with. Sourcing specific stories, case studies or interviewees might be helpful, and the idea is to build a long-term relationship.
Most importantly, be aware it takes time to build expertise in media relations so when it does not go to plan, get ready for the next go, and you will find persistence pays off.
If you are time short or don't yet feel confident enough to develop your stories or push them to the media, please do get in touch. Blue Lizard Marketing has a number of expert writers and press experts you can tap into at any time.