In public relations writing, half the battle is coming up with ideas to the media. Some would say that’s the easy part, others claim it’s the hardest part of their job. Either way, once you have your idea, the work of figuring out how to shape your idea into a story that reporters and editors will want to use begins.
Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, most editors, reporters and bloggers don’t mind being pitched to as long as they are being pitched to by someone who is prepared and approaching them with a concise story idea that is relevant to their publication.
Like anyone else, reporters and editors hate to have their time wasted, especially when they are working on deadlines that seem to come faster and faster every day. Thanks to 24-hour news channels and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, reporters are “on deadline” virtually all the time now, and they do not have time to waste while you practice your pitch on them.
Time is the one thing that they’re not making any more of. The quickest way to ensure your idea goes straight to the trash bin is to call a reporter with long, rambling suggestions for stories that you haven’t bothered to research or think through completely – or, God forbid, are simply not right for their publications or readers. Reporters and editors don’t have time to coax a coherent story idea from your rambling phone call. They are busy spending their time researching ideas, and putting together coherent stories …and that’s what you should do before you ever touch the phone.
In an effort to save you from wasting your time and a reporter’s temper, I’ve talked to several colleagues who specialize in media relations and pulled together is a quick step-by-step primer on how to organize your story idea in a way that is immediately useful. But YOU have to invest the time and effort to pull your idea together and polish it into a concise, coherent story. Don’t expect the reporter or blogger to do it for you.
If you’ve worked in the public relations professions for anything longer than a year or two, you’ve most likely heard of the “elevator pitch” concept: “You have 60 seconds in an elevator with a reporter. What do you tell them about your story/business to convince them it’s newsworthy?” To put it even more bluntly, you need to be prepared to answer the following questions:
What is it?
Who are you?
Why should I care?
Under no circumstances should you even touch a phone or the “Send” button until you can answer those three questions…and do it in 60 seconds or less. And WRITE IT DOWN. Don’t rely on your memory, because as soon as you get that reporter on the phone, I guarantee you will forget half of what you wanted to say. Once it’s written, practice it. Can you say it out loud without
How to do it? In one sentence, can you tell someone what the story is about? What would the headline be if it were printed in the newspaper? If it were to be a report on the TV news? If it were a Tweet?
You need to identify the following elements to package your story in a useable manner:
What is the focal point of your story? In college I had an old-style news editor as an instructor who had a much more descriptive term: the hook. “What’s your hook? How are you going to snag their attention and reel them in?” (Yes, he liked to fish, too.) But it’s an appropriate analogy. What is it about your idea that will capture the audience’s attention? Is there something relevant to them? Something more interesting than Mega Corporation announces Super Widget 2.0? What will RESONATE with them – grab them with both hands and not let go?
Can you back it up? Do you have two or three facts to support your story? Something the reporter can build a story on? This is where the public relations professional earns their money. The supporting information you develop will depending on the media outlet you’re talking to and the audience the reporter is writing for. To continue the fishing analogy, you need some bait to dangle for the reporter, just enough to pique the interest, to let them know there is a real story behind the pitch. If you don’t have enough information to supplement your initial pitch, then you don’t have enough information for a story. Do your homework and have enough information prepared to give the reporter some actual substance for the story. If you can give the reporter a jump on writing the story, you will have a much better chance of getting your story placed.
And don’t even think about touching the phone until you have your backup material written and checked so that you can send it to the reporter immediately if they ask for extra material. If you are sending URLs, make sure you’ve verified that the links aren’t broken, and that any contact names and numbers are valid.
Will the Reader Want to Read It? Have you done your homework on the media outlet or blog you are pitching to? Does it focus on the industry, product, or type of story you are pitching? Motor Trend Magazine isn’t going to carry an article on bicycle racing. I know they both have wheels, but unless you attach a motor to it, you are simply out of luck. The only thing you are going to accomplish is to waste your time, her time, and irritate the reporter and make it more difficult to pitch that reporter when you do have a relevant story to pitch.
Listen to the Reporter! If the reporter tells you that your pitch isn’t appropriate, or that they can’t use your story idea – believe it. But that’s your opportunity to start a conversation with them. If you researched the media outlet before you called and it seemed a good fit, there’s nothing wrong with asking why. You might find out that they’ve just done something similar, or that they don’t think there’s enough there to make a good story. In the latter case, you might have the additional information they need that could change their mind – and if it’s already written and ready to send, you can get it to them while they still remember your call. Do they need more information? Do they need statistics or case studies? Interviews? Photos or video? The more you can give them, the easier you make it for them to do their job, the better. But you have to ask them to find out what they need in order to turn your idea into their story.
Pitches don’t just happen effortlessly; they take a lot of work and written preparation. But it’s worth it to see a story idea you had end up in print. What’s your take on pitching? Do you have any tips to ad?