You want your company to be featured in the news, right?
After all, that’s the goal of most PR campaigns. But it can be a challenge because many journalists are wary of PR specialists, who sometimes act like pushy salespeople.
Reporters believe their job is to provide readers with legitimate news. Tension arises because reporters know that publicists are being paid to pitch a story—and that doesn’t sit well with people who make a living sniffing out the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Or, at least, to the best of their ability. Having been reporters for decades, our team at The Inkandescent Group understands this well.
In fact, the reason the Inkandescent PR team got into the PR business is the same reason we wrote PR Rules: The Playbook, — to help small-business owners figure out how to best spread the word about what they are doing so their companies will glow, and grow.
Time and again we have seen the blind spots that many small-business owners have about effectively promoting their companies. And often, they are simply so busy running their businesses (aka: working in them), that they don’t have the time or energy to promote them fully (aka: working on them.)
So, what does it take to successfully pitch the nation’s reporters—who have access to the eyes and ears of millions of potential customers?
We asked three of our favorite reporters to share their trade secrets:
1. Do your homework: Air&Space/Smithsonian magazine senior editor Tony Reichhardt
My overall advice is to keep the pitches short—just long enough to clearly explain your idea and what makes it distinctive (an original angle, an unusual source),” Reichhardt explains. “I can usually tell immediately if I want to follow up and ask for more information, which I usually do over the phone. If the writer is new to me, I’d want some links to other published stories, but the pitch itself should be only a couple of paragraphs. Don’t agonize over a query so much that it ends up being half as long as the story you intend to write.”
Keep this in mind:
- It may seem obvious, but before sending a pitch, first do a simple search of the website of your targeted publication to see if it has already covered your topic. Not only does that save you from wasting your time (and the editor’s), it shows that you’ve taken the initiative to understand something about the publication’s needs. If they have covered your topic, you could try suggesting a slightly different angle from a topic or an article that they have run before.
- Know the publication’s target readership. For example, is it a trade newsletter or a popular magazine? A popular magazine won’t have the slightest interest in that new subcomponent your company manufactures, no matter how important it is to your industry, unless you can explain how it can be turned into a story for a general audience.
- Press releases about personnel changes hardly ever get read. Again, unless it’s a newsletter for industry insiders, why should anyone care that Joe Jones was just appointed vice president for international business?
2. Know when man bites dog: Journalist and author Meg Cox, formerly a staff re- porter for The Wall Street Journal, where she covered everything from culture to agriculture.
“Two things would grab my attention when I was constantly bombarded with pitches at the WSJ—the unexpected ‘man bites dog’ story, and a truly fresh trend,” Cox recalls. “So, when a guy phoned me up in
1984 and said, ‘You should profile the mogul of rap,’ I was intrigued because that seemed like an absurd idea at the time, an oxymoron. He was talking about Russell Simmons, whom I did interview, for a front-page story that helped him get his first big record deal. I also said ‘yes’ when I had a chance to interview the guy who invented kitty litter.
“When I covered publishing, I listened most to the publicists who knew how my paper worked, and how I worked. They didn’t just say, ‘Write an article about this book,’ but said, ‘This book is part of a growing trend, and here are two other recent examples.’”
3. Think like a journalist: Veteran journalist and editor Tom Shroder, former editor of The Washington Post Magazine
“You should approach your client’s story as a journalist would approach it, which means you want to dig around until you find the most fascinating aspect of the story you are trying to tell,” Shroder insists.
“Ask yourself what grabs your interest. If you pitch something that you genuinely find interesting or important—not because your job is to find it interesting, but because it is interesting—chances are, a journalist will think so, too.”