News releases, pitch letters and pitch phone calls: 10 best tips to get your story covered

Digital, sschmidgital. The news release, pitch letter and pitch phone call are the most important keys to gaining media coverage. Yet most of these media encounters are squandered due to some basic mistakes. Each day journalists receive dozens of pitches, and most are rejected. In addition, hundreds of news releases are distributed through PR newswires, and end up with dumped with a trash icon. It’s always astonishing how companies pay good money to have news releases on the wire but the product is so inferior that no self-respecting journalist would neither read nor nor use them. The principal reasons are no news, illogical presentation and flabby writing. This story details the five best tips for making each PR product more effective. The tips are based on my PR writing classes at Humber College and Ryerson University and are also covered in my forthcoming book, How to be a better online writer overnight.

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The news release lives: five most essential headline and lead basics:

  1. Ask yourself over and over what is the news, and the chances that a news release will be used increases greatly. Largest/smallest. Newest/oldest. First/last. Timeliness or seasonal. Most expensive/least expensive. Celebrity involvement. Get a nose for the news: it’s important. Simple, but essential.
  2. Focus on the product or event, and not the company or organization behind it. Resist the temptation or the client’s directive to place its name first—XXY company announced today its new version of its groundbreaking product…The groundbreaking XXY thingamagij was released/introduced today.
  3. Write a catchy headline. It might be the only item read. Look at tabloid newspapers to see what that means. Understand that headlines have different grammar rules than copy. Verbs can be eliminated.
  4. Make the lead relate to the headline. Repeat the news. The lead amplifies the headline. Don’t go off in a different direction. The headline and the lead are key messages that bear repeating.
  5. Keep the clause describing the company to a minimum; it wastes words, space and attention span. Below is an actual lead from Canada Newswire, with an incredible 54 words before any news whatsoever:

Hikvision USA, Inc., a leading provider of artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and other emerging technologies, and the world’s largest manufacturerof video surveillance products and solutions, and Eagle Eye Networks, the leading global provider of cloud-based video surveillance solutions addressing the needs ofbusinesses, schools, alarm companies, security integrators, and individuals, today announced…

A slight edit:

Hikvision USA, Inc., and Eagle Eye Networks, today announced a video surveillance solution. It addresses the needs of businesses, schools, alarm companies, security integrators and individuals.

See theprwriter.com for more examples.

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Next: seven most essential pitch letter tips

Writing pitch letters is often considered a chore but are a necessity in media relations. They show the journalist what the story might look like, even though it’s cast in PR terms. Few understand, however, that the pitch letter and the news release are interconnected and must reinforce each other. The pitch letter is the door opener, and the news release contains the news. Here are five tips for maximizing pitch letters.

  1. The subject line is like a headline. As with news releases, make it punchy and memorable. It might be the only item read about the story. Don’t just write one; create one and make it work. Especially if you are requesting attendance at a press event, give those writers or editors a really good reason to get up out of their chairs and get out of the office to attend your event.
  2. In the first paragraph tell journalists why the story is incredibly compelling and what exactly what you want them to do. Come to an event, schedule an interview, review a product, with time and place it will occur. It’s one of the most concise pieces of writing to be prepared. It also must comply with news basics, especially timeliness, roses in summer, earmuffs in winter.
  3. Use a first name with journalists. Not Mr. or Ms. Too formal, A first name elevates the writer to their level, presenting you as a peer who is providing legitimate information they need to do their job. Personalize the rest of the story so the recipients feel it’s aimed at them, not some giant horde.
  4. Use the second paragraph to illuminate the story. What are the other details of the event or product that adds to its newsworthiness?
  5. The third paragraph is the what else that either provides an additional angle. Who else will be there? What else might provide a reason to attend? In the last paragraph, set out the terms and conditions, such as is the invite transferable. If with a celebrity, is security involved?
  6. And then say when you will call to follow up and do it!
  7. Last but not least, make sure it’s absolutely clear where to find you. Even though nine times out of ten, communicators are following up, sometimes the reporter does pick up the phone. If the idea is good enough.

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The art of the pitch conversation.

My students would often ask, what is the best order for pitching. Should you just call or what? My suggestions:

  1. Send a pitch letter
  2. Call but don’t make reference to having sent a pitch.
  3. More often than not, the reporters and editors, if they answer the phone, will say can you send me a pitch?
  4. Never ever say, ‘Hey, I already did.’
  5. Have a news release ready to go if it’s requested.

Now the day has come: the pitch says you will phone and you do. And to your great surprise, the reporter answers the phone. Make sure you are cool, calm and collected and ready to pitch. The first question is always—how do I identify myself? Here are 12 tips to make it an easier process.

  1. Don’t spend too much time on explaining who you are. Providing your full name and that of the agency and the client. By then you’ve lost them.
  2. Most scientific accounts say that people can tell almost instantly whether they will like someone or not. Imagine you are sitting next to someone in a bar. Turn your ahead and you know. Immediately. Go or no go.
  3. So it is with journalists. If someone is fumbling and comes up with a whole long background about who they are, and the story still isn’t clear, the moment is lost.
  4. Get to the story right away. It’s often called an elevator pitch. Can you describe the entire story in 15-20 seconds? It’s the human time span for understanding new information. Practice is over and over until it’s internalized, which leads to:
  5. NEVER read your pitch. A huge turn off. Know the story and be natural. Think of it as talking to a friend.
  6. If the reaction isn’t great, be prepared with other angles.
  7. Listen carefully; sometimes the reporter has accepted the idea and PR people are so busy pitching they don’t pick it up.
  8. If it is accepted, make sure you have all the assets you will provide at your fingertips. For example, know the times the spokesperson can talk to the reporter. Have a product sample and a means to deliver it if you are pitching a product.
  9. The trick question, especially to new PR people, is who else are you pitching, i.e., competitors? Have an answer ready.
  10. The other trick question is ‘is it an exclusive.’ While sometimes it is, avoid agreeing to that at all possible costs. It’s just a form of bullying.
  11. While it’s very depressing to get ‘no’ for an answer, don’t give up right away. At least ask why the pitch doesn’t work, or what else you might do as a follow up.
  12. Make sure the parting is friendly. Be a source for the reporter, not every day but occasionally to build a relationship for next time.
  13. For more help with your news release, contact me at Theprwriter.com.

 

Author: rotmanprwriter

PRWriter, Copy Doctor, Humber College PR and writing Prof

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