Despite being slammed, reporters still want to pick and choose their stories. They don’t want you to write stories for them. They don’t want to get the same release that two-dozen of their colleagues were simultaneously BCC’d.
At best, you can obtain the same level of coverage without spending all your time on a news release.
At worst, you will make the reporter’s spam list.
The only time I’ve had news releases printed verbatim was when I shared them with weekly newspapers that served mostly rural communities. They had only one or two people in their newsroom, and even then, the news still needed to be relevant to their community.
Here are four tips to whittling the story down into a pitch note to get a reporter pick up the phone and call you for more information.
- Spend time on the subject line. Other than your name in the from line, the subject will be the first thing the reporter sees. This means the subject line of your email is actually your headline.
If your organization is a household name, like Microsoft, use that. Everyone knows them. But if it’s not, you should use a generic descriptor like “software company.” Is it a local story? Then make sure you say “local software company.”
Does your story involve money? If so, include it in the subject line. Dollar signs attract attention. A showstopping headline will simultaneously be relevant to the story, eye-catching and play to the reporter’s interests.
- Sharpen the hook. To do this, think of the stakes for your target audience. What is the consequence of your organization’s actions? Conversely, what happens if it fails to act? The hook tells the reporter what’s at stake, which is inherently newsworthy.
If there are no stakes, you may want to reconsider why you’re pitching in the first place.
Find the stakes and the story will develop itself.
- Kill all your darlings. The worst thing to see after opening an email is a wall of text. Yes, your beautiful prose is precious, but you must edit ruthlessly. Know that a killer pitch will have lots of missing information. The purpose of a killer pitch is to provide enough detail to whet the appetite, not enough to gorge on. To get over this, just think: you can give a reporter all this background over the phone once they call you.
- Offer up interview subjects. This is the exchange of brown envelopes behind the laundromat at 4 a.m. Access to key personnel in your organization is what’s in it for the reporter.
In exchange for getting people to know about your story, a reporter will want to be able to talk to an influential member of you organization. If you’re a regular corporate spokesperson on the communications team, you don’t count this time around (sorry!).
If your story deals with a technological development, offer up a subject matter expert (SME) to provide the flavour that preapproved key messages often miss. If it’s a larger corporate development, put forward an executive with the experience and confidence to speak as an industry representative.
Keep in mind, the more people who are directly impacted by a news development, the less killer your pitch will need to be.
If a transit company needed to announce that half the city will be without service for two days, that story will get picked up by all news outlets, regardless of the level of spokesperson or catchiness of the headline.
On the other hand, if you’re wanting to share the organization’s vision for the next five years with a business reporter, you will likely need to put forward a top-ranking executive to demonstrate the importance that this news holds for the organization.