“We need to send out a press release.”
Ask any public relations person if they’ve heard those words uttered by a company boss or by an agency client and watch the reaction. Smile and chuckle? Flaring nostrils? Blank stare while reaching for a pill bottle?
It’s not the actual request that causes PR pros angst. It’s the implied demand behind those eight words: get our news picked up by every major news outlet in the country. To many business leaders, a press release is news incarnate. Any reputable news organization will gobble it up and post it on their website or print it in an upcoming issue, right?
Wrong. It’s this mentality that can cost companies thousands of dollars in press release distribution fees and major disappointment when the publicity doesn’t come.
Now, I’m not saying companies should forgo sending out press releases. They have their place. But consider this: thousands upon thousands of releases are distributed every day. And unless you’re a big brand or just discovered the cure for partisan politics, a press release likely won’t get you much more than a mention in business briefs or 15 seconds of fame on a media outlet’s news feed.
What a press release can complement is an effective publicity getter: the direct pitch. Sharing your news with selected reporters and editors can have a much greater success rate – and is more cost-effective – than a press release.
There’s nothing mysterious about a news pitch. It is a succinct, informative telling of your company, product, or service story. However, crafting an effective pitch for publicity requires special attention to detail. Here are some tips to writing, sending, and following up on a publicity pitch:
- Be selective – There’s a tendency to send press releases to every media contact in the database. Pitching for publicity doesn’t work that way. The media wants to publish information no one else has touched, so sharing information with 541 reporters at once is a recipe for failure. Take the time to research which media outlets would most likely want your story, parse that list down to 5-10, and target one reporter at each publication. Knowing who you’re pitching will increase the chance at least one of them wants to chat about your information.
- Look at me! – You know how many emails hit your inbox every day. Reporters are inundated with hundreds of publicity requests each month. The subject line of your pitch email is crucial to grabbing their attention. Consider these subject lines: “New Brain Health Supplement Hits Market” or “Lasting Memories: Brain Health Supplement Increases Memory Retention in Women.” Which would you read? Remember that you aren’t the only one gunning for publicity, and in the case of email subject lines, bring the bling.
- Get to the point – Some companies believe a long salutation and substantiation of their story are required to validate why a media outlet should respond. Like the email subject line, it is vital to jump into the meat of the information fast. Say you send a pitch with the second subject line above. The reporter opens the message and is greeted with: “Thank you for considering Company X for coverage in your publication. We believe the following information will show why our new brain health supplement is the greatest thing since sliced bread.” They can’t hit the Delete button fast enough. Reporters don’t care about formalities; they want unique information no one else has. And they want it fast. Here’s an alternate opening line: “A recent clinical trial showed a brain health supplement with few side effects improved the long-term memory of women over 50 who complained of ongoing memory lapses and gaps. And scientists believe people of all ages may benefit from this natural supplement.” You’ve provided the results up front in a way that hits the key points and opens the door for further inquiry about scientific results.
- Just the facts, ma’am – Support your pitch with valid, confirmed facts about the efficacy of the product or service. This is where having solid science – clinical trials, industry reviews, expert presentations – is invaluable. A columnist for The Wall Street Journal wrote about two client products based on the scientific background we provided. She told me that without that objective validation, the publicity would never have happened.
- Respect their time, but be persistent – You write a magnetic subject line. The email body copy contains two to three hard facts. You relate the information to the publication’s audience. Send! Four hours later, you pick up the phone, get the reporter on the line, and ask if they’ve read the email. I can’t repeat what some writers may say. Remember how many emails you get a day? Understand that it may take a reporter a few days to get to your message. And it is highly unlikely they’ll call you back unless the information really was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Send the pitch on a Tuesday (never Monday or Friday). Wait two days and make a follow-up call. Since you’re likely to get voice mail, leave a short message that restates the power information of the pitch and the day you sent it. Say you’ll touch base early the next week if you haven’t connected. And then follow through. Make the second call. Voice mail? Leave one more message. From there, send a follow-up email with the original pitch and call once a week until you get them live. At that point, they’ll either say they haven’t seen the information and will you resend it (didn’t I already do that?), tell you they’ll read it and get back to you if they’re interested, read it while you’re on the line and ask for additional details, or instruct you to take a flying leap to a relatively hot place.
You work hard and find only rejection. Just move on. Rework the pitch to suit different media outlets. Build relationships with other reporters. And above all, don’t give up. Success sometimes means being in the right place at the right time.