Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Guidelines for Pitching to the Media

There is arguably no form of advertising more effective than a favourable news story, broadcast segment, or article in an industry publication. The endorsement of a trusted media professional can expand your prospective market, and engender public trust and goodwill toward you and your business. Many businesspeople appreciate the importance of effective media relations, but there is a right way, and countless wrong ways, to communicate with media outlets.

This post will recommend some general best practices for business marketing communications with the media, and detail a few “pet peeves” to avoid.

  #1 rule of thumb: Respect media professionals’ time.

Media professionals tend to have full schedules, and are obliged to keep their interactions with PR and marketing departments brief. If you respect their time—or better yet, can save them time—there is a greater likelihood that they will respond positively to your pitch.

  Personalize your communications with media professionals.

Many journalists and industry writers specialize in a particular subject area—or, in media lingo, a beat. How familiar are you with the recent work of the journalist, publication, or news organization you hope to reach? Have you been in touch with anyone at that that outlet before? Who are its competitors?

Before you pitch story ideas to writers, editors, or broadcasters, make a point of getting to know them and the sort of stories they cover. This will improve your chances of delivering information that is both relevant to them, and of interest to their regular readers/audience.

Each e-mail should be tailored specifically to one individual—avoid sending identical bulk e-mails to many different people.

Always confirm the name, gender, and appropriate honorific of the person to whom your e-mail is addressed before you hit the “send” button.

Don’t pitch to a media professional unless you’re reasonably confident that person will be interested, and hasn’t recently covered a very similar or identical topic. Otherwise, you will give the impression that you’re a self-promoter who can’t be bothered to do your homework—not a good start.

  Get right to the point.

The majority of “hard news” stories are written in the inverted-pyramid format—the most compelling pieces of information appear in the lead sentence, and then greater detail and context follow. Likewise, marketing communications on behalf of your business should be succinct and lead with the most eye-catching pieces of news right away. Toward the end of the text, provide times, locations, and contact information to facilitate follow-up calls and/or e-mails.

Some marketing departments try to entice media professionals to pursue a story by strategically withholding information. Don’t do this. The people you’re trying to reach will rarely take the bait, and may even resent your efforts to sidetrack them.

  Learn each media professional’s preferred mode of interaction.

Many media professionals don’t mind follow-up phone calls, but some prefer to confine all of their interactions with marketing departments to e-mail. Once you know the preferred medium of the person you’re trying to reach, make a note of it. Don’t call up people who prefer not to receive phone calls, or send the same e-mail to the same person multiple times over the course of a day.

When the time comes, be prepared to take “no” for an answer.

  Clarity, concision, and quality are important.

Try to convey your message in as few words as possible, while avoiding insider jargon and rambling. In many cases, time-constrained media professionals will simply re-purpose press releases and publish them as news or advertorial stories, or transform them into broadcast segments. The better they understand the content of your communicational materials, the quicker and easier this will be for them.

  When in doubt, hold off.

It is not unusual for some media professionals to receive hundreds of e-mails and dozens of phone calls each day. So pick your spots, and hold off unless you’re reasonably confident that your pitch is buzz-worthy. If possible, seek the opinion of a disinterested third party whom you trust not to leak privileged information. Is s/he as excited about the story as you are?

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