There’s a famous line in the movie Jerry Maguire that you’ll recognise. Renée Zellweger’s character says to Tom Cruise’s character: “You had me at hello.” But the reality is a long way from that when it comes to getting a journalist’s attention.
As a journo, let me tell you what we hate.
Getting past my inbox is a simple numbers game. The number of PR professionals has overtaken the number of journalists. The amount of content being published is greater than ever before and growing at an accelerating rate. And the number of journalists that are working has shrunk.
Put all that together. Now think about it. There are more people than ever before pushing stories to a shrinking number of journalists who are producing more stories than ever before. Journalists are receiving more story pitches and ideas than they can handle. Delivering what journalists need when they need it is the best way to maximise your chances of coverage for your company or client.
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Start by making the pitch easy to understand.
So many messages I receive from PR and marketing teams start with ‘Company X is a leader in blah blah blah and delivers paradigm-changing hyperbole’. Then there are a few buzzword bingo words thrown around. And that’s before I get to the content that’s actually important.
Start with why the journalist should care about this and what the story is. Don’t bury the hook.
If you’re looking to get something covered quickly, make sure there are supporting images easily available. Active images with people using the products or services you think are newsworthy are great. Boring product shots or screen captures are less useful. Aim to have images in a couple of different formats with a mix of portrait and landscape orientations.
Many journos will want fresh quotes, not the canned and curated ones provided in the release. Make sure spokespeople are prepared and available. If I had a buck for each time a spokesperson had an out of office message or didn’t answer a call after a press release was issued I’d be a wealthy man.
Check hyperlinks. Broken links are a pain. With many publications pushing out fresh stories every hour or more, there’s rarely time to go searching for the right link.
And be super careful with placeholder text. I once received a release with the string ‘xxx’ used in the placeholder URL. That web address went exactly where you’d expect!
Finally, when you pitch a story, it’s an opportunity to tell a story. It’s not a free ad.
So, while the release of a new product might be a big deal for your client, it’s not a story unless there’s something personal in it.
For example, a software update that makes data entry easier isn’t news. How you apply it or help overcome a challenge might be.