I was going through my emails this morning and found an old story I wrote while I was a Senior Producer with WCBS. A global PR agency had asked me to write an article for their employee newsletter, giving their publicists some tips on how to write a better media pitch. I reread the story and thought this was some valuable information today for business owners and entrepreneurs trying to get their stories told on the news. It gives you some perspective on how to make your story stand out.
Common Mistakes Made by Publicists
Every morning when I log onto my computer, I have about 100 new emails from publicists trying to get their client on the next local newscast. I want to read every email closely, but in an era of shorter staffing and larger workloads it is physically impossible to read every single pitch word-for-word. Unfortunately, I know I may be missing some good story ideas, which is bad for everyone. Viewers won’t get to see the next great product and I won’t get to pitch the next great idea.
This is why it is so important to clarify and focus your pitch off before you hit send. Publicists have only seconds to make a lasting impression with the media, and if your email doesn’t catch the eye, there is zero chance of getting on the newscast.
There is no official “right” or “wrong” way to draft a press release but there are definitely “dos” and “don’ts” that will either increase or decrease your chances of getting a reporter’s attention. Here are a few of the biggest mistakes I see publicists make with their press releases time and time again.
Publicists try to cram everything into one press release.
A press release has a purpose. It is to alert the media to your story idea, not a time to make the hard sell. Your press release should not encompass every single fact and angle for the story and it should never be more than one page. (Think white is good). The release is merely the first step towards getting you on the newscast or in the local papers. Many publicists make the mistake of trying to cram everything into one page, causing the release to lose focus or clarity. Instead, write your release so it sounds more intriguing. Look for interesting angles, ways to tease your story and pique the reporter or producer’s interest. If the journalist finds your story interesting, trust me, he or she will follow-up with you and ask you about the facts you left out of the initial release.
Publicists pitch evergreen story ideas.
It’s hard to fathom how so many people pitching the media forget the basics of news. People watch the news and read the newspapers because they want to find out what is “new” that day. It’s a simple formula: news is new minus the S, yet surprisingly many publicists seem to forget this in their pitches.
This is why you should never send a news release that sounds like it could have been written a year ago. I frequently get the same email pitches from publicists that they pitched me several months earlier. They probably assumed I wouldn’t remember it or perhaps they think I didn’t read their release the first time. No, I didn’t pitch their story the first time because it wasn’t new.
Laser hair removal is not new no matter how you try to spin it. However, the fiscal stimulus plan is new and a good publicist will find a way to link their salon to the new fiscal stimulus plan. In late February, I read an article about a salon in Springfield, Illinois that was offering its own stimulus plan for people who lost their job. The reporter wrote about how the salon was offering free haircuts to people who were about to go in for a job interview. They only had to tell the receptionist that they were in for the “stimulus haircut.” The article also profiled the salon’s new royalty rewards program, which essentially offered 25 percent off a haircut over the course of the program. This article was a great public relations coup that raised the salon’s profile in the community. And, it was a timely piece of work that could travel anywhere (in other words copied by other publicists in other cities). Finding a timely article isn’t as difficult as it sounds. It’s actually quite easy once you learn how to learn to follow the news cycle.
Publicists don’t personalize their pitch.
It’s okay to pitch the same story idea to different news outlets, in fact, I encourage it. You never want to limit your success to one person, and the more people who read your news release, the better chance you have of getting it read. However, I am not a fan of massive email blasts. It’s just another form of spam and it usually ends up getting automatically filtered into my outlook junk mail box without me even knowing it.
You don’t have to rewrite the release, but you should add a one-liner at the top of the email, telling the producer or reporter why this is a good story idea for him or her. Also, take the time to research the right reporter or producer. If you’re pitching a consumer story idea or anything that involves money, send it to the consumer reporter or producer. If you’re pitching a story on a restaurant, pitch it to the food critic or the lifestyle reporter. To me, that’s common sense, but surprisingly I frequently get pitches for sports and entertainment.
As a special projects producer, I suspect my profile in the various media databases details my broad background in consumer, entertainment, medical, lifestyle, investigative, etc. I still always forward good story ideas to the proper person, but a publicist could increase his chances for success by pitching the consumer idea directly to the consumer producer. Finding the right person is not that time consuming and you don’t even need to be subscribed to expensive database lists. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking at the company’s website or calling the news desk and asking for a name.
I understand how difficult it is to get the media’s attention. I’ve called some of my own friends in the media and I don’t even get a call back. It’s nothing personal. If you call a reporter or producer and they ask you to email them a press release or they don’t return a voicemail, it’s probably because they want you to focus the idea rather than ramble on about why you have just discovered the next great idea.
I do believe there is a home for every story idea and it’s just a matter of discovering where that outlet is. So don’t get discouraged if no one is biting on your story idea. Perhaps, you need to go back to the drawing board and find a more timely angle. Or maybe, you need to reformat that press release so it doesn’t look so cluttered. By following the above rules, you may not get on the news that day, but you will definitely improve your chances of getting your product, service, business or client on the news.
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Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and author of the book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. You can read more on his public relations agency at MaciasPR.