January 26, 2011 / by Frank Strong


An entrepreneur sent me this question privately on LinkedIn and since the topic is relevant for everyone, I thought I’d turn it into a blog post.  Cassie, our newest member of the team, but a PR pro, also took a stab at this question earlier with her post, Pitching Basics.

Question: Hello, I’m a new business owner and also new to Linkedin.  I sent out a media pitch to four different Parenting and Children Wear magazines which is my target market, but I haven’t heard a response. Can you help me as to what I need to do to get the attention from the editor?

Answer: This is a great question and it identifies a challenge new entrepreneurs often find daunting.  There is no magic formula, but with good fundamentals and some perseverance, you will be successful.

Understand the media’s perspective
First, it’s important to understand the media’s perspective.  There are a million stories to write and only so much time.  Reporters get tons of pitches, in addition to the story ideas they conceive on their own, so it’s very competitive.  Reporters are often on deadline, pressed for time and can’t possibly answer every pitch they get.

Small businesses do have an advantage
I’ve always felt small businesses owners have an advantage. First, the idea of an entrepreneur taking risk, starting their own business and working on their own to tell their story has a notion of authenticity that cannot be replicated with a professional PR person.  Sure, good PR people have relationships, understand how to find a news hook and are good with words, but these are also things you can (and should) learn. In addition, the mental exercise of developing such skills will help in other areas of your business.

Here are some media relations fundamentals.

1. Read first, pitch second. In social media circles there’s a lot of chatter about listening first and engaging next.  The same principle applies to media relations.  Scan the publications you think reaches your target market and identify the reporters you think cover your space, then read their articles.  A good technique is to bookmark those sites and schedule reading time each week. If you have an RSS reader like NetVibes or Google Reader, many writers have RSS feeds that you can plug into your reader to catch (just) their latest.  Regular reading will give you a better sense for the reporter’s style and focus and enable you to write a better pitch. Don’t try to tackle the world at once.  Instead, incorporate this into your schedule and find a couple new writers to follow each week.

2. Engage. Engagement can come in several forms. First, if you enjoy an article a reporter you follow has written and have something of value to contribute to the conversation, post a comment.  Caution: avoid commenting merely for comment’s sake.  Second, if you’re on social media channels, like Twitter, follow those reporters and add them to a list.  Watch and read what they Tweet.  Tweet links to articles you find interesting and be sure to include the reporter’s Twitter handle in your post. Finally, if you find an article especially compelling, send them a note and tell them why.  Most people enjoy positive feedback, especially from their readers, so if you enjoyed a piece of work, let them know.  No pitch, no pressure, just conversation.

3. Pitch a story, not a product. Reporters are after a story, something that is useful and compelling for their readers.  Rather than pitching about how great your product is, tell them how it solved a problem. An old textbook I have lying around defines “news” as something that defies expectations.  What is it about your story that defies expectations?

4. Short and relevant. Of the vast volume of pitches reporters receive; most of them come by email.  Since that makes for a cluttered inbox, relevancy and brevity go a long way.  When I reach out to a new reporter – someone I haven’t contacted before – I generally like to include a reference to something they’ve written.  For example, my first sentence might read, “Mike:  I saw you wrote about the iPad’s impact on publishers and thought you might be interested in some analysis we conducted on that demonstrates the variability of coverage between traditional news writers and bloggers.”  It demonstrates that I know what “Mike” writes about and have a pitch that’s related to his beat.

5. Consider other story angles. The story angle refers to the perspective from which a story might be explained.  Take Apple’s iPad for example, which was covered from a range of angles – from the business impact on Apple and the competition, to gift guides and product reviews.  There’s even a human interest angle as this Huffington Post piece demonstrates.  The story angle can often be driven by timing, for example, as Valentine’s Day approaches many publications are putting together their gift guides, so this news peg is more appropriate right now, than it would be on February 15th.

6. Try another channel.  You’ve pitched a great story to a reporter you just absolutely positively know would be interested, but there was no response. If you’re that sure, try reaching out to them the old fashioned way:  snail mail.  You could go for a simple letter, which would has the advantage of cutting through the clutter of email, or send them a sample of you product.  Pick five reporters you have really gotten to understand through reading, write them a pithy personal note that explains why you think it’s would be of their readers’ interest, where appropriate (as in product reviews), include the product.

7. The phone still works. Just like snail mail can help you cut through the clutter, so too does the phone. If you’ve done your research, know what the reporter covers, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone can call a reporter.  Be sure to have the key point you’d like to get across in mind before dialing.  Since deadlines tend to loom in the afternoon, I tend to make calls in the morning, and just like any other call, extend the reporter the same courtesy:  “Hi, I’m Frank, I’m with PRWeb and I’ve got a story I in which I think you might be interested.  Do you have a minute to talk?”

8. Focus on a relationship. By relationship, I mean a professional relationship: one built on trust, relevancy and courtesy.  Understand that reporters are paid to accomplish a task:  inform their audience with accurate and timely information.  Reporters keep notes on their sources, and likewise, you should keep notes on your conversations with reporters. Keep track of what you talked about, when and any ideas that you might have in mind for contacting them in the future.  Above all, there are three simple guidelines: be honest, be helpful and be responsive.  Don’t make a reporter wait. They won’t.

9. Tools that can help. Upwards of 80% of PRWeb’s customers are small businesses – entrepreneurs that are doing their own PR.  Barbara Kantor’s Vedante is one of my favorite customer case studies; PRWeb helped her get on Amazon.com’s top ten category for “outdoor gear.”  The ability to tie in images and video give you a link and a place where reporters considering your story can get more details. Separately, HARO, or Help-A-Reporter-Out, is a free service that will email you queries from journalists looking for sources to comment on stories three times a day.  Like PRWeb, most of HARO’s subscribers (sources) are small businesses – it’s linking entrepreneurs with newsmakers at the right time.  Here are a few tips for using HARO from the founder.

10. Be persistent. If you know you’ve got a good story, don’t shy from being persistent.  I’m not suggesting you call them three times a day or email – that’s stalking and perhaps, a little weird.  However, if you have something new going on in your business, it’s a good reason to reach out to them again.

In closing, don’t take it personally if you don’t hear back – reporters are busy!  Keep in mind that no response doesn’t mean you’re idea isn’t good.  Good pitches and good contacts tend to get saved in folders for future reference.   PR in generally tends to ebb and flow, a little momentum often carries you a long way.  Hang in there!

Recommended reading on pitching the media:
Top ten PR tips for small businesses
Media Relations 101 for Your Startup
Five old school tips for relating to the media
The marginalization of Rolodex PR
13 Ways to Keep Your Pitch From Getting Deleted

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