August 12, 2016
/ by Jason Morgan
Getting coverage in the most widely circulated newspaper in the country is no easy feat, but the powerful reach of USA Today makes it a highly desirable target for PR professionals. To cut through the clamor of the thousands of pitches and press releases received by the staff of Gannett’s flagship paper, consider the following tips. Cision’s Media Research team reaches out to thousands of journalists each day in an effort to enhance our knowledge base. Here’s a few tips we’ve compiled for pitching USA Today.
National appeal is the single most important quality in a successful USA Today pitch. USA Today occupies a unique space in the exclusive club of top tier national newspapers. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have much coverage anchored in New York, but you won’t find many local or regional stories in USA Today; its stories must appeal to readers in New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Kalamazoo, Michigan, for example, so a local or regional development must be impacting the whole nation to be newsworthy. The USA Today Network is comprised of Gannett’s newspapers in nearly 100 local markets nationwide, so be mindful that USA Today has access to a wide swath of local and regional coverage; put the pieces together and show nationwide significance, otherwise you’re better off pitching to one of the local papers in the USA Today Network. Ask yourself if a work colleague, your best friend, a college student, your Uber driver and your grandmother could all be riveted by the story.
Stories in USA Today are rarely about one person, one company, one event or one product (purely product stories are also generally unlikely). A more successful way to approach a pitch is by doing the extra work to tie the person, the company or the product into a large national trend easily identified by the majority of the audience. If a trend is more regional, is it happening elsewhere? Can you make a case for something local or regional being indicative of a major trend with nationwide impact? Find an angle to create buzz around your topic. Send a short email (a few strong sentences are always best) with a subject line that reads like a headline. Include related news that isn’t directly about your company. Show the journalist you care about the news. Pitch a strong concept rather than hard news. Ask yourself how your pitch fits into the larger framework of society and culture, which can be an ideal way to tie in your company or product.
Like many news outlets, USA Today has dramatically shifted its focus to mobile, so breaking news is of course, a highly valuable commodity. However, if a newswire, major national show or newspaper already has the story, a USA Today reporter is unlikely to be interested, so be up front when the pitch is being sent to multiple outlets or journalists. An exclusive isn’t everything, though; the story behind the exclusivity also needs to be strong and well thought out. Give the reporter access to experts, research and other sources of information; include simple summaries, and links to research. The best experts and studies will have been quoted elsewhere, and originate from well-known universities or firms. A reporter has to sell the story to their editor, so ask yourself if you’ve given the reporter ample ability to do so.
This tip arguably requires the most work from the PR professional. Think about the follow through of the pitch. If the journalist responds, they likely to be short on time, possibly even on deadline, so have additional information, sources, research, whatever they could possibly need to execute the story readily available. It should go without saying, but many journalists find PR professionals aren’t always as available and prepared as they could be when a pitch is actually picked up. It may seem futile, given the likelihood that pitches will not turn into anything tangible, but it pays to develop a process of preparation for any pitch you create. Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes and ask yourself if everything necessary for the story is available. In that, be honest with the journalist. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, be truthful and create a bond of trust with the reporter. These relationships always return on the initial investment.
Most importantly, be mindful of USA Today’s audience, because the journalists working there are most concerned with their readership, and if you’re not thinking of their reader, it will show in the pitch. It’s important to remember we’re all readers of a paper like USA Today; we are the audience. This makes pitching simultaneously more simple and more difficult in different ways. The story should be important, interesting, and light enough on complexity to be digestible and attract readers. Think beyond your client, your company and your industry to the average national newspaper reader. It’s easy to become razor-focused on the clients you serve. That’s the job! However, if you can remove some of those filters in your thinking and look at the pitch like a reader, the difference of perspective will pay off in the pitch. Ask yourself, why should the average reader care?
The Cision Media Research Team maintains a database of more than 1.6 million records, including social influencers, traditional media contacts, outlets and opportunities. We collect and maintain the latest contact and pitching information of bloggers and journalists who can spread your message, broaden your campaign and help you build relationships with the people who matter. To experience the Cision Media Database first hand, request a demo here.
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