It’s my firm belief that list-building services—while making reporter list-building extremely easy—have also created a generation of lazy PR professionals.
Sure, it’s nice to pull a minty fresh list out of that database. That’s the easy part. Now it’s your skill and creativity that will get your news in front of those reporters.
Yes, I said creativity.
Arguably, the worst part of being a PR Professional is facing that list, breaking it down, and digging in to pitch those reporters. But the most important thing is not writing the press release and blasting it out. First, you have to back up and say:
“What is my message, and who would appreciate hearing it?”
If you have to, go ahead and write the press release. It might help you organize your thoughts and develop your key message. But don’t send it!
Challenge yourself never to send another standard press release again. (Unless, of course, someone specifically asks for one. Or your client forces you to write one.)
Instead, here are alternatives that you should be using instead of a press release.
1. Pitch email. More than 90 percent of reporters claim they want to receive pitches via email. Given that you’re already emailing, just put your pitch in the form of a story, with bullet points emphasizing the most important details you want the reporter to know. Here is the key to a successful pitch email:
• Google the reporter’s name. After ensuring that she still writes for the news outlet, click on one of her recent articles. Make sure it is within the same genre as your pitch. In other words, if you are pitching a health-care story, make sure she covers health care.
• Write a one-paragraph personalized intro for every email you send. “I read your series on health-care abuses in the nursing home industry…” Show some interest in the reporter’s work.
• The remaining portion of the email can be the same for every reporter. This is your brief opportunity to capture the reporter’s interest with your pitch. Make it short, and make it interesting.
• Write a subject line that gets attention and describes your pitch. “For your information” is not a good subject line.
2. Make a website posting (preferably a blog post). If your client has a newsroom or a blog, post your pitch material in the form of a Web article or blog post. Use story-telling language, not a standard press release format. Tag the post with keywords, and link to the company’s website or to other information, if possible. You can start a new blog on Posterous in less than 15 minutes.
3. Send a Tweet. Turn your key idea into a tweet. With a little practice, you’ll be a pro at getting your message across in one or two tweets. Ideally, it would be great to send these messages to a reporter as a direct message, but if all else fails, go ahead and say: @JeffZeleny, did you know that the most outstanding pork tenderloin sandwich in Des Moines is at Smitty’s?” (Of course, you’ll want to come up with your own tweet material.) If the reporter does not respond, follow up with an email pitch.
4. Send a Facebook message. I’m friendly with a lot of local reporters on Facebook, but not so many national reporters. Even if you’re not friends with a reporter on Facebook, you can still send them a message. Attach a link or photo if you have one.
5. Pick up the phone. Sometimes a quick conversation to gauge a reporter’s interest can save you a lot of time, especially when it seems as though a reporter is no longer covering that beat. If you keep your call brief and courteous, the reporter will be happy to point you in the right direction. If they don’t answer or are on deadline, follow up with a pitch email.
6. Offer to meet a reporter for coffee if you’re both in the same city. Sometimes reporters are looking for any excuse they can to get out of the newsroom for a while.
This post really is not geared specifically for pitching bloggers. But my advice is never to send a blogger a press release. Bloggers are not traditional journalists. They aren’t used to receiving press releases. Most don’t use them at all.
Amber Naslund covers that sentiment well here.
Plain and simple press releases are just too formal. The quotes are absurd and aren’t even used in most newspaper stories. I’ve never seen a blogger regurgitate a press release, especially not the made-up gobbelty-gook quotes.
PR pros have this incredible opportunity to be content creators instead of “content suggesters.” Unless your client is absolutely hounding you to get in The Wall Street Journal, spend your time and energy telling your own story on your own website. Then use social media to build an audience (including media).
My favorite example of this is Blendtec.
The company—which makes blenders—created its own videos, posted them on its website, and used social media to tell the world. No boring news releases allowed.
I wish I could hand Blendtec a stack of press releases to blend.
A version of this story first appeared on the blog Public Relations Princess.