Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.
Sometimes even PR pros are bored by the pitches they write.
It might be a corporate event you wouldn’t attend if you weren’t paid to be there, or a product development so minor that you wouldn’t bother to mention it to a friend who asks, “What are you up to these days?”
Such press releases tend to be initiated by bigwigs who subtly override your objections by pounding the desk with a shoe and ordering that you crank out the copy, or else.
Still, if you’re clogging reporters’ and producers’ inboxes with unpublishable ideas, is it any surprise that they see your name in the sender field and end up passing on the good ideas as well?
In her Ragan Training session, “How PR Pros Can Write (and Think) Like Journalists,” Colleen Newvine, product manager of The AP Stylebook, offers tips for improving the chances of your pitches.
1. Ask what’s in it for reporters, not yourself.
You can pitch until you’re blue in the face based on why you and your boss want a publication to cover a story, Newvine says. That, however, is not a persuasive approach.
“Until you think about why that reporter wants to get that story covered, you’re getting nowhere,” she says.
Instead, think about “what’s in it for me?”—”me” being the journalist, the editor or their audience. The question isn’t what you want readers or TV audiences to know about your organization, but what problem you are solving for them.
2. Make their lives easier.
That pitch you’re just writing up because your executive wants it? Reconsider. Many PR pros have reporting experience, and they know newsrooms are as frenetic as Macy’s during the Christmas rush, Newvine says.
Furthermore, layoffs have hollowed out newsrooms, while more and more PR pros fire-hosing inboxes with pitches.
“Anything that’s adding to that is not going to make you their best friend,” Newvine says.
3. Develop your news judgment.
Reporters have two audiences to think about: their editors, and their readership/viewership. Think as they do.
- Reporters like to tell stories “that haven’t been told to death,” Newvine says.
- What’s the news hook? What makes your story new or timely? Your nut graph should answer the question, “So what?”
- Is it part of a bigger story? Is there a national trend or event to which you can peg your story?
- A reporter must consider, “Given everything I have to do today, why is it a good idea now?” What’s your answer?
- Does it have visuals—photos, videos, a gif or an infographic? Newvine, who also freelances, say that if she doesn’t offer pictures and video, it reduces responses by editors.
“Websites are hungry beasts, and they want photos, and they want videos,” she says.
4. Know what makes a bad story.
It’s essential that you know what makes a successful story. Similarly, recognize what constitutes a flop.
Here are a few story proposals that Newvine says most reporters will delete:
- Hey! Your business exists! And it has for some time! That may send a thrill down the leg of your chief marketing officer, but it won’t win you any points with reporters.
- You have an incremental change in a product or service.
- Your organization is celebrating an anniversary. Twelve years of uninterrupted service in the Tri-State region! Fourth anniversary since your chief executive hiring! Come on, now. Nope.
- Oh, man, you have a source for that story Reporter X wrote yesterday. Let’s see if he’ll write about your guy. Though you might have the ideal expert, the reporter probably doesn’t want to write the same story two days in a row.
5. Avoid AP style pitfalls.
Excessive Capitalization Really Bugs Reporters, Newvine says. Avoid “alphabet soup”—littering your copy with Annoying and Unnecessary Acronyms (AUA). Cut the “$5 words and flowery language”—including jargon. Make that: especially jargon.
Finally, get rid of the unnecessary apostrophe’s and exclamation points!!!!