How to think like a reporter

Avoid these common rookie mistakes when pitching reporters by vetting pitches as they would.

“Think like a reporter.”

It’s something many entrepreneurs and business marketers who want publicity must learn. But what does it mean? How do reporters think? And why do you need to be privy to this information?

You can’t effectively pitch stories to anyone in traditional or social media if you don’t understand how their minds operate.

How do journalists, bloggers and podcasters decide what is newsworthy and what gets tossed?

I was a news reporter. Please allow me to share these five common rookie mistakes small business owners should avoid when looking for PR and publicity:

Rookie mistake #1: I can sell my products and services with an article, post or interview. It’s all about me! When pitching a self-serving story that fails to connect with a specific audience, you’re missing an opportunity to become a trusted and credible resource.

If you want to sell something, call the sales department and pay for an ad.

An article or interview that conveys a compelling story that’s relevant and timely to an audience will build your credibility and visibility. It will likely take more time, but it could bring new clients.

When you set aside the “It’s all about me” mindset and flip your pitch to help a targeted demographic solve their challenges (it’s all about them), reporters will be more likely to consider your pitch.

Rookie mistake #2: Reporters and bloggers will jump at the chance to read my pitch and will follow up so they can learn all about my business. Most people working in busy newsrooms think of PR pitches as “interruptions.” Journalists are typically overworked, underpaid and … well, yes … grumpy. It’s an incredibly competitive field. They are besieged with dozens of pitches that are irrelevant.

It’s our job as marketers to communicate a concise and meaningful message, especially in the subject line and headline. We must pique their interest and curiosity with just a few words so people will continue reading.

If you can capture the essence of your story in a punchy subject line, a reporter is more apt to follow up.

Rookie mistake #3: Any reporter will do. When crafting your email pitch or press release, keep the reporter’s audience, demographic and “beat” front of mind.

To prepare, peruse an archive of the writer’s last 20 stories or posts. Read their bio page to see which specialty area they cover. For example, don’t send an environmental reporter a pitch about back-to-school vaccinations. It’s unlikely they will send it along to the correct person.

Do your homework and show them you respect their time and understand their target audience.

Rookie mistake #4: My story is relevant to the public. A good reporter will ask the question, “What’s new here? Has something happened that we haven’t covered yet?” Look for new statistics, updates or a fresh angle.

Within the word “news” is the word “new.” Regurgitating old information will diminish your credibility. Show reporters why your pitch is relevant today to their readers or listeners. Most decision-makers will shoot down your ideas in a split second. Can you bounce back four or five times to show them why they should listen to your pitch?

Rookie mistake #5: My writing doesn’t matter; they’ll fix it. You must be able to write and communicate your pitch with clarity. This shows the reader (reporter or blogger) that you have a thorough understanding of your pitch and how it relates to him or her.

Journalists won’t read beyond the first few words to decipher your pitch. It will quickly be deleted. Be sure the sentence that captures the essence of your pitch is at the top. If it’s buried seven lines down, the journalist will never see it.

Take the time to make reporters or bloggers feel special. Do your homework, know what they cover and what they’ve written about in the past, and your pitch will get a positive response.

A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.

Topics: PR

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