How to Write a Compelling Press Release or Media Pitch Journalists Will Actually Read
Updated: Nov 2, 2018
Written by Contributor Lisa Day
With shrinking newsrooms and fewer journalists, how can public relations (PR) and communications professionals get their messages seen?
Simple. Craft personalized, error-free press releases and media pitches that streamline journalists’ jobs.
Journalists get dozens of pitches every day from PR and communications pros who feel their story is paramount. Most journalists have a beat (an area of specialization) or two they cover, plus they are always looking to break a story before the competition. Having a piece picked up and then going viral is the goal; numbers and analytics matter in the world of journalism, just like in most other industries.
Here are ten tips to help your press release or media pitch become news:
1. Tie in pitches to news of the day.
Reporters often must turn a national or international story into a local one. Is there someone at your organization who is an expert on narcissism, terrorism or weather? Think of a new hook or an original way to tell a previously covered story. Make sure the source is knowledgeable and available to speak when it’s convenient to the reporter.
2. Pitch unique, fun and shareable content.
While journalists often love writing about politics or local news stories, it’s the stories about monarch butterflies and pay-it-forward business campaigns that may go viral. These pitches should have all the information a journalist would need to quickly rewrite and publish a story, including reliable sources, engaging quotes and photos that contain the title, caption and photo credit within the image itself (using Photoshop) or within the body of the press release.
3. Know your audience.
If you are pitching to a media outlet that focuses on local people and organizations, make sure the pitch is as local as possible. Mention the organization or the resident’s postal code and nearest intersection. Let the reporter know that the source grew up in the neighbourhood and has now returned. Local doesn’t mean the location; local means people.
4. Understand time is short.
Newsrooms may now only have one editor and a few reporters who are doing more work than ever before. Press releases and media pitches should be clear and concise, error free and follow Canadian Press (CP) style. They should also either contain all the information reporters need to simply rewrite and personalize the story or provide sources and information reporters need to write a bigger story. Make sure press releases answer the five Ws and how; offer links to facts and sources; provide intelligent quotes that are fresh and informative; and include a biography of key players or sources.
5. Build relationships.
As much as PR professionals need journalists, journalists also need PR and communications professionals. Build and maintain relationships with reporters by asking if they need anything between pitches. Provide story ideas, even if those ideas don’t include your people, or send an email to say hello or comment about their latest story. Most importantly, remember your local news organizations for breaking stories. They regularly cover your organization and its happenings, so ensure they are the ones you contact when a big story breaks.
6. Be a trusted source.
By building relationships, writing clear and informative press releases and media pitches and offering solid interviewees for comments, you’ll gain reporters’ trust — someone they will come to rely on for sound information. Once you have gained that trust, be careful not to break it. Journalists have long memories.
7. Timing is everything.
Know the media outlet's publishing deadline. Don’t schedule press conferences for 6 p.m. Host PR/communications events during the day, preferably mid-morning, so reporters don’t get stuck in rush hour. If you invited the local news outlets, remember their print deadline may be days before the actual newspaper is published.
8. Don’t underestimate a good subject line.
If you are sending an email, make sure your subject line offers keywords that will pique a reporter’s attention, making them eager to read your pitch. Reporters often have full inboxes, so a keyword in the subject line will ensure easier email searches.
9. To follow up or not to follow up.
Whether to follow up on a press release or a media pitch boils down to the reporter or the editor: some want to be emailed, some want a phone call and others want to be left alone, particularly on deadline days. Building relationships with reporters means learning their preferences and acting accordingly. If you are following up, have another angle for the same story ready to pitch, in case the reporter suggests your original idea doesn’t fit. Offering a different hook may sell the reporter on doing a story that wasn’t originally intended.
10. Express thanks.
Whether it’s a brief (a small story rewritten from a press release), an article or a feature using your organization as a source, remember to say “thank you,” both via email and on social media. And when you share the story on your social media channels, remember to link the reporter and the news organization.
Lisa Day has more than 20 years' experience in both traditional and digital journalism. She is a blogger at Book Time and Follow Summer, content creator, storyteller, social media specialist and communication professional. Lisa can be reached at thisandthatday[@]gmail.com.