By Matt Koesters, Senior Account Executive
You have big news to share with the world. You’ve done the work, and that work is about to pay off. You’ve written a press release to get the word out. You fire it off. You wait.
And you wait. And you wait.
And you’re bewildered. All of that effort, all for nothing! What went wrong here?
As it turns out, there are a lot of different things that can go wrong when you’re trying to earn some media coverage for your organization. While some of those things are completely out of your hands, most of them are within your control. No one bats 1.000 in this game, but understanding the pitfalls of media pitching can help keep your average high and your name in the headlines for all of the right reasons.
Before we get into all the things that you might be doing wrong, let’s talk about the one that is completely outside of your control: the news cycle.
Simply put, the media tries to focus on covering the most important news of the day, and that’s something you should plan around whenever you can. For example, sending out a press release to celebrate the hiring of a key employee isn’t going to go well for you if you decide to issue it on, say, Election Day. You might get some play in trade publications, but mainstream media is simply going to have its hands full working on election coverage.
But major news events don’t always happen on preordained dates. We don’t know when a natural disaster is going to unfold in our backyards. We can’t predict when the region’s largest employer is going to lay off 90% of its staff. If something bad happens that might directly affect a whole lot of people in your area, chances are, your news is going to go from the “maybe” pile to an afterthought.
Timing isn’t always about skill. If a story you pitch doesn’t get picked up, there’s a chance you just got unlucky.
But there’s a big difference between poor timing and a lack of timeliness.
Timeliness is one of several criteria used by journalists to evaluate the newsworthiness of a story. If a story is deemed to not be timely — that is to say, it took place very recently, is happening on an ongoing basis, or is imminently about to happen — then it’s probably going to be passed over for story ideas that fit the bill.
As an old boss of mine was fond of saying, “If it’s not news, it’s olds.”
Your pitch letter can be the difference between a story getting picked up or discarded.
A good pitch letter gets to the point. It tells the journalists you’re pitching in clear and direct language what your news is and why it’s important.
If your pitch letter beats around the bush, your story is going nowhere. If your pitch letter is unclear or confusing, it gets deleted. Reporters don’t have time to try to decipher cryptic messages from businesses and PR professionals. They’d rather spend time working on stories they understand and their audiences will appreciate.
Not all news is fit for all publications. That’s why you need to take care to target your pitches to publications with audiences that are receptive to your message.
If you are trying to sell a story that is meant for a broad general audience, you’re not likely to get far with a trade publication. By the same token, if your story requires the reader to have a certain level of knowledge to be able to appreciate what you’re saying, trying to sell the story to the local daily is probably an exercise in futility.
Reporters and editors always consider the newsworthiness of a story through the lens of their audience’s needs and interests. If your story isn’t a good fit for a certain audience, it’s best to avoid pitching news organizations that cater to it.
Back in the early days of print journalism, it wasn’t uncommon for the front page of a newspaper to be nothing but one gigantic block of text.
By “early days,” I mean the Stone Age. Since that time, we’ve seen countless advances in technology, from flash photography to deep fakes. The average attention span of today’s media consumer is shorter than ever, and you need images and videos to draw in readers and viewers. If you want the media to run your story, you’ll need to provide them with the visual elements needed to attract and hold the attention of the audience.
It’s always a good idea to provide portraits — we call those mug shots — of anyone quoted in your press release. You should also provide your company logo in vector format, if possible. If your story pitch is about a gadget, a picture of said gadget is a must. The key is to try to anticipate the needs of the media and make sure those needs are met. Unless your story idea is really good, no one is going to come calling to ask you about those things after the fact. In most cases, you’ll just be ignored.
Is your news, y’know, actually news?
If your news doesn’t affect anyone outside of your organization, chances are good that no one outside of your organization will care. Sure, Larry’s LinkedIn followers might like a post about him selling the most widgets for your company in Q3, but that story isn’t going to gain a lot of traction anywhere else. It might make the briefs in a business journal, but that’s about the best you can expect.
Don’t waste your time or energy on pitching stories that don’t pass the newsworthiness test. I’ve written about the criteria journalists use to evaluate a story’s newsworthiness in the past. You can check those out here.
Rasor is an award-winning agency based in Cincinnati, dedicated to helping businesses thrive in the areas of digital marketing, website development, public involvement, copywriting, strategy, social media, public relations and more. With a passion for creativity, strategic thinking, and effective communication, we deliver innovative marketing and communications solutions tailored to your unique needs. Our expert team combines industry expertise with years of experience to drive measurable results. Trust Rasor to be your partner in achieving marketing and communications success.