Your freelance business is doing something great—no, colossal—and you want to share the news with the world! Before you start emailing your press release and calling every newspaper, magazine, blogger, radio and TV station in the tri-state area, take a deep breath and make a plan.
As the editor of two glossy magazines, I know a thing or two about how to pitch someone like me. There is a right way to do it, and a wrong way to do it. You don’t want to alienate the people who have the power to give you press, so here are some suggestions on how to make a great first impression:
Do Your Research
Before you start pitching your news, find the appropriate outlets. Gillian Britt, owner of gBritt PR makes it her mission to get her clients’ news out into the public. “The most important part of the process is research,” she says. “We look to see what kinds of topics the publication or media outlet focuses on, who the readers and viewers are, and what the writers and reporters cover.”
For example, if you have won an award for a logo design for a fly-tying business, you wouldn’t pitch that story to a magazine that focuses on quilting. That is a pretty obvious example, but some publications aren’t so cut and dry—you have to do a little digging to really find out what they write about.
It’s especially important to see what topics these media outlets have covered recently, so that we are connecting to a current interest. We use a national database for researching media outlets in addition to online searches. It’s important to keep an eye on the news cycle and trends, tapping into information like that always adds a strong element to a pitch.
I occasionally work with a freelancer who clearly doesn’t read our magazine on a monthly basis. He is a great writer, and I can always count on him to do a great job and make his deadline, but he consistently pitches me story ideas that we recently wrote about. Like many magazines, we have an online archive where writers and photographers can go and see what we have published—all the way back to 2005. I always suggest that writers take a look at a publication’s archives before pitching their idea. If it is something we have already published, see if your potential news story takes a different angle.
I also get books and CDs on a regular basis from authors, publishers, producers, and artists—and I don’t know why. The magazine I work for has never, ever, published a book or music review. Ever. While I enjoy some of these things that come in the mail, I always feel bad, knowing whoever sent it is wasting money on postage. If you have a great new book or eBook out, make sure you are pitching it to media outlets that actually publish that sort of news.
Create a Great Press Release
OK, so you’ve done some research and you have a nice list of places that you think would be interested in publishing a story about you. Make sure you have the correct email and mailing address for the intended recipient. If you are not sure who to send your info to, call their office and ask. You want your awesome news to go to the right person!
The next step is creating a great press release. There are lots of great articles and instructions online on how to do this, so I’m going to sum up the most important parts here:
Crafting a catchy headline is key. The headline should be bold and centered on the page so it’s easy to read. Oftentimes, there is an italicized subhead included under the headline that elaborates on the headline. This is another good place to position keywords.
The first paragraph of your press release should include the most pertinent information. Be sure to include the who, what, when, where, why, and how—just like a news story. The “why” may be the most important part of the whole press release—you need to tell the recipient why the information in the release is newsworthy. Why will it appeal to their readers and/or viewers? Be honest with yourself—if there is no news hook, your press release won’t go far. Think about this: what makes what you do different than your competitors?
The "news" in your news release has to be obvious, or else your notice will be on a fast route to the recycle bin. The first step is figuring out exactly what message you are trying to get across, and how it qualifies as news. —INC.com
If possible, include a quote or two in your press release. Some news organizations will write news clips directly from a press release, so give them some great quotes to start with.
“I see a lot of press releases that try to create suspense,” says Dan Cashman of Cashman Communications. “People will most likely toss these out.” Cashman also suggests working on building a relationship by adding a personal note in the email that contains the press release as an attachment. “You don’t want to write an email that is disguised as a press release, but a personal note is a nice addition.”
Be Aware of Timliness
Some of you reading this might have a seasonal business with great news to share. It’s important to get your press release into the hands of editors in a timely manner. Since I live in New England, where we enjoy all four seasons, we are conscious to match our stories to the time of year. For example: we wouldn’t publish a story on schooner racing in January. Daily and even weekly newspapers have a much quicker turnaround time, and are oftentimes much more flexible in what they publish and when. They also have more space to fill.
We also plan our editorial calendar about a year in advance. And we cover specific topics each month. It’s a good idea, if you are looking to pitch a monthly magazine, to seek out their editorial calendar for the year. Knowing what topics are covered ahead of time will make your pitch more powerful.
I had a woman call me up a few weeks ago who wanted to tell me about her business. I listened, then asked her what she wanted me to do with the information she just gave me. Her response? “Oh, I don’t know, I just thought you would want to know about it.”
Magazines and newspapers have different sections that contain a certain type of news. Same goes for television stations. Even radio stations, depending on the kind of format and programming, group their news and stories into topics. It is exceedingly helpful to be prepared when pitching your story idea.
I love it when I get an email saying, “I think this would be a great story for your Talk of the Towns section and here’s why….” The person has told me where they think their story belongs in my publication and why our readers would be interested. They didn’t make me guess. Do the work for these editors and they’ll be more likely to listen.
Don’t “Just Stop By”
I run two publications, so I’m pretty busy. I have had several people knock on my office door to pitch their great story idea to me. And every time I was right in the middle of something.
I live in a small community, so I try to be open and kind to anyone who I happen upon. It’s harder to be gracious when people happen upon me. A couple of weeks ago, a lovely elderly woman came into my office. Unfortunately we do not have a receptionist, so people literally wander around our office space to find me. “Oh I was just in the building for another appointment and I thought I would stop by and tell you all about this nonprofit organization my daughter and I just started. It would be wonderful if you could write a story about us.”
Yes. It would be wonderful. But I can’t. And here’s why: Space and fairness.
Most monthly magazine publications plan their editorial calendars out at least six months in advance. They also have a set number of pages and certain sections where they publish stories about a particular topic. I have room for exactly 20 feature stories every year. If I wrote a feature story about this one nonprofit organization, I would get phone calls and emails and visits from the 1,200 other nonprofit organizations in our coverage area, wondering why we didn’t write a story about them.
Never just stop by to see an editor with a story idea, unless they are a family member or a good friend. I’m assuming most other editors out there don’t work in the same environment I do, where people can just wander in. You may have to get through a gatekeeper first, and unless the editor knows you, your chances of seeing them without an appointment are slim.
Getting your great news to the masses takes some finesse, but just because you don’t currently have great connections with media outlets doesn’t mean they won’t share your news. Take the time to make a great first impression and cultivate new relationships.