This post is part of PR Soup’s “Guest Blogger Series” featuring insights from Austin-area entrepreneurs and business leaders in areas complementary to PR (including marketing, sales, graphic design, web development and more).
While I was reading this weekend about what other journalists were saying about how to get your story in the paper, I found myself scoffing at a blog post that read, “There is a proven method to get your story in the paper.”
Then I read on and actually agreed with the author (somewhat)— “The proven method is effective communication.” While an editor always has the upper hand in saying whether or not a story will run and where, the chances of that story running are better if a reporter has great information on an interesting story. This is where you come in to help.
There are more than several different methods to find someone these days (Email, Twitter, Facebook and that old thing called the telephone), there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to find the right person to pitch your story, and to follow up with them. A clear, concise message will save everyone time. After reporting for the Austin American-Statesman for five years, I’ve determined the following are Do’s and Don’ts when pitching a story.
Do’s When Pitching a Story:
1.) Find the right reporters and their editors. If a press release is sent my way that has nothing to do with my beat, I may have taken the time to send it to the right reporter, but chances are, there wasn’t enough time. Most news organizations have a list of their staff, their beats and their editors available. If you don’t know who to call, find the specific beat or desk (business, news, editorial, sports, etc.) and an editorial assistant may be able to help you find the right person.
2 .) Keep it simple and send ahead. Whether you are sending a press release or an email pitch, keep the information concise and engaging. Include all contact information in your pitch, as well as any background information or web sites that a reporter might find useful. This will help give the reporter a better idea of what the story is about and why it would be a good subject to write. If the pitch is about an event, send the information at least a week in advance, a day before and the day of the event. (Yes, we need a lot of reminders.)
3.) Set up a photo opportunity. While this isn’t necessary for a story to run, it betters the chance of it running as a centerpiece in the newspaper. Editors are always looking for good “art” to run with a story. Most newspapers prefer their own photographs.
4.) Pick up the phone and follow up. If it’s been a few days since you’ve sent the release and you haven’t heard back, pick up the phone (another reason why researching the correct reporter/editor comes in handy). Remind them about the email you sent and don’t be surprised or judgmental if they haven’t looked at your email. In our defense, we literally get hundreds of emails in one day. Plus, it’s difficult to dodge you once you get us on the phone. Don’t be afraid to use Social Media to find us as well. Twitter and Facebook are great to catch reporters–most of us have our phones synced with our accounts, so we will get notification of your message immediately. It doesn’t have to be anything lengthy or preachy—just a quick note to ask if they’ve seen the release/email and offer to resend if they have not.
5.) Know your story. Be prepared with answers to basic questions about your story. If a reporter calls you for more information, you want to be able to quickly and accurately tell them what they want to know. And a word of caution: be prepared for them to tell the OTHER side of the story. If that is something you don’t want explored or made public, don’t pitch it.
Don’ts When Pitching a Story:
1.) Pitch a story the same day. I know this can’t be avoided in some cases, but I’d say most news organizations need at least 24 hours to prepare for a story.
2.) Send mass emails. If an email is sent to everyone in the newsroom, chances are a lot of people are going to overlook it. Or worse, it is sent directly into the spam filter.
3.) Bog down messages. Since reporters are always working on deadline, don’t send every bit of information you have in one shot. This could bog down the great details of your pitch and the reporter may not take the time to read it through.
Isadora Vail is a Freelance Journalist, who was formerly with the Austin American-Statesman. Isadora lives in Austin, Texas and is a lover of crime reporting. Seriously.
PR Soup thanks Isadora for these great tips. If they sound scary or if you have any further questions, it might be a good sign that you should reach out to a PR pro. Leave us a comment and we’ll be sure to answer your questions!