Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Ring, ring, ring. Imagine that sound throughout the day. Or not. The journalist or producer who owns that constantly buzzing phone has likely turned off the ring to avoid its non-stopping racket.
Alas, news folks tell me they dodge the phone in order to quell the barrage of pitches hourly thrown their way. For those of us in the PR business, anxious on the pitcher’s mound, this shunning makes the job of selling a feature story* that much more difficult.
What’s a PR person to do when faced with this sound barrier? Here are some suggestions:
1) Instead of phoning, write a great pitch letter and email it to your target. Heed the words “great” and “target” because they're key to landing a placement.
2) Select one journalist or producer to be the target of your pitch. Prepare a list of targets, but try one at a time. If your ideal turns you down, or you don’t hear from her or him within a week, go to next in line.
3) Before preparing your pitch, read that writer’s columns or watch the producer’s programs. Learn what topics they typically cover and what piques their curiosity.
4) Find your hook. Decide what is different about your client that will make it stand out from its competitors or peers. At the same time, think universal. Is this a topic that will appeal to a large group? Can others relate to your theme?
5) Identify someone who is affected by your client’s services or business. With their permission, use his or her name and story as your pitch’s lead. If you read the daily New York Times (You do, don’t you? In my view, one can’t aspire to being a PR person without reading newspapers. Certainly, your local papers are in your stack, but New York Times’ writers’ are skilled at pulling readers in. And, they usually begin with a personal story.)
6) Write a one-page pitch letter with several short paragraphs. DO NOT send it yet. Let it simmer for a day, then re-read and edit the following day. Give it a third review. When you believe it can’t be improved upon, and you’ve obeyed suggestions 1-5, send it via email to the reporter or producer’s work address. (Avoid using private messages on social media sites.)
7) If you’re successful and you gain a placement, send a thank-you note. Sure, it’s their jobs to find topics, but they don’t have to select your idea. A timely message of gratitude is courteous and welcome.
*A feature story differs from a news article or calendar listing. While a news article reports something that just happened and a calendar listing announces an upcoming event, a feature story is a longer piece that explores a subject in depth.