Business might be doing OK but you need to improve your profile. Or perhaps you have a great new product or service but you're not getting the market traction you expect because you're struggling to be heard or seen by the people who would benefit most from your creation. This is where some coverage in the media can help. But how do you get your story told? Here's what I've learned in my time working as a journalist.
The Media Landscape
It's worth understanding the world you're trying to penetrate.
When it comes to contacting journalists it's important to understand there are basically two camps; staffers who are permanently employed by one publisher or publication, and freelancers who are self-employed writers who work for many publications.
The proportion of freelancers has increased over the years as publishers have cut back on staff. But the number of freelancers has also shrunk although many of the displaced former staffers are now freelancing unless they've left the industry completely.
All of that means there are overall fewer writers out there, often doing a lot more than they used to. As a result, they are time poor. That means your pitches to them need to be clear and easy to understand. If they're not, you'll find they never get past the subject line of the email.
Also, people in the industry move around a lot. So establishing ongoing relationships and dialog with specific people is more effective than trying to build a connection with a publication.
Scattergun Or Sniper?
It might be tempting to access a massive mailing list and send your press release or email to hundreds of journalists in the hope of getting one or two clicks - like a spammer. That may work if you're lucky.
Or you can focus on s smaller number of publications or, better yet, journalists and hone your message specifically to them.
You Have To Get Me At "Hello"
Crafting a press release that will be noticed is not as easy as it sounds. I get dozens of releases each day and many assume I know the company's background and products intimately. Don't assume the reader knows you or remembers you from before. Even Apple includes a short paragraph at the end of every press release explaining what they're about.
Use the term “Press release” or “Media Release” in the subject line of the email so it can be easily in identified and make sure the subject line tells me the company and product/service.
The first paragraph (less than 100 words) must explain why whatever you’re bringing to the journalist's attention is special. A release telling me that you have a new SaaS product is not useful – lots of companies have a SaaS product. Telling me that Company X’s new SaaS product offers a cheaper pricing model that can flexibly change as a client grows might be more interesting.
The other benefit of this is is that I might not need that release for a couple of months. Having good content in the body of the email makes it easier to find.
For something to be a story it needs a headline and a lede (a short, 10-15 word opening line). If you can’t come up with one then you need to rethink your pitch.
Stories With Images Trump Text-Only Every Time
Every story needs some supporting images. Otherwise your story could end up next to a boring stock image.
Make those images available using services like WeTransfer or folder sharing using Dropbox, Box.net, OneDrive or Google Drive. Don't send massive high-resolution images over email.
Make It Readable
Make sure your email can be easily read on a mobile device. If I have zoom or scroll to read it, you’ve made it too hard. Many journalists catch up on email during odd moments, like when standing in line or grabbing some lunch. That means they'll be reading on a smartphone.
If you have a formal press release, that's been formatted and made pretty, you may want to attach it to a message or provide a download link. That's fine but don’t send an email saying “See attached release” or similar without providing the main text in the body of the email.
I know from talking to my colleagues that if all you send is an attachment with with a “please read” it will be ignored.
And, if you're going to be available for interviews or your company has a spokesperson, make sure spokespeople are available and that the URLs in your release are correct.
I once received an email with a placeholder URL that someone had added. It turned out the place holder was the letter "x" three times followed by a dot com. And I've lost count of the number of times I've called or messaged an offical contact on a press release only to receive and out of office message. That will kill your story very quickly.
Know Who You're Pitching To
Make sure you have read the publications you're pitching to. There's no point contacting an enterprise-focussed publication if you're selling a new game.
If you're going directly to a journalist, check their LinkedIn profile to ensure you're going to the right person.