You need to get the word out. But how can you pitch a story to catch a reporter’s interest? As a longtime news desk guardian—I was at The Seattle Times for 27 years before joining Ruralite—I’ve been asked what it takes to get your story shared.
- Lesson 1: There is no secret sauce.
- Lesson 2: The right approach and pitch makes a difference.
I’ve pulled together a few insider tips to help you pitch your stories to local news outlets. Here’s the first of three blog posts to help your press releases stand out.
1. Make It Personal, But Do Not Take It Personally
By all means, when it comes to dealing with the press, make it personal. Think about this in our own lives: Are we more likely to trust a stranger or someone we know? A busy journalist is more apt to stop and pay attention if the story pitch comes from someone they already know. This may be an obvious truth, but networking and establishing personal relationships matter. That shared cup of coffee or regularly touching base can do wonders.
On the flip side, the all-too-often delivered impersonal email press release that gets directed at media masses—no matter how good the intention—comes across exactly like that: an impersonal email.
Members of the press are swift evaluators of information as a matter of survival. An impersonal email and press release often suffers a quick death by deletion. But if the reporter knows the sender, he or she is more likely to take the time to find out if the pitch is a keeper.
Make it personal, but remember: do not take it personally. There are many reasons a story idea is passed up. A similar story may already be in the works, it could be a busy news day, or the press person might be distracted by family matters or the latest staffing crisis. Sometimes, the story pitched simply isn’t the right fit.
2. Know Your Target and Know Your Audience
It is critical to target the right person and right platform for getting your story told. Think about where your story—where the information you want shared—would best play. Be strategic. Is it the community newspaper that loves running human-interest or practical-advice features? Or is it the local TV station that needs stories with great visual possibilities, tales that tug at the heart or news that prompts action? What about the radio station that is always happy to share tips ahead of the next big storm?
Consider your topic. Think about the ideal audience for the story, then decide which media outlet is mostly likely to bite at the apple if given the chance.
Once you identify the right outlet, don’t hesitate to call the newsroom to find the right contact. You can also pay attention to your local media to see who is covering your topic area. Take names. Make the connection. If Reporter Jack likes writing about unsung heroes, and you’ve got a story like that, he’s your guy.
3. Three Simple Words: What’s The Headline?
Not literally what’s the headline, but what’s the story really about? Can you tell it to a busy media person in one compelling sentence? Can you get to the heart of it?
I had a larger-than-life boss, Mike, who never let a story pitch pass without demanding to know in booming voice: “What’s the headline?” We had to be able to instantly explain what the story was really about. One side benefit: This approach actually leads to better headlines!
Once you get the “What’s the Headline” muscle going, it becomes a great device to help you share information concisely and in ways that compel others to pay attention.
What Works for You?
I’ve got six more tips to share, but I’ll save those for next time. I’m not the only person in our industry with news-desk chops. Many of you worked as members of the press before joining our industry. Have a tip of your own to share? Add it in the comments below.