Brigham Young University national news director and independent media relations coach Michael Smart took to his TweetDeck to tell us the most effective ways to gain national media coverage when pitching and writing press releases. Michael has achieved placement of full stories about his organization and clients in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and on CNN.
SA: Q1 How did you land your first national media placement?
MS: My first national placement came after an intern badgered me to pitch a WSJ columnist. I was petrified and said no profusely—but finally, I caved. Fear dripped from my voice when I called the columnist, but luckily, she heard me out. That week, the story ran! My biggest obstacle to national media was worrying too much about ME. Once I focused on the journalists, confidence grew.
SA: Q2 What is the most important thing to focus on when pitching media?
MS: Your absolute most important focus when pitching is the individual journalist, blogger or influencer you are targeting. You are the concierge and that single person is the only guest in your hotel. What are their wants and needs? The story is important and the message is important. Both could be great, but if the pitch isn’t customized to target the specific journo or blogger, it will fail. Newswires and databases are great for other reasons, but landing national media requires a higher level of customization.
SA: Q3 How is pitching journalists different from pitching bloggers?
MS: Journos vs bloggers = more formal vs. less formal; Nailing down facts vs. speed; Well-rounded story vs. factoids. I target bloggers with a personal tie-in the same as I do journalists. Prove you know their stuff. But for bloggers, include lots of links in your pitch, keep it casual and short: 1-2 paragraphs max, and tie to a previous post. Bloggers love multimedia, so link to a video and it will dramatically increase your shot at getting picked up. Bloggers are also very time-sensitive, so toss off different angles to different bloggers who write in the same space.
SA: Q4 Do you have tips for optimizing your release so it gets more media attention?
MS: I’ll leave the technical SEO to your gurus. To optimize a release for humans – salt it with trendy terms. There’s nothing wrong with reissuing a release after adding a new lead that ties to breaking news—but don’t re-pitch to the same outlets. To attract journalists with your release, blatantly offer sources or quotes on trending topic. Nowadays, more journalists are lifting quotes from releases – but only those that sound like a human actually uttered them. By the way, I love this format. Way better than doing a webinar. I even just ate a donut!
SA: Q5 What are 3 things to avoid when pitching?
MS: #1: Being demanding. Never scold a reporter for not replying. Don’t threaten–Serve. #2: “Shotgunning.” Mold your pitch to each target. A unique subject line is much more likely to get opened. #3: Timelessness. Answer in advance the question “Why does this matter NOW?”
SA: Q6 How should we use Twitter and Facebook when pitching?
MS: Be careful about friending journalists on Facebook. Many feel its part of their personal life, so find out what they prefer first. Twitter is a completely different ballpark. Follow your target journalists and retweet their stuff. They’ll notice you! @reply every now and then as well. Make sure to follow the “conversation” for a while before you pitch. Many journos/bloggers regard a twitter pitch as too public. Try a DM or email and see how they respond instead. This is still the golden Twitter age when most journos are so thankful you’re engaging so they welcome your ideas.
The next #prwebchat features Lizz Harmon of Harmon Tampa PR on December 16, from 2-2:30 pm EST! Have a question you’d like to ask Lizz? Email me! sacevero(at)vocus(dot)com. Reminder: The #prwebchat hashtag is always ‘open’ for conversation related to #PR, #smallbiz, #SEO, #marketing and #socialmedia.