1. It’s sales
Pitching a story to a journalist is like pitching anything else. It’s just sales. If you own a business, you already know how to do this. (If you don’t, you won’t be in business very long.)
Most of the sales rules and tips you already know also apply to pitching a news story. Of course, the Number One rule of sales is that you should never try to sell someone. Rather, you should help them solve a problem. And to do this you talk in terms of benefits instead of features – i.e., what your product will do for them versus how great the product is.
So, this means that if you want a reporter to write about your business, you don’t brag about the business – you tell the reporter what is newsworthy about it. For example, no reporter cares about your widget unless it is the first, biggest, fastest, etc. widget ever created. They want to know what is new about it. That’s why they call it “news.”
2. Know the definition of news
In general, “news” is something that has not happened before. Or if it has happened before, yours must be the biggest, fastest, smallest, most expensive, most awarded, most purchased, etc. “First” is always best.
What is news to one journalist may not be to another, however, because of the readers they serve. So, keep the journalist’s readers in mind when pitching a story. Will a lifestyle reporter really care about your company’s record-breaking profits?
Most of the sales rules and tips you already know also apply to pitching a news story
3. You have to do something
Sometimes, potential clients think that public relations pros create news for their clients. No, what we do is bring to the media’s attention newsworthy things that clients have done.
The key is doing something. You may be a fascinating person, but no one is going to write about you unless you do something. News is about what happens. Not what is simply talked about.
So do something: hold an event, create a new product, open a new location, buy another company, hire a new person. Then you have something to talk about.
4. Read, watch or listen to the journalists you want to pitch
Before you send an email or pick up the phone to contact a journalist, do him the courtesy of reading what he has written. Nothing irritates a journalist more than someone pitching him a story that he has already done or one that anyone who reads his work knows he would never do.
By reading what he has written you can tailor your pitch to his needs. It will also give you something in common to talk about. So, when he says “no” to your pitch, you can say, “OK, I understand, but back in January you wrote about x and y – and did a very good job – so that’s why I thought you might want to know about z.”
And, chances are, you’ll have his attention, and he will indeed want to know about z. Even if he doesn’t, you’ve at least established credibility, so he is more likely to take your call next time.
5. Give journalists news that is not about your company
Your ultimate goal is for journalists to call you for comments, rather than you calling them to offer your comments. Getting to this level of trust requires a lot of honest hard work – like providing solid news tips for a long period of time and always returning phone calls before deadline.
One way to help establish your credibility as a reliable, informed source in your industry is to provide reporters with news about other companies in your industry. (Only good news. This is not about slamming the competition, which will tend to breed distrust instead of trust.) The reporter knows you have nothing to gain from this exercise and he also knows that you have to be pretty clued in to know what is happening at other companies your industry. He will eventually come to see you as a “go to” source for information.
Bonus Point: Treat journalists like people, not aliens
Thanks to “60 Minutes” and other forms of “gotcha” journalism, many business people have an erroneous impression of journalists as shadowy types who are out to get them. As a result, they tend to act unnaturally around journalists, treating them like some kind of alien race.
You know what? They are just people. Treat them with disrespect and they are likely to respond in kind.
Again, it gets back to Point #1: It’s just sales. If you treat journalists like you treat your customers, you’ll be fine.