by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
The media are a ruthless bunch, and quite right too. In today’s content-obsessed 24-hour news cycle, many journalists and editors can find themselves inundated with literally hundreds of emails every day.
Indeed, it is not unusual for editorial teams to receive upwards of 20-30 emails from various PR agencies and businesses – that’s 20-30 every hour for every journalist. Against this backdrop, you would be right in assuming that getting your message seen and heard through all this noise is a tad on the challenging side.
But to steal a phrase from a certain high street bank, there is another way.
The most powerful people in the media are journalists and editors. They are the proverbial gatekeepers with the power to decide if your message is worthy of being unleashed onto their audience (readers, listeners or viewers).
It is they who you have to ‘sell’ your story to and convince them in as short a time as possible that what you have to say is actually really rather interesting.
So if you want to increase the chances of your press release getting the attention of the people who matter most, take note of the following reasons why your previous efforts may have failed to get the media coverage you hoped for:
You’re trying to sell:
Journalists detest sales people…fact. So pitches (and that’s essentially what a press release is) that are blatantly self-promotional will only be afforded the attention needed to move them from Inbox to Trash folder.
If the aim of your press release is to drive sales, run an advert instead and don’t piss off those journalists who could be your biggest influencers when you do have something good to tell and share.
You believe your own hype:
We all like to think that our opinion is worth hearing, but how much sway does it have outside the four walls of your business? Will anyone really care what your boss has to say, or are you planning a press release in a bid to massage his or her ego?
These types of press release read along the lines of,
“Hi there, you recently ran a feature on the top 10 most influential people in the legal profession, which was soooo good. Our client is widely recognised as the UK’s leading barrister and he has a great opinion on how lawyers can raise their profile within their areas of expertise.”
To which the journalist will, quite rightly, respond with,
“Err no. Not a chance. We’ve never heard of your client and don’t you think that’s rather ironic given the title of the feature you refer to?”
You’re not getting to the point fast enough:
I met with two newspaper editors over the last few weeks and they were explaining how the role of a journalist has evolved over the last five years.
Gone are the days when a hack would work on one or two main stories each day; today, journalists are typically required to work on five or more stories. That’s a heck of a workload, but it also means that they need media friendly press releases sent to them.
In other words, they will grant no more than 15 seconds (if you’re lucky) to each press release they receive, and if they don’t ‘get’ what you’re talking about within that time then your chance of being published has gone.
So avoid waffle and industry jargon and get to the point of what your story is all about:
- The headline needs to tell them everything (but it also needs to be short)
- The opening paragraph needs to address the Who, What, When, Why and How in 40 words or less
That opening paragraph encapsulates the entire story into two sentences – the rest of the press release is simply padding.
You don’t ‘get’ how influential journalists are:
Journalists have it tough. They want to work with businesses who a) make their lives easier by having a good story to tell, and b) could be a great source for future commentary if the journalist is running a story on a similar topic further down the road.
To win their trust you need to understand what they have written about in the past, too. This involves doing some homework (sorry if this means you have to make more effort, but hey…tough).
Take a look at the publication(s) they write for and check out their Twitter profiles too. This will enable you to spot their style of writing and their perspective on certain subject matter.
Remember, journalists are people too and just because they may right for The Guardian or the FT, they may also like BBC Football too. So follow them online, click what they share online and make comment and gain a greater insight into the trends, topics and issues that are important to them.
This enables you to build rapport when pitching your story and it also makes the journalist feel that you have specifically targeted them, rather than scatter-gunned your press release to hundreds of others on your list (and no one wants to be on someone’s ‘list’).
You struggle to answer one simple question…Why?
Pitching a press release is no different to pitching your business to a potential new client – you need to address the what’s-in-it-for-me factor.
Journalists by their very nature are inquisitive so and so’s (I was one myself). They were that kid I school who kept putting their hand up in class to ask, “But, why?”
So when you are writing what you hope will be a stupendously superb press release that will wow the media, make sure you get your message right first.
A few years ago I worked with a scientific organisation with a communications team made up of PR’s with a science background. Whilst the press releases they produced were incredibly insightful and detailed, the appeal they had was limited to those with a greater understanding of the subject matter.
To appeal to the media of most interest to you, you need to be able to explain the purpose of your press release in such a way that your mother would understand it.
People don’t read the media to gain an in-depth understanding of a subject – there are scientific and other journals for that. Rather, they want to gleam the essential elements of the story.