How To Pitch To The Press: The 8 No-Fail Strategies

Barbara Spagnola - Tuesday, September 29, 2015
by Cheryl Conner

In my day job I’m an entrepreneur, as the founder of a leading PR strategy agency, Snapp Conner PR. But I’m also a frequent speaker on communications and business topics, and as a Forbes contributor, a writer and journalist as well.

Last week I moderated a panel for the Money2020 trade show in Las Vegas. Here’s where things turned interesting. In the final month before the show, somehow my name made its way onto the list of press attendees.

What an eye opener.

I received hundreds of emails. Scores of calls came to our agency. Some even found their way to my cell. Public relations people throughout the U.S. were all being paid by their employers and clients to tout their news to the press and to score commitments for appointments during the show.

First it was funny. Then it was sad. Lengthy pitches. Friendly pitches. Form pitches. Some of the same individuals pitched me again and again. All of this in spite of the fact I was in and out of Las Vegas in a matter of hours and the subjects I cover as a Forbes contributor have no applicability to the things the majority of these poor souls were promoting.

If I were to estimate the salaries and billable hours of the fervent pitches to me alone the cost would amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Multiplied by the hundreds of other reporters who attended this show, the sum exhibitors paid to ply the press likely amounted to a million dollars or more, largely wasted.

Do you know how many pitches I responded to? One. It was one of the shortest pitches of the hundreds I received, but it got straight to the point. The PR person addressed me by name (and even spelled it correctly!)  Far more importantly, she had tied the idea she was presenting into not one but two of the articles I’d recently written to suggest how the spokesperson and topic would tie into a great future story for me that would build in a meaningful way upon the things I’d already done.

She quickly highlighted the high points of the company’s recent achievements and news. And she suggested a reasonable and convenient way we could follow up together. No pushiness. No form letter. No guile. But it was clear she had done her homework to provide a useful idea that was intended entirely for me.

I wrote back that she had won the jackpot. Out of sheer respect for the time she had taken (probably 20-30 minutes or less) to create a pitch I could actually use, I would find a way to do the interview and create a story. (She responded back that she was so excited she was strongly considering tattooing my message onto her wrist, a la Angelina Jolie.)

What makes the difference between an effective pitch to the press and the hundreds and thousands that find their way into the trash? I am especially interested in this topic since my team is a PR agency ourselves. I also note the words of entrepreneurs like Contributor Jason Nazar, who noted in one of his recent columns that he had originally outsourced his company’s work in social media and PR, with bad outcome, and as a result had taken it back on by himself. And as far as I can tell, he’s met with outstanding success.

Can you pitch the press successfully? Does it always require an agent or an agency? What are the secrets successful entrepreneurs (and successful PR people) know? Pitching the press may be easier than you think. Here are a few golden rules:

  1. Choose a target. And make sure the target will actually fit. For example, thousands of companies through the years have attempted to pitch Walt Mossberg on writing about products such as network traffic management tools. Yet he specializes in covering products consumers would use. A good fit? Not at all.
  2. Read the writer’s prior articles. Thoroughly. Read them with an eye for their interests, their themes, and the way your idea would help extend their subject matter further. (Not “I see you wrote about XX, so how about you write about it again?”) When you make your pitch, let the writer know how and where your idea might fit. Think through the idea through the reporter’s eyes—how will this piece be of interest and need to the reader? How will it meet the criteria the publication and the writer’s section and assignments must meet?

The Golden Rule Of Content (And What Not To Do In Pitching The Press)

Barbara Spagnola - Tuesday, September 29, 2015
by Cheryl Conner

Okay, this doesn’t happen often, but I’m in a bit of a mood. I’m also gaining empathy by the minute for the career journalists who surround me. I am beginning to understand the accosting they endure in the form of constant pitching for coverage from vendors, from entrepreneurs (even the earnest entrepreneurs) and from thousands of PR people like…me.

And many tremendous people have pitched me on article ideas with success. But clearly, when it comes to working with reporters and suggesting good content there are still a number of folks out there who just aren’t getting the Zen. So today (and hopefully only today) I will rant.

To all of the vendors, entrepreneurs, experts, thought leaders, writers, presenters and readers who have the need and desire to put your information out into the Internet press, I present you with the Golden Rule of Content:

Great content provides information that readers need and are genuinely anxious to read.

That’s it. It’s the entire secret. Remember this one principle and you will have opened the door to the world of great communication. You see, the material that is published on Forbes.com and in any number of the most credible publications is not about you. And it’s not about me, either. Publications (and writers) exist for one reason alone: to serve their readers.

When it comes to that point, this week has been a particularly bad season for ill-conceived pitches. And every one of them could have been resolved by this rule. In the world of Bad Pitches, here’s how they generally go:

I want to be featured in Forbes. Of course you do. Fifty-five million readers a month (the highest in the publishing industry), consistent ranking as most highly shared publication and extremely high credibility. CEOs at a recent session I attended referred to Forbes as “the Louis Vuitton of publishing brands.” Apparently the magazine’s new investors agree. But that doesn’t mean you have a Forbes-worthy story. And consistently, the people who pitch me are forgetting the fundamental rule: How will this information matter to entrepreneurs? “I used to be homeless and look how far I have come.” “I’ve created the most ingenious idea in history.” “My product is absolutely unique.” “People need to know about me so they can buy my product.” Well good for you. Every one of you. But if you’re looking for my help and attention as a writer, the only thing that will matter to me is how will this information be of use and interest to other entrepreneurs? When you are able to answer that question, you can give me a call.

I want to be a writer for Forbes. Well, good luck. I am definitely not the person to call. The producers have provided a helpful post for those who are interested in trying their hands as contributing writers, particularly in new geographical regions.  And here’s a post by Forbes online editor Lewis Dvorkin on what it takes to be a great reporter in the digital age, with examples. Perhaps you can try your hand at a guest post and get some feedback on your draft from someone who produces strong content. There are plenty of blogs on the topic. Jon Morrow’s blog comes to mind. Also Henneke Duistermaat, who I’ve interviewed and collaborated with on several columns before.

Can I just hire you to pitch me? No, you can’t. Yes, I’ve recommended strong writers when I’ve seen them, whether or not they’ve had a  business connection to me. In those cases, my opinion has been based on their topics, their talent and what I knew about their work ethic. Sometimes I was right; sometimes I wasn’t. But my opinion is my opinion. It can’t be bought. Which leads to…

I have a great business proposition for you. This was a private message (no lie) I received through the Forbes contact interface, and it wasn’t the first. “I can help you out, because I have a list of companies who need to be profiled in Forbes. This will be a mutually profitable relationship. I can pay you.” Um, no. Equally pernicious was the note I received through Facebook from a firm in Finland, as I recall, asking if they could hire me to write some blog posts for them. I took the time to refer a sharp freelancer, only to have them come back with the genuine crux of the question.

“No, not those. We have plenty of posts on our website. We want to hire you to write some articles about us and post them on Forbes. We can pay you $200 apiece. Do you need more? What’s the price?” I was not sure what to be most offended about—the notion that it’s possible to pay a reporter in secret to write favorable things, or the idea that my cooperation in breaching the contributor contract could be had for the grand sum of $200. Here’s an important factor to know: Contributor rules are very strict on conflict of interest (it includes gifts, discounts and merchandise and favors as well) and is enforced by signed contract. Don’t even think about it.

So here’s how you need to title that article. This one’s always fun. I’ve been thisclose to considering a pitch or a topic that has merit for entrepreneurial readers when the conversation turns to “so you will need to put my name and xxx in the headline because I need to combat some bad press that’s been coming out about me on Fox .” Um, conversation over. Reporters are reporters. You can certainly express the thing you’d love to see appear in a story or headline if your dreams were all to come true. But reporters don’t “have” to do anything. Their role is to report the story they believe will interest their readership. It is not their job to provide you with PR service, approval rights (!!), favorable exposure, specifically placed links (don’t even get me started on that one, and I’m someone who actually loves the convergence of SEO and great content) or with glowing accolades in your headline of choice.

I don’t like what you said in that article. Change it. Is there a factual inaccuracy? Of course we want to hear about it and will do what it takes to note a correction or fix what we can. “I hate that picture. Use a different one.” Well, it’s possible we will help you out if we can. “That guy reports to the CEO. Don’t listen to him. Get those quotes out of there. Get on the phone right now and replace those quotes with the following remarks from our CEO.” Nope. Not happening. “Could you please take that link back out? It points to some unfavorable coverage on me. Oh, and be sure you don’t mention to anyone else that I asked.” Nope. That’s not happening either.

Will you please run my content?  This is the doozy that’s most recently getting my hairs all on end. An earnest and wonderful young entrepreneur from another country has been pitching me for weeks on end to please collaborate with him on an article for Forbes. He sent me his idea in an email. Not bad. But a few dozen instant messages later (“are we there yet? Have you started it yet? What can I give you? Now can you start? Look at this article. I want to be profiled exactly like this”) I advised him to have patience; that sometimes an article in progress can take several months. Two days passed and he was at it again. Finally I opened the file. It was filled with grammatical errors and quotes without citation. And when I checked his website I could see the business and service he was selling was writing for hire. Here’s a word to the wise – instead of plying a reporter with requests or demands to write about you, consider using that time to spell check and properly cite the material you are submitting instead.

Which leads to another topic: Don’t ever, ever, ever attempt to pitch a reporter repurposed or plagiarized goods. This happened to me yesterday. After spending several hours editing and completing a story based on points of information I’d been pitched, as I looked for a photo to wrap the article up I discovered (thank heavens) that the material I’d been pitched was not original, not linked or sourced, and not even the purported writer’s own work. It had been cut and pasted out of a press release. A little aghast that I was aghast, the pitcher plead that the situation was really okay in his estimation because he’d gotten the press release owner’s permission to take it. I’ll admit it—I’m beyond speechless on that one. Some short cuts are not worth taking.

And rest assured we do check our sources as well. If you have a lawsuit brewing, an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau or there are other major outlets covering you right now in a scandal, we will figure it out and no, it can’t just be ignored.

Writers are people too.  Here’s another revelation: the vast majority of today’s content contributors are unpaid. They have day jobs. They run companies. They have month-end deadlines, deliverables, invoices to pay and reports to produce. They are real people (just like you) with names, personalities, lives and children. It is not their job to drop the ball on their business and livelihood to cover the topic you insist requires immediate coverage or to write about you. Courtesy is always in fashion.

At a recent conference I attended, as everyone left the final session, tired and ready to sit and relax over a bite of dinner, one of the attendees accosted me with the urgent requirement that we sit down immediately for me to interview him first, “so you can profile my business for Forbes.” This was imposition enough, but went even further when a video camera suddenly appeared. “We’re producing a documentary on the launch of our company. You’re in it.” These days I’m getting a lot more skilled at Just. Saying. No.

Then there are the cellphone calls on weekends and holidays (not kidding) to announce, “It’s my birthday today. My present to myself is that you’re going to write about me in Forbes.” I hope my response was polite, and I hope and trust she had a wonderful birthday. But how would this benefit other entrepreneurs? “They should be inspired by all that I’ve done.” Perhaps. And huge kudos for founders with confidence. But no, I did not.

So back to the golden rule of content. Writers are people, and if you work with them like people they can become your best kind of friend. Remember the Golden Rule of content and repeat it often. Learn to use it as a gut check for every post that you write and every pitch to a reporter you send. Let’s say it together, once more:

Great content provides the information readers need, and are genuinely anxious to read.

Press Releases: 5 Things You're Doing Wrong, According To Journalists

Barbara Spagnola - Tuesday, September 29, 2015
by Susan Payton

I will argue that press releases are an essential part of a good marketing and public relations strategy. But it occurred to me: what do journalists and reporters think of them? Are they accomplishing what we want them to (getting the attention of the media and making them clamor to write about our brands)? So I asked a selection of journalists what they thought of press releases. Their responses make it pretty clear where many businesses are missing the mark, and lay a clear plan for how we can improve.

1. You’re Not Targeting Us Well Enough

I heard this again and again: journalists are sick of companies sending press releases that don’t relate to the beats they cover.

“If I’m a reporter in Miami and we cover all hard news, why would I care about a man in Kansas who just wrote a book that has nothing to do with my market?” says former TV reporter turned media relations specialist Christina Nicholson. Learn a lesson from this and make sure you only send press releases to journalists who cover your industry (and your geographic area).

annoyed man making stop sign

© luismolinero – Fotolia.com

2. We Want More Research and Studies

Freelance business journalist Lin Grensing-Pophal says she rarely uses news releases sent to her via email—with one exception. She does look for “releases about research/studies from top analyst organizations whose spokespeople I’ve interviewed in the past.”

These, unfortunately, represent only a small percentage of the releases she receives. But, take note: use research and studies as the subject for your next press release!

3. We Want the 5 Ws (and an H)

Journalists, just like anyone, want to be entertained with a great news story. A press release has the potential to tell your story if you let it. Derek Handova, a freelance journalist for B2B News Network and Economy Lead, says including the five Ws and an H (who, what, when, where, why, and how) is a classic approach that gets his attention.

Forget the hype and empty quotes that no one says in real life. Probably even more important is the need to say something unique and novel that no one else is saying. Take a provocative approach in your press release. Make me sit up and pay attention.”

4. You’re Overselling Yourself

Yes, you want to capture the attention of journalists. But lying or overexaggerating isn’t the way to do it, according to Brian Penny, a self-proclaimed whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer.

“Don’t oversell yourself. I’m not the general public—I research your industry for a living, and I’m not stupid. If you tell me you’re the next Facebook, and you have less hits than my personal blog, you’re a liar in my book and will be immediately blocked.”

5. Where’s Your Photo?

Studies show that simply including a photo with your press release can expand your audience up to 92%. Yet, so many releases don’t contain them. Journalists like visuals (as do we all).

“My advice: include photos with press releases—at least you’ll have a shot of something getting in the press,” Linda B. Condrillo, who formerly worked as a stringer for a newspaper, suggests. Include your company logo, product photo, or headshot if relevant. Videos can also spice up a release.

Well, you’ve heard it straight from the horse’s—er, journalist’s—mouth. Press releases can be effective at reaching people if you put the effort into targeting them, telling your story, and making the release visually appealing.

Disseminate Information With Press Release Distribution

Barbara Spagnola - Wednesday, August 13, 2014
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There are several press release distribution and submission services available online. These services include HTML links in the press release body, multiple categories and tags, a free press release account, and sometimes even a video press release. They provide spam protection to the client's email address, and create a search engine optimized web page and its PDF version.

Distribution Services

The distribution services provided for press releases include distribution to Google News and many other search engines. These seo facilities also offer a number of JavaScript, html, and RSS feeds. Clients can get their own press room, and powerful advanced search options. The press release distribution services also provide customized real time or daily or weekly alerts.

The Benefits Of Distributing Press Releases Are:

* Increased traffic for client's website
* Better search engine rankings
* Increased brand value in the social media

The first step in making a press release successful is identifying the target audience, that is, whom the message is meant for. If the readers of the press release are not the client's target market, then, most probably, they will not show even an iota of interest in what the client has to offer. For instance, if the target audience is deaf and dumb, there is no use selling a television or a radio set to them. These readers would most likely be offended, leave aside interested in the product.

This instance might be an exaggeration, but it clearly proves that without a target audience, the client's press release will not be of any significance. The best it can bring to the mind of the readers is shock and confusion, but not anything near to a sale. This is the reason why press release distribution and submission should be done carefully, keeping in mind the target audience's tastes and preferences.

Research and find out more about the target audience, their tastes, and their buying habits before submitting a press release or before sending it for distribution. The more the client is clear about his aim, the clearer he will be about his release distribution needs.

The second step is to find an appropriate distribution site to do the job. An experienced and knowledgeable service provider can do wonders to a client's business. These providers are aware of the partner sites and media, which can give him the proper exposure for their business. This helps in better conversion rates for client's leads. Readers can instantly turn into customers with this approach.

If the press release distribution service and the client have done their homework, be assured that the readers will be the target audience.

The message intended for the readers will reach the potential customers. Clients can also choose to distribute their releases by geographical, industrial, and specialty market. Also, it is mandatory that the information should not violate copyright norms, should be authentic, and most important, timely.

To increase his website's exposure or get a message across a targeted audience, a client should simply register and submit his press releases quickly and easily. He can simply avail the press distribution services.


About the Author

WL Marketing is a great place for press release distribution. They also provide seo services. For more information visit the given link.

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