The people who need publicity the most are small business owners. Unfortunately, those are usually the ones who don’t have a budget to hire someone to earn great PR, so they try to tackle it themselves. It can work, I’ve seen it done before, but many times these pitches fall short.
I have been on both sides of pitches for ten years now. I write them and receive them, so I can tell what works and what doesn’t work from both vantage points.
So, small business owners listen up. First, you need to have a newsworthy story. Just pitching your business or service like it’s the best thing since sliced bread will not work. Next, ask yourself: Where do I want my business to be seen? Is it local newspapers? National trade magazines? Local TV? Niche bloggers? This matters for one big reason that is lost on many people, even PR professionals themselves (I hate to say it, but it’s true). You should pitch them all differently.
They are all different in terms of their delivery and their outlets. For example, TV needs lots of visuals including on-camera interviews and other video pertaining to your story. For magazines, this isn’t that important. Instead, a magazine will need high-resolution pictures.
Where to Pitch?
How do you decide where you want to be? Well, this involves research and what you find will help you when pitching too. If you read your Sunday paper, you may see a story that seems right up your brand's alley. Look at who wrote the story, then read some other stuff that person wrote or find some other contacts that would be great for your brand or the story you want to pitch. Then, when you pitch that person, you can make the pitch super personal. It does make a difference.
Yes, that takes time, but good PR takes time. Bad PR takes 20 minutes of compelling a list of 500 people to blast the exact same e-mail to. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many PR firms blast the media, so you have to be sure to vet your publicist thoroughly if you end up hiring one.
Finding the Right Length
In your pitch, write no more than two paragraphs. You’re not writing the story. You are pitching it. Think of it as a tease. You want to give the writer, editor, producer, booker, whoever you’re pitching, just enough information to want more. That’s when they’ll write back and ask for more. Then, you can seal the deal. Plus, do you know how many e-mails and phone calls these people get on a daily basis?! It’s insane! That’s why you want to keep things short, sweet, and to the point. It’s why you want to make sure your pitch is targeted - going to the right person and written in a way that shows you are familiar with the industry. This is why you want to personalize your pitches.
The Timing of Your Pitch
Now, timing is everything. If you want to be in a print magazine in May for some kind of summer vacation story, you need to start pitching in February. Magazines work about three months in advance. If you are pitching a TV station, do not bother them at 4:45 pm. They are getting ready for the 5:00 pm news and are going crazy in the newsroom dealing with breaking news, reporters and photographers sending their stories in last minute, etc. You want to get them before their morning meeting starts around 9:00 am - 10:00 am. Also, if you’re pitching a story at 1:00 pm, you should be ready with all of your ducks in a row (interviewee, pictures, video, website, etc.) by 1:05 pm. There is nothing worse than receiving a pitch, calling the sender, then hearing, “Yeah, can we set that up for later in the week? I’m not ready yet.”
Notice I’m saying pitches and not press releases. I’m not a big fan of press releases. I don’t remember the last time I saw a good one - as a TV reporter or as a freelancer writer. They are either too long, read like someone is asking for a free commercial, not personal, and I could go on.
With that said, I’ll leave you with these three pitching tips:
1. Keep pitching and keep changing the pitch. You don’t want to email the same journalist every two weeks with a new story. Realistically, they can’t cover you every other week.
2. Follow up. Remember, you are one of many e-mails and phone calls. It’s not hard to get lost in the shuffle. Maybe your pitch was never seen. Many times it’s not, so follow up.
3. Make your subject line catchy… and short. Again, it’s a busy inbox. You want to catch someone’s attention right away.
Christina Nicholson is a former TV reporter and anchor who now owns and operates a public relations firm, Media Maven. She is launching Master your PR - an online course that teaches small business owners how to handle public relations on their own. Christina also has a local lifestyle and family blog, Mascara Maven. She lives in South Florida with her husband and two young children.