What's the future of public relations when newsrooms keep shrinking?

Another former reporter and I wondered that very thing yesterday at the Public Relations Society of America Charlotte chapter's monthly lunch. Why? Because there were more of us journalists-turned-PR-and-communications-pros at that lunch than working journalists in newsrooms.

This reporter and I used to sit across from each other on the business desk of The Charlotte Observer, a McClatchy newspaper. We lamented the latest McClatchy layoffs, announced earlier this week.

I've been pitching stories to reporters ever since I left the newsroom in 2009. As newsrooms continue to shrink, I know I'll have to work harder to get my clients' stories out there.

You will, too. Here are my four top tips for getting reporters interested in your story:

1. Find the right reporter and be specific.

Don't send your story pitch to the entire newsroom. Don't pitch the food writer a story about basketball. Before you pitch a reporter, you want to know exactly what she covers and the kinds of stories she writes.

You want to know the media outlet, too. Are there recurring features that you can pitch to? For example, a weekly business newspaper might have a regular Q&A with a CEO. Find out the reporters who contribute to that and pitch the one whose beat is most appropriate for the company you are representing. Then pitch your CEO.

By being very specific about where you envision your source and and story appearing, you make the reporter's job a lot easier. You aren't leaving it up to her to discern what your pitch means. 

2. Think stories, not topics.

Make sure you have an actual story, not a topic. Ask yourself if your idea for a story is one you'd actually take time to read.

Stories have people and often tension or struggle, too. Say you work with a company that hires people with disabilities, and it's October -- National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Don't lead with the company. Lead with the story of one individual who works there and what it took for her to get that job and how that job has made her life better.

Then mention the company. Then mention the October connection to people with in the workplace. When I pitch stories rather than topics, I always have much better luck. 

3. Offer up interview with real people.

Companies often have plenty of leaders they want to see quoted in news stories. That's great, and access to CEOs and other top executives is appealing.

So are real people.

Push clients to help you provide reporters with regular people like customers, patients, patrons, investors, partners and more. In the case above, you'd offer up the employee and her boss in your media pitch -- after first, of course, ensuring that both are willing and able to do an interview.

One of my best pitches targeted a writer for a Wall Street Journal blog called the "The Juggle," about working women. My client was a mutual fund portfolio manager who had been a teacher and then, due to life circumstances, found herself working the midnight shift in the mutual fund company's call center. She worked her way all the way up to managing billions of dollars.

It was a story, not topic, about a high-powered woman who had persevered and triumphed. More importantly, it was a story I wanted to read -- and knew other readers would too. Home run.

4. A press release? Probably not. 

Clients tend to like press releases, but they're not the PR experts. That's your job, and a press release will rarely get your story told.

I almost always try to talk clients out of the old school press release. Reporters hate them and are quick to hit delete. If you must send one, for whatever reason, include a short email -- think short pitch -- to say why this reporter would be interested in this news and what they might write about.

Mention if you can provide an interview so that they can get fresh quotes that aren't in the press release. Also, paste the release in the body of the email, saving the reporter from having to open an attachment, which he won't do anyhow. 

Bonus tip: Take time to get to know reporters. One, they're pretty cool people, and you should want to know them. Second, when you know more about their interests and background you can find stories that will speak to them. And it's always more pleasant to pitch someone you know rather than a name in a byline.

The good and bad news is there are fewer journalists to get to know these days. But take the time, because it's a better way to tell stories.

Published on: Aug 23, 2018
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