If you have a good story and hope reporters will help you get the word out, the press release -- an old school public relations tactic -- is not your friend. It's a storytelling buzz kill.

I said as much recently when writing about ways to get your story out when newsrooms are shrinking, which prompted an email from former a editor who wanted to know more. He's been doing press releases for a local arts festival. "Mostly, it goes into the abyss. Mostly, the writers don't respond to emails. So should we dump the release?" 

Yes.

Your better bet, I added, is the pitch.

The pitch is one-to-one communication. You are emailing one reporter with a very specific story idea just for her. You're not blanketing the entire city with your press release, essentially sending your story into the abyss. Rather, you are focusing on interacting with a few journalists, and it starts with a custom pitch for each one.

After all, why would reporters respond to an email with a press release? They know it was blasted out to their entire newsroom and those of their competitors. Except for breaking news, journalists don't want to cover what everyone else is covering.

Still, there are ways to pitch something like a single event to several reporters. Using my former editor and his arts festival as an example, here's how pitching one event to multiple reporters might look. All you have to do is think of individual outlets and what they cover and who their audience is. For example:

  • For the arts section of the local paper, you pitch a Sunday feature story on the founders of the art festival and their vision for the city's arts scene. Why did they start this festival? What does it take for them to pull it off each and every year?
  • For a paper covering the African American community, you pitch the story of a black artist, and for the Hispanic paper a Hispanic artist.
  • For the weekly business journal, you offer a story on an artist who left his corporate job to pursue his art 24/7.
  • For website that targets 20- and 30-somethings who like lists more than stories you offer up the top five peo not to miss at this arts festival.
  • For a local TV station, you suggest the story of a dancer who overcame some obstacle and will be performing at such and such a time, so bring your video camera!  

Note that I'm making up stuff about this arts festival, but you get my drift. Also note something that all of these ideas have in common: people.

A home run pitch tells the story of someone doing something newsworthy and gives the reporter access to this amazing person. Pitches are about people, not topics. Meanwhile, your standard press release covers a topic and the only people in it are an organization's leaders with quotes that their PR people wrote for them. In other words, boring.

I'm not saying you won't still get some foul balls with your pitches, but I'll bet you a stadium hot dog you get more luck with a few customized pitches featuring real people with really cool stories than you do with any press release.

Published on: Sep 13, 2018
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