Every CEO knows you need an effective pitch to get press coverage, but few know how to write one. Case in point: Inc.'s editorial staff spent weeks combing files and incoming mail for a model letter. The best example we found is nearly two years old, and it came from a public-relations professional.

But you can get a good start on your publicity push before you spend a penny with a PR firm. Try this: focus your effort by having an employee or outside colleague interview you about your company's story. Then, in the reference section of your local library, check media guides to identify relevant publications. Don't take chances. Read the publications you've targeted. Will your story fit? Only after you've finished the foundation work is it time to draft a letter and to solicit professional PR suggestions. (See "Do-It-[Mostly]-Yourself PR," this section, September 1992, [Article link].)

The bottom line: even when you've done your homework, it's difficult for an unknown company to get coverage in national business publications. But a well-aimed letter can open the door to local and regional newspapers. Clips from those newspapers, in turn, are your collateral when you approach bigger papers and magazines. Here are some letter-writing tips:

Keep it short. Press releases inundate editors and reporters. If you don't grab their interest in the first paragraph or two, they won't continue reading. And if your letter is more than one page, it's too long.

Know the audience. Ideally, you should draft a different letter -- with a different story angle -- for every publication on your list. Mass marketing is out. Julie Della Cioppa, the publicist who wrote this letter, shows that she knows that Inc.'s focus is on small, growing businesses. Her letter presents the company's distinctive market strategy, and she wisely addressed her pitch directly to the editor of "Sales and Marketing."

Get to the point. An effective pitch letter is not generic. You need to provide information that will resonate with the target publication. The writer of this letter presents a succinct description of the company's growth strategy and financial performance. If your letter doesn't give good reasons to pay attention to your company, you'll have missed your chance. Reporters won't spend time hunting down the basic details. So don't write advertising copy about your company. Instead be sure your letter answers the five W's (who, what, when, where, and why) and the H (how). "Many CEOs don't know the editorial style from the advertising style," notes Della Cioppa.

Warning: "Follow up" only with caution. The daily deluge of mail is a logistical challenge for most writers and editors. Many prefer not to get PR phone calls. After all, if your letter works, they'll call you.

-- Susan Greco and Robina A. Gangemi

* * *

(Sample letter:)

Mary Kay Lazarus/Public Relations

307 West 200 South/Suite 2001

Salt Lake City, Utah 84101

801.328.88.99/Fax 801.364.13.38

November 30, 1993

Ms. Susan Greco


38 Commercial Wharf

Boston, MA 02110-3883

Dear Ms. Greco:

Would Inc. be interested in the story of a young telecommunications company whose secret to dramatic growth is to form alliances with well-know, retired businessmen in new markets?

In October, Access Long Distance entered its eighth Western state with a new operation in Arizona. The structure of this start-up -- local "investor/partners? providing the market knowledge and a share of the capital resources -- typifies Access' style for new market growth.

The company recently reported third quarter net earnings of $$1,362,298 on sales of $8,806,150 -- a 73 percent increase form 1992. The story of access shows how a little marketing ingenuity can help a David compete against the Goliaths.

I will follow-up with you next week.

Julie Della Cioppa

(801) 328-8899