April 18, 2012
First things first: A pitch isn’t the same as a press release. A press release is a self-contained news story that you provide to a number of news outlets, which, if you’re lucky, reporters will rewrite so that your release fits their style and space — and you can run the release as-is on your own website.
A pitch, on the other hand, is the planting of an idea; an invitation to a reporter to write a story, or to an editor to assign one, with you as a key — but not necessarily the only — source.
It most likely takes some angle on your local market and the role you play in it. And while you send a press release to all your local or regional media, you make your pitch to one journalist.
“It takes some careful studying of the news media on your part to know whom to target, understand what journalists are interested in, and when to make your pitch,” said Jennifer Wezensky, president of JW Public Relations, a national boutique PR firm based near Kalamazoo, Mich.
Here are nine ways you can sell a story to the media and get some free, positive publicity:
- Study the Media . Do the media outlets have reporters who specialize in financial services, or are there general business reporters? Is there a financial or business section in your local newspaper or regional magazines? Do they run stories about health, life, personal or commercial insurance topics? Learn the news your media report, their editorial calendars, and the general rhythm of their coverage. Especially note recurring slow news days when there seems to be a lot of non-local fill-copy in print or on air.
- Build Your Target List. This isn’t your media list with just names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Take note of reporters whose styles you like or who seem more informed about insurance and related financial topics than the average general assignment reporter — or on the flip side, a young reporter who has skills but needs good contacts, such as you. Get a sense of what certain editors like to cover, and note that in your contact list. Make personal contact with reporters at a meeting or community function to put a face to the byline, and plant the seed in their minds of using you as a potential news source.
- Find Fresh Angles. Some topics tend to repeat themselves, and reporters struggle to find new ways to write about them. This can be particularly true in feature stories in home, financial and business sections of newspapers and magazines, where assignments are often pegged to the seasons. Give a fresh angle for one of these stories, and you could become a reporter’s hero.
- Give Context to Marketing, Legislative, Judicial or Regulatory Developments . Pitch an idea that interprets how these changes will affect costs and insurance coverages, locally or nationally.
- Put a Human Face on a Story. It doesn’t have to be your face. Yes, your pitch should put you and your business in the story. But suggest other sources besides yourself for the story idea, because the reporter is going to need them.
- Don’t Make Your News Pitch a Sales Call . Be straightforward and factual in your pitch and explain why it makes a good news story. The same issue needs to be addressed for a pitch as it does for a press release: why your story is important to the reader or viewer, not just you.
- Don’t Duck Bad News. In fact, a great time to pitch a story is with controversial regulatory actions, legal decisions and legislation. While reporters struggle to find someone who will talk about the issue, you come forward with your take on how to get through hard times. If you pitch a story on how to respond to the latest crisis, you’ll get good news coverage, and reporters will start calling you.
- Pitch by E-Mail. E-mail gives reporters an easy reference they can file away if it arrives on a hectic day. And that can be any day. Avoid sending an e-mail pitch on Fridays, particularly to newspapers where editors and reporters are putting the final touches on Sunday feature sections. Mondays aren’t so hot either, as they catch up with all their e-mail from Friday and the weekend. Tuesdays are often best.
- Keep It Concise and Casual. This is a one-on-one communication. You want to get to the point of your pitch, but you also want to come off as friendly and easy to talk to. After all, that’s the point. You want the reporter to call you for quotes. Follow up your pitch with a second e-mail or a phone call a couple of days later, and ask the reporter what he thought of the story idea.
Thanks to Eric Adams, who writes our Real Estate Digest newsletter for title insurers and real estate brokers, for writing the basic material for this week’s column.