Before I became the Director of Content and Communications for Convirza, I was a TV news reporter and anchor for 4 years.
I worked in local TV news in the Western U.S. I covered executions, fires, murders, human interest, business stories and everything in between.
I also received about 20 press releases each day and talked to PR professionals trying to pitch stories weekly. This blog post is a random smattering of stuff I learned along the way.
Obviously some of the things that I experienced as a reporter in local TV news won’t apply in the blogosphere or in the trade pubs. But, I can assure you, most will.
Press releases don’t work unless they’re extraordinary and creative. Why? Because reporters just get so many of them. I literally would receive 20-30 press releases each day from companies pitching a story. (I can’t imagine how many national reporters receive). Most press releases contain corporate-speak, are self-serving, and are stupid.
The good press releases are short, to-the-point, even contain a few bullet points and give the reporter an angle to pitch the story to his editors.
There were 2 or 3 PR people I dealt with on a regular basis. I would call them back before I would call anyone else. Why? Because they understood deadlines! They knew I had to have the story shot, written and edited by 5:00. That meant they needed to have on-camera interviews lined up for me at 3:00 at the latest. They also knew I needed visuals of some kind…some marginally exciting video.
If you want to have success pitching reporters, respect their deadline. Ask them when their deadline is and ask them what visuals/information they need from you prior to that deadline.
Understand that there might (likely will) be a quick turnaround.
The most annoying thing as a reporter was getting a press release at 9:00 am, calling the PR person listed on the press release, and then hearing them say, ‘Well, I just don’t have anyone available for you to talk to today. The CEO’s out of town and unavailable.’ Well…then why the crap did you send the press release out this morning?!?!? Tomorrow this won’t be news. Either have someone to provide an interview today, before 1:00, or this won’t be a story anymore. Remember that news is news because it’s current.
Ironically, I’ve now been on the other side of this issue working for Convirza. Sometimes the C-suite is surprised that a reporter wants an interview the day the press release goes out.
Stories are only stories if they have a ‘hook.’
A hook is the thing that makes a story newsworthy. Editors and anchors will ask reporters what the ‘hook’ is for the story before they will assign a reporter to a story.
What’s a good hook?
Anything that makes it newsworthy. For example, I received a press release from a company that was opening a location in the city where I worked. Not newsworthy (unless it’s a new Apple store or something really cool). BUT, in the press release they mentioned that they would have a job fair and they were hiring 80 people. In a down economy, that was newsworthy. That’s a hook. That’s something we can ‘tease’ in commercials.
Another example: I received a press release from a real estate firm that mentioned they were buying a downtown hotel. Not news. Hotels change hands all the time. No one will care. But, then the PR guy called me and said that they were going to convert the hotel into condos. That’s news. That’s a hook. People will care about that.
To review, no one will care about your new product. Give them a ‘hook.’ Ask yourself: would I want to read an article/watch a story about this?
DON’T get caught in corporate-speak.
As a reporter, sometimes I started reading a press release, got about 2 sentences in, and then jabbed a pencil into my right retina. Why are press releases so boring? Reporters aren’t boring. Why are you writing boring things and sending those boring things to reporters? Stupid.
Personal relationships win. I did stories with people that I liked and with people that came through with video, interviews, facts, and information time after time after time.
Don’t put a ton of effort into one story idea, because it might not go anywhere.
This might seem counterintuitive, but you’ll see what I mean.
Here’s an example: for several months billboards started appearing around our city with the simple phrase ‘It is coming.’ No one knew what ‘it’ was. Then one day I received a press release from a local PR firm that said there would be a special event at a park at 11:00 that told everyone what ‘it’ was.
We were intrigued, we went to the park and determined ‘it’ was the opening of a new branch of a local credit union. I, and every other reporter present, was so irritated that, not only did we not do the story (because there wasn’t a story), but we actually went out of our way not to do the story.
The thing that mad me feel bad was that the PR lady at the park had prepared very expensive and nice information packets to hand to reporters. She had made the CEO available for an interview, she had made the President of the company available for an interview, she had even made customers available for interviews.
The problem was: there was no story. Her effort was wasted. She was actually visibly upset and frustrated when all the reporters left without interviewing anyone. She slammed her fancy information packets into the front seat of her car and stormed off.
1) You can’t manufacture a story. There was no news story with a branch of a credit union opening. They tried to create a new item with stupid billboards.
2) Don’t create expensive media packets unless you’re certain the media will actually show up. The same is true of blogger outreach. Don’t spend an entire week crafting the perfect pitch when you’re not sure it will work. You’ll likely end up wasting a bunch of time.
3) Stupid stories just tick reporters off. That event wasted an hour of my life that I’ll never get back.
The bottom line is this: use common sense. If you are bored by your pitch, the reporter/blogger likely will be also.