How not to pitch to the press

The biggest obstacle to getting your news into the papers is often the journalist that stands between your ‘important’ message and their ‘respectable’ journal.
Journalists may have the reputation for being foul-mouthed, bad-tempered, cantankerous binge drinking hacks and some of the time that’s true, but they are often overworked, underpaid, and usually working to multiple different deadlines.

BBC Manchester
A busy newsroom will get hundreds of press releases. The worst will go straight in the bin.

They are also now juggling with new technology, social media and websites with many newsrooms under increasing economic pressure to stay profitable in order to survive. Duties are growing, yet staff are getting fewer and fewer.
Their inboxes are bombarded with hundreds of emails a day from sources, editors chasing up stories, PRs angling for coverage for whatever product, cause or crusade they are peddling that week, so your story needs to hit the mark straight away.
If you’re pitching without a PR company behind you, your job will be even harder, but it’s not impossible to be your own PR and if your story’s a good one, it will sell itself.

Love/hate relationship

In my experience, PRs and journalists have a love/hate relationship. The journalist wants the story, the PR wants the coverage, but somewhere down the line of negotiating the terms and conditions of who gets what and when, it can be an arduous task.
In my 10 years working at a local weekly newspaper, I took thousands upon thousands of calls from cheery (always overly cheery) PRs, usually called Chrissie or Lucinda, or something double-barrelled wanting my help to get their words in my paper.
I would say that nine out of 10 press releases didn’t make it and it was usually down to the sender not doing their research properly or providing me with enough information. I didn’t have time to trawl through the 3000-word document to find out if it was relevant to my patch.
[Tweet “‘Nine out of 10 press releases don’t make it’ #PR”]
So here are a few pointers that may not guarantee your place in the news first time, but may go some way to helping you build a relationship with your roving reporter.

Nine things that hack off a hack

Geography – keep it local

I may be in Scotland, but working for a Highland-based newspaper means that news about an Edinburgh woman battling a life-threatening disease is of no interest to me or my readers whatsoever. I mean we wish her well and all that, but being over 180 miles from our nation’s capital makes it of no use to me. This happened to me time and time again and it’s frustrating and hilarious in equal measure. If you’re not sure, make it your first question.

Deadlines – get it on time, plenty of time

Know when the paper you are approaching publishes. It’s simple really. I worked for a weekly, we printed on a Wednesday so by a Tuesday lunchtime, the bulk of the paper was usually all tied up. I used to get PRs ringing me, about National Whatever Day – which could have provided a really good feature – the day before. No use to anyone. Give us a bit of notice. Contrary to popular belief, we are relatively organised – we have to be – and most well-run establishments even have a good old-fashioned desk diary, and gaps in it won’t stay empty for long.

Grammar – it’s our biggest gripe

I struggle to eat in a restaurant where the menu is badly printed – so I am hardly likely to take a press release which is full of mistakes seriously. Enough said.

Less is more – don’t send me to sleep

Don’t bog down your tired, deflated, journalist with a dissertation. What they need to know are the basics – who, what, where, why, when. Send a nice succinct email, with a pic where possible. If you cover the basics and the journo likes what you have, they WILL ring you back. They are an inquisitive type by nature, they can’t help themselves.

Trust – or lack of it

There is nothing more insulting to a journalist than your PR sitting in on a phone interview. It screams that you don’t trust them and you want to be in control and it gets the hack’s back up.

Put it out there – you are the story

If you’re trying to promote a business, be prepared to be named and pictured before you approach the journalist. Unless there is a legal reason why not, that’s what the paper is going to ask for, and if it isn’t possible, the chances of getting any coverage are slim to none.
[Tweet “‘If you’re promoting a business, be prepared to be named and pictured’ #PR”]

Exclusive means exclusive – don’t burn your bridges

If you offer a reporter an exclusive then stick to that agreement. You will find that once a journo knows they have something to themselves they will go out of their way to make sure it gets the best coverage possible, from putting it in the paper and on the web, to promoting the story on social media and even on good old fashion billboards. However, renege on this offer, after the journo has gone to all the hard work of pitching to the ed, arranging the picture with equally overworked snappers, writing the copy and filing it, only to find it’s on the front page of the rival rag, and it’s unlikely you will ever be able to cross that journo’s path again. It ain’t big and it ain’t clever.

For your eyes only – it’s that trust thing again

Asking to see an article before it prints, is akin to sitting in on an interview. Reporters are fiercely protective of their work. If you have done your part properly, you should have nothing to worry about.

Know your publication – and what interests them

Don’t fill an editor’s inbox with rubbish they don’t need. Know what the paper’s style is and know what the target audience is. Sending an email about a new lip gloss aimed at 15-17 year-old girls is not going to interest the news team of a magazine aimed at OAPs. It sounds obvious but it happens.
So that’s it. Get these essentials right, and you’ll be well on the way to building a good relationship with your local newspaper reporter.

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