Author: Anthony Caruana
Despite the massive amount of content that’s produced and published these days, the number of journalists is dwindling. That means fewer people are doing more work than ever. As a result, the it’s harder to get a journalist’s attention even if you have a great story to tell. Here are some tips to help you stand out in an ever-growing crowd.
On a typical day, journalists receive dozens, if not hundreds, of press releases and story pitches. With publishing timelines contracting and the news cycle moving faster than ever before, journalists are looking for stories that can be turned around quickly and free up their time so they can focus on long-form stories and research. That’s a tough balancing act. And one thing that simply doesn’t help is an embargo.
I got the job of editor for Macworld Australia after many years of being a freelance contributor to the magazine. The combination of relationships with the publisher and experience got me that job. But, the publisher has decided to shutter that operation and I lost a long-timer retainer client. While that hurt, the pain was short-lived.
Issue jacking is the art of using something that’s of significance in the news of the day to, sensibly, further your company’s message. Handled correctly, issue jacking is powerful tool to help you get valuable publicity for your startup. But it’s important to be thoughtful and ready so you aren’t caught on the hop.
If there’s one question I’m constantly asked it’s “How do we pitch so that our client/product/story gets coverage?”
Start by looking at what the journalist you want to pitch to writes, who they write for and make your pitch relevant.
As my friend Simon puts it:
READ THE PUBLICATIONS YOU PITCH TO BEFORE YOU PITCH TO THEM!
MY CLIENT PARTICIPATES IN THE MARKET YOU ARE WRITING ABOUTî IS NOT A PITCH
Secondly, you can structure your pitch in a way that makes it easy for me/another reporter to make a decision.
Here’s what doesn’t work: an email with a one liner that says something like “attached is the latest press release from Client X who has a new product/service” and all the information is buried in an attached PDF or Word document.
Here’s what will work.
1 – Use the term “Press release” or “Media Release” in the subject line of the email. That makes it easier for the reporter (or me personally) to find your message.
2 – Make sure the subject line says who the company and product/service is.
These first two tips are incredibly important. I get over 100 messages on a quiet day so I don’t often get to read much beyond the subject. It’s like “Jerry Maguire” – you have to get me at “Hello”.
3 – A single paragraph (less than 100 words) explaining why whatever you’re bringing to my attention is special. For example, a release telling me that Client X has a new SaaS product is not useful – lots of companies have a SaaS product. Telling me that Company X’s new SaaS product offers a cheaper pricing model that can flexibly change as a client grows might be more interesting. The other benefit of this is is that I might not need that release for a couple of months. Having good content in the body of the email makes it easier to find.
4 – Think of the headline and lead. For something to be a story it needs a headline and a lead (a short, 10-15 word opening line). If you can’t come up with one then you may need to rethink your pitch.
5 – Have images available. Better yet, provide a link to high-res images (don’t attach 20MB images!) using services like WeTransfer or folder sharing using Dropbox, Box.net, OneDrive or Google Drive.
6 – Make sure your email can be easily read on a mobile device. If I have to zoom or scroll to read it, you’ve made it too hard. Many journalists catch up on email during odd moments, like when standing in line or grabbing some lunch. That means reading on a smartphone.
7 – If you have a press release, don’t send an email saying “See attached release” or similar. If your client insists on sending a nicely formatted PDF press release, copy and paste the text into the body of the email. If I need the “pretty stuff” I’ll open it. But if all you send is an attachment with a “please read” – i’ll ignore it.
8 – Email is reliable. Please don’t feel compelled to call me to check if the email arrived.
9 – Check my LinkedIn profile. I’m pretty good at keeping it up to date with what publications I’m currently writing for. I get a lot of pitches for magazines I stopped writing for years ago. Pitching me ideas and stories for publications I don’t write for is a waste of all our time.
10 – Make sure spokespeople are actually available and that the URLs in your release are correct.
To find your niche, start by answering these three key questions:
1. What am I good at?
2. What do I like to do?
3. What can make me money?
We’re all full of good ideas. Not necessarily ‘get rich quick’ schemes but ideas for new income streams or business models. Some of these will even pass a cursory sanity check and get to the point where you start looking at feasibility.
Is writing and self-publishing an e-book worthwhile? For every success story there are thousands of writers who sell fewer than 500 copies and make nothing. If you’re planning to write a book – be clear in your objectives and make sure they are realistic.
Being a good writer isn’t about innate ability. Everyone can be a good writer with practice. Here are my three essential steps to becoming a great writer.
Every self-employed person needs to be an effective communicator. Being a good writer isn’t a matter of innate ability. I maintain that every single person can become a good writer. But it takes practice. It also requires a commitment to ongoing learning.
I think there are three essential steps to changing your prose from unrelenting, execrable drivel into clear, concise communication.