4. Get ready for contact
When you have whetted your storyline and feel fairly certain you have press-worthy content (checking it against the news criteria (LINK TO PREV ARTICLE), having aligned with your communications department if you have one, and checking relevance for the target media), you are ready to make your storyline work for you.
Be aware that most journalists receive many, many pitches and press releases in their inbox every day. It may go unnoticed unless you or a press relations officer follow up more directly.
A commonly used format is the press pitch, a few paragraphs of information outlining the highlights of the storyline, what the journalist can find out by taking an interview (often in bullet form) as well as contact information for the spokesperson. Make it brief and enticing so it whets appetite.
The press release is more formal, long-form, and usually contains several quotes as well as contact information. It is often used when more parties are involved, fx in a merger or large business deal. It is made as to be directly copied. Most serious media outlets do not publish them in full; if they are considered, usually a journalist will follow up with a call with the contact listed or they may paraphrase a small section of the content for a short news item.
To send out, you will need to compile a list of relevant media or use a dedicate press service (see below). Be aware that there is little value in ‘spray and pray’ methods – if you send out too broadly, your most likely outcome is being ignored; the worst outcome is creating irritation with journalists feeling spammed with irrelevant information. This will not reflect well on your personal or company brand.
The pitch and the press release can be used directly by spokespeople or by PR consultants, who will act as your ‘sales rep’ to the journalist. The latter often has worked as a journalist themselves, may know journalists personally and know the inner working of a news desk.
However, journalists are generally happy to hear directly from the source, it relieves them of the feeling of having been ‘sold’ a story by a middleman. But do your research first: Check on other articles written by the journalist to get a feel for their beat. This may even allow you to start your introduction by pointing to other coverage and explaining how your story is relevant in context.
You may also follow a journalist on Twitter (popular among media people) and start making comments here to initiate a relationship; it is not the place to do direct pitching of your story, especially if you are not yourself well-established on Twitter.
Many media outlets list a direct e-mail address for their journalists as part of their byline info, often visible at the top of their articles. If not, you may have to send it through to a general news desk, most often this info is available in the footer section of a digital newspaper or in the first few pages of print media. From here, an editor will decide whether to have someone follow-up.
Whether you chose to call first or follow-up on written information with a phone call, getting to speak to a journalist or editor directly improves your chances of coverage manyfold. Treat your story as a sales pitch but be open to questions: Perhaps it can be tweaked to suit the publications’ profile even better.
Some companies use external wire services to distribute their press release to media or add them to newsrooms that journalists can subscribe to. An example is the company Cision who run PRNewsWire. In these instances, you outsource your media contact. You may not get direct insight into the full press list and it will be more difficult to follow up if there is little pick-up from media. Once you have established a connection, you can hope to get an invitation to be interviewed for additional input to the story. How to tackle that situation is the topic of our next chapter.