Today, I have a guest blogger, Patrick Garmoe. Patrick was a former staff reporter for Duluth News Tribune, suburban city staff reporter at Daily Herald, regional reporter at Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, and editor-in-chief of The Creightonian.
This is the first of what I hope to be a number of guest posts from journalists or former journalists, to give you the other perspective of how media works and how it feels to be on the other side of the PR process. I’m certain this knowledge will help you, the business owner, to get publicity more effectively and build mutually beneficial relationships with journalists and editors.
About this time a year ago, I swapped banging on doors as a reporter for a Minnesota newspaper, to pounding the pavement for a new job.
One thing I didn’t miss about journalism were pesky public relations types, or local business owners trying to bend my ear in a largely fruitless attempt to lure me into writing about their latest service or gadget.
Looking back on it, I have more empathy for those hunting for headlines. As great as social media is, those megaphones traditional newspapers and television stations provide can still pump out the kind of exposure that could take months or years to garner, no matter how many Twitter followers you’ve got.
So here are some insider tips on successfully pitching reporters, that all reporters assume you intuitively know. I explain further down exactly, how to word your pitch.
If You Must Cold Call, Do It Before the Late Afternoon.
Reporters operate on a unique schedule. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., or 2 p.m to 10 p.m., and often the hours fluctuate. Ideally you’ll first reach out to the reporter through Twitter or LinkedIn, or a Facebook page. Exhaust these avenues first, before resorting to e-mail, and finally, a phone call.
Don’t call after 3 p.m. As deadlines near, reporters focus on nothing but producing that day’s story.
If you must cold e-mail or call, make it brief. Send or prepare a paragraph with an awesome opening sentence, providing:
- Your name and title
- The item, service or issue you want to highlight, and why your business is fundamentally unique, compared with what’s currently available
- Why the publication’s or television station’s audience ought to care about it right now
If there’s any chance at all the reporter might be skeptical of whether your product is legit (think weight loss supplement), be sure to answer that skepticism immediately.
“Hello, my name is Patrick Garmoe, and I’ve brought to market a skin cream from a recipe my grandmother in Poland used to heal a variety of rashes. People who use it see results without the side effects that plague other kinds of skin creams. It recently was put on four store shelves locally in Duluth Minnesota. I know a dermatologist at a local hospital who advises her patients to buy this over-the-counter cream instead of many more expensive prescription creams, and would be happy to speak with you to verify my account.”
Nearly every local reporter would definitely put that in a “to do” pile, without a doubt.
Why? Let’s dissect it:
- Good opening sentence.
In journalism parlance, it’s called “the lead.” A journalist works hard to make the first sentence interesting. They know that if they don’t grab the reader immediately, they won’t.
It’s nice if the sentence sounds like poetry, but more importantly, it needs to have substance. If it sounds like a sales pitch, it’s getting trashed
“Hello, my name is Patrick Garmoe, and I’ve brought to market a skin cream from a recipe my grandmother in Poland used to heal a variety of rashes.”
- At this point, the reporter has heard what he or she views as a potential heart-warming angle for a story about a local entrepreneur who brought to market an ancient family recipe.
“People who use it are healed of skin problems, without the side effects of other kinds of skin creams.”
- This makes the reporter see why it’s worth writing about, versus the 10 other new skin creams on the market.
“It recently was put on four store shelves locally in Duluth, Minnesota.”
- This sentence contains two big hooks for the reporter.
The entrepreneur already explained why the skin cream isn’t just like other skin creams. But the story is also unique, because the entrepreneur not only lives in the area the newspaper circulates in, but the product is being sold locally, and it was recently added to some local stores.
If the entrepreneur was pitching this product to a paper or television station in New York, while living in Arizona, it would be a non-starter. Your best potential audience in traditional media is always news outlets in close proximity to you. If the product wasn’t sold locally, it still might be a story because the entrepreneur lived in the area, but having the dual benefits just makes the story more likely to be covered.
By now, most people would say, “miracle cure” yeah right! And so is the reporter.
- So the entrepreneur addresses this skepticism immediately.
“I know a dermatologist at a local hospital who advises her patients to buy this over-the-counter cream…”
Again, there’s a local connection to the story. But more importantly, there’s an expert who can vouch for the quality of the product. It’s not just the entrepreneur. She had a testimonial from a doctor, which is critical for credibility.
- But here’s the important follow up, regarding precisely how the expert can help stomp out a reporter’s skepticism.
“… and would be happy to speak with you to verify my account.”
This is the clincher. Not only is a doctor available who the reporter can speak with, but the reporter was told the doctor is ready and willing to speak.
Make Running the Story You’re Pitching As Easy As Possible for the Reporter
Ideally, the pitch would say “we have three happy customers in Duluth ready to speak with you as well,” so the reporter doesn’t have to waste time finding someone who’s purchased the product.
This makes me as a reporter practically giddy. Had this entrepreneur not mentioned the doctor, or not mentioned that she’d be willing to be interviewed, I as a reporter would wonder if the product was a scam, or would be calculating the amount of time it would take to find another doctor. If the entrepreneur couldn’t produce a credible source like the doctor, there’s a 75 percent chance the reporter would drop the story, purely because he or she would have no practical way to explain to viewers or readers why this product probably isn’t a scam.
Would it be possible to independently test it in a lab perhaps? Sure. But when you’re dealing with reporters, keep in mind that it’s a sales process. The more hoops the reporter must jump through in order to make your story printable and defensible, the more unlikely it is not to get printed or on the air.
Can I Help?
What walls have you hit when it’s come to pitching reporters? Explain it in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to provide some advice on your specific situations.
About the Author:
Patrick Garmoe is a digital marketing specialist and blogger at PureDriven, which helps clients drive relevant traffic to their websites. He loves helping businesses spread good ideas through social media and search engine optimization. He’s waiting to talk with you on Twitter at @Garmoe.
Venus Flytrap Image by botheredbybees
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies.
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