20 years before I became
a traffic builder for web sites, I was a
publicist handling household name consumer brands. I'm going to share a
trade secret with you: press releases are a colossal waste of time.
I haven't sent out a traditional press release in the last 10 years. But I
have placed stories about my clients in The Wall St. Journal, New York
Times, ABC News, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and just about
any other major media outlet on the planet.
Editors surely don't need me or any other publicist to write their
stories. They need me to point them in the direction of a good story,
succinctly give them the facts as I see them, the sources I know and then
get out of the way so they can write their own stories. I do those things
by writing pitch letters, damn good ones.
Here are some tips for writing letters that get read:
WHY YOU ARE WRITING
Begin with your reason for writing, i.e. "I am writing to suggest a
story about..." "I'd like to recommend an interview
with..." Too many times, the reason for the letter is hidden
several paragraphs into the letter. Editors are busy. If you don't give
them an immediate reason to keep reading, your audience is over.
YOUR PREMISE IN NO MORE THAN TWO SENTENCES
Explain what makes your idea newsworthy. Why is this a good person to
interview or a good story to cover? Describe your idea's relevance
to current events... its connection to or beginning of a trend... its
likelihood to interest a broad cross section of the audience.
How would you explain the story pitch to your friend if you were in the
elevator on the way out? Would it take you a page and a half worth of
words to make your point? Not if you wanted your friend to keep
listening. Be equally kind to journalists.
EXPLAIN YOUR STORY IDEA IN ONE OR TWO PARAGRAPHS
Explain how the story would work, what it involves, what role you will
play in assisting the reporter.
A journalist friend who told me he gets a three foot stack of snail mail
and over 150 emails a day shared this story with me the other day.
"Let me tell you about a letter that typifies the ones we
journalists never finish reading. I got one the other day that started
off by saying "I've been on the Joe Franklin Show, this show, that
show, been talked about by so and so, I've also done this and
that." The next line was "I'm not a status oriented
person." There were about 8 more pages, but I didn't bother to read
them. I just laughed, showed the letter around and threw it away."
CAN BE EVERYTHING
Timing is incredibly important. Your chances improve when you can say
"This is a hot topic and I have a great source." Let's say
you're an ophthalmologist and the President is going to have eye
surgery. You stand a good chance of getting a phone call for your
opinion if your email just arrived while the reporter is thinking of
whom to call. Your pitch only stands to become a story if it is likely
to make a lot of people stop and read or listen. I think of it as the
"Hey Martha" factor -editors look for stories that make one
say, "hey Martha, look at this!"
Don't make the company or person you are pitching sound hard to believe.
S/he probably didn't do whatever you're writing about single-handedly.
Describe her actual role. Be very careful with hype words like
"first, only, greatest, biggest." Someone almost always did it
before, also, as well or as big. Reporters are trained to look for
conflict, lies, exaggerations.
TOPICS THE PERSON CAN ADDRESS
Give the top three or four areas of expertise your client can address.
Do it in bullet form.
ALL INTO 350 WORDS OR LESS
Mark Twain said "If I had more time I would have written
less." Edit. Edit again. When you are done. Edit again.
Here's another tip. Once you
get a reporter interested they will ask you for more information. And then
you can give her mountains of background you've researched. Because
another thing my reporter friend shared with me is this: most reporters
hate to do research.
If your letter is going via e-mail, include a URL where a company fact
sheet, management bios, relevant photos and other articles that have been
written about the company can be found.
Reporters may deny this but I have found that few of them want to be the
first to write about a subject. There's a definite pack mentality in play.
Understanding it will increase your placements.
Ochman, Internet marketing specialist, journalist
and speaker, is author
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