The Perfect Pitch…How to Write a Good Press Release

Thu, Apr 28 2016

Throughout my career, I have worked as a journalist and producer in busy national newsrooms. I have been through the rush of frantically having to meet tight deadlines. I’ve also been on the pitching end of a press release, meaning I understand how a newsroom works, from all angles.  The rise of a competitive 24-hour news cycle combined with cost-cutting measures across the industry is putting today’s journalists, editors and producers under considerable strain.

After a decade of working in news rooms, my career has since shifted predominantly to work in public relations and marketing. I understand the pressure to get coverage for a press release or an event for a client. If they’re paying for you to put out a press release or have an event happening then naturally, they’ll want results, meaning coverage.

Recently, I attended a Public Relations Institute of Australia seminar on the “Perfect Pitch”.  It featured a guest panel of editors and news producers offering their advice on pitching a story in today’s ultra-competitive news environment. Newsrooms can often get more than 50-emails a day on possible stories. So here’s some tips on how to get your pitch heard through the noise.

#1 A Journalist Doesn’t Owe You Anything!
BMag’s editor Rohan Williams has a very useful piece of advice for writing a press release.  “One principle should guide you when you’re working on a pitch – I don’t owe you anything,” Rohan told the audience. He’s right -  a newsroom doesn’t have to pick up your story and they’re only going to run a story if it’s likely to be of interest to their audience.

#2 Tell Me Your Story in 60-Seconds
The first paragraph of text should be enough to inform the journalist of the who, what, when, where, why and how. When quickly shifting through press releases, a journalist doesn’t have time to dig for details. Either give them everything they need straight up or risk having your press release tossed to the side.

# 3 Find the Hook
What makes your story different? It may seem obvious, but the story has got to be different. Rohan used the example of yet another 1950s American-style burger joint opening in Brisbane. The restaurant’s mere existence is not going to be enough as there are already plenty of others.

“What is the point of difference between yours and the other burger joints?’ Rohan wants you to ask yourself before making a pitch.

“Maybe it’s the pedigree of the chef, a unique menu item, something different about the décor.”  Do you have an Elvis car as a booth? Think about what is the hook to make it different.

The Three E’s
Brisbane Times Editor-in-Chief and author of 101 Ways to Connect With Modern News Rooms Simon Holt looks for the three E’s when he is evaluating the newsworthiness of a press release.

Emotion – Does the story have the power to connect with an audience?

Education – Is the audience going to learn anything new from the story?

Evolution – Is the story telling an audience something that in some way is going to better their lives.

“The three E’s are important points to consider when writing a press release,” Simon told the seminar.

He also has listed two other E’s to consider as well, but his main ones were those above.

Entertainment – Is your story going to entertain an audience?

Engagement – Is your story going to maintain audience interest?

It’s all about finding that hook, avoiding blatant advertising and knowing your audience. Watch the television station, listen to the radio station or read the newspaper, magazine and online publications where you want coverage. This way you’ll know what type of stories they run and can tailor your pitch to suit.

# 4 Think about Images
Busy newsrooms don’t have the time to be chasing images. If you’re pitching to television, then having ideas for footage and images is crucial.  “You can have a great story but if we don’t have footage that will be suitable to run with, then it’s just not going to appeal to us,” Kathryn Cruise from Channel 9 told the audience.

Rohan suggested sending through images or a link to images with a press release.  Dropbox is great for sending larger image files.

“Don’t make me chase you for images and if you insist on not supplying images with a press release, reply quickly when the request for images comes,” he said.

# 5 No Need to Wine ‘Em and Dine ‘Em
While a journo may like a beer, free meal or a wine, they often don’t have the time and ethically shouldn’t be taking freebies.  The best way to get the media’s attention is still through a quality press release.

Sending a press release through to a chief-of-staff or editor still seemed to be better practice than sending it directly to a journalist.

“Even if you’ve dealt with a particular journalist before they may not be in the position to say yes or no to a story or might be away on holiday or assignment,” Kathryn told the seminar.

“It’s probably better to go through to the chief-of-staff.”

# 6 Keep a Press Release to one Page
Newsrooms are busy places with lots of information for editors, journalists and producers to digest.  I always try to keep my press releases to one page and make sure the most important information is in the opening paragraphs. As previously mentioned, I write a release as a news story with the Who, What, Why, Where, When and How. This grabs an editor’s attention by using the same method they use to hook their audience’s.

# 7 Make Sure Your Sources Are Available
Don’t write a press release and then not have anyone available for an interview or to speak to journalists. The news is a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week cycle so make sure if you want coverage you are available to answer any questions to the media and provide someone in an organisation for interviews.  If you don’t answer your phone or emails, then a busy newsroom won’t have time to wait – they’ll simply move on to another source or story.

For Those Wondering - Why Won’t the Media Attend Our Event?
A question came up from an audience member who asked why the media often doesn’t come to events.  The consensus seemed to be most media outlets simply don’t have the time or staff to spare, so unless they needed footage or an interview were unlikely to attend.   Media outlets can still cover an event without attending, but maybe just make their job easier by providing information and don’t always expect a big media contingent.

Don’t Forget the Golden Rule
I’m going to finish off this blog post with Rohan’s wise words of wisdom.

“It sounds like you’re doing a lot of the work here, doesn’t it?

“You are because you’re the one who wants coverage for your client and you have to convince me they’re worth it. Remember, I don’t owe you anything.”

Simon Holt’s book 101 Ways to Connect With Modern News Rooms provides an in-depth look at delivering news tips and how to get your message into the mainstream media. 

Author: Nadine McGrath, Principal, McGrath Media. To find out more about Nadine, check out her website here: 

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