Oct 14, 2008
Peg Corwin of SCORE, a nonprofit that supports small businesses, emailed a great question (actually, 2 questions) about when to pitch and when to craft a press release:
A client has asked when to use press releases to promote her products and when to pitch to individual journalists. Are there rules of thumb, say around type of announcement or type of business? Also, when you go after individual journalists, say lifestyle editors, is searching national newspaper websites the best way to get emails in this era of rapid downsizing? Or are there lists by type of editor on the web?
So: pitching or press release, and how do I figure out who to pitch? The response to the first is a classic both/and type of answer.
Pitch vs. Press Release
I really cannot imagine a scenario in which I would pitch a story and not also write a news release, or at least a short pitch letter, to send to a journalist just as soon as I finished speaking with her on the telephone. The pitch and the release are inseparable. Thom Clark from CMW has a great line about press releases. He says they are like the business card for your story. When you hand someone your business card, you don’t expect it to get you business all by itself, right? It’s just a little token that says, “hey, there could be the beginnings of a great business relationship here.” Your release should tell a journalist, “hey, this looks like it could make a decent story for me.”
If you are going to invest time in pitching a reporter, you will need to practice what you plan to say a little bit before you pick up the telephone…. maybe even right down a little script. Guess what? The script for your pitch call is the press release!
The reverse is just as true: if you are going to invest time in crafting a news release that screams out “Cover Me!” you might as well take a little more time to decide which 3 or 4 journalists want the kind of news you have to offer, then pick up the phone and tell them about it. We’re all busy, busy… so what are the odds that those folks will hear about it otherwise?
Frankly, a lot of nonprofit communicators and journalists do not like to think about it this way, but pitching is selling. When you pitch a story, you are selling an idea. This is one place where nonprofit folks sometimes have it easier than for-profit folk–we’re usually pitching ideas rather than some kind of new product, which, if we are smart about it, can be inherently more interesting (to some reporters, anyway). Here’s a tool to help craft a press release.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch or even free milk and cookies when it comes to accurate up to date contact information for journalists. This is one of the single biggest barriers to a democracy of information, and if you think about it, it’s an outrage that contact info for journalists is so hard to come by. Unfortunately, it’s no-one’s special responsibility to ensure that journalists are easily reachable. Many businesses small and large have sought to fill this gap and make a buck–including Community Media Workshop. Without going into chapter and verse (and actually the history of the humble press list deserves more consideration), there are three or four good options for anyone planning to pitch, each with a significant cost in terms of time or $$$:
- Identify news outlets where you wish your story to appear. Scan them for bylines (TiVo the credits on your 10 o’clock news!). The best pitch you can make is one informed by a sense of what the person you speak with has done previously.
- Visit target news outlets’ Web sites. Look for an about us type link that at larger and more enlightened news outlets may include detailed contact info: direct phone and email. While spreading, this practice is not yet universal. But we’ve seen huge progress on this front, lots of props to news orgs that do this.
- Buy a list. Ours happens to be the best for the Chicago market (and we’re working on the rest of the Midwest, as much as we can) but lots of national corps do this, too. Like any quality information, it costs money to cull through, compile, and keep track of constant changes, so expect to pay for this information. If you plan to pitch a fair amount, budget some money for up-to-date contacts. It’s a cost of doing this type of business. Later we’ll post up some free info and links to other resources beyond our guide, but take a look at Vocus, Cision, FinderBinder (for Michigan) and Newsclip (our competition in Illinois).