Justin Rubner

Nobody Cares About Green Toilets and 12 Other PR Tips On Pitching Reporters

In public relations on 01/21/2011 at 10:30 am

Always know what a reporter covers before the pitch

The following is a real conversation.

PR person: My client, Solutiony Solutions Inc., is a solutions provider and just released Solutions ‘R Us Version 2.0. Do you write about solutions?

Reporter: Not really.

PR person: Well, they did just install water-saving toilets and energy-efficient light bulbs AND started a ride-share program! Green Business Weekly last year ranked them the 20th-greenest solutions provider in America. Do you write about the environment?

Reporter: No, I cover venture capital, economic development, international business and Steve Jobs. You really should know this before calling me on deadline.

PR person: Oh, they just raised $200 million from Vulture Capital LLC, are hiring 2,000 people in your city, expanding into 20 countries, and added Steve Jobs to their advisory board. Is that something you’d be interested in?…

OK, that was a bit of an exaggeration. Nonetheless, I’ve had conversations similar to this all too often when I was on the opposite side of the pitch.

Here are some tips aimed at avoiding a bad pitch like this so you’ll A) get press and B) won’t get hung up on:

  1. First thing’s first. Develop a PR plan that identifies targeted outlets and relevant story ideas.
  2. Once you have news, target your pitch. If pitching a trade publication, for example, your angle should focus on the  industry it covers. If pitching local broadcast, your angle should have a local spin. And a business pub–it better be business-y.
  3. Do your homework BEFORE pitching. You should know what the journalist covers. Come armed with similar stories he or she has done. After all, if you were a salesperson, would you call a prospect, ask him or her what the company does, and try to sell something that’s of no use? Of course not–you wouldn’t waste the prospect’s time, or, more importantly, yours. Don’t make that mistake when pitching a reporter.
  4. Know a journalist’s job is not to give you publicity, but rather to tell news that is of interest to the outlet’s  consumers. Publicity is an after-effect.
  5. Keep timeliness in mind. An event that happened a month ago is often not newsworthy. That’s why they call it the “news”…and not the “olds”. Sorry, bad joke.
  6. Be prepared for questions. While most PR agencies approach their craft smartly, I have often been pitched by account execs who couldn’t answer any questions outside their script. Worse, I’ve been pitched by interns who often didn’t know enough about business in general to answer relevant questions. You should know as much as possible about the thing you’re pitching.
  7. Offer exclusives. Many media outlets thrive on them. Really, why should someone read the exact same story in two competing newspapers?
  8. Offer up the CEO or the person involved in the news for an interview.
  9. If sending a press release,copy and paste it in the email. Reporters get tons of releases every day. They don’t want to open attachments.
  10. Write an email subject that stands out. When dealing with a hundred pitches a day, many reporters delete emails without even opening them when subject lines makes no sense or are full of corporate jargon.
  11. Sum up the news of the release in the email. Sometimes, you’ll have to change the angle to suit the particular person you’re pitching.
  12. If a reporter bites, NEVER ask to see a story before it’s published. Any respectable publication wouldn’t allow this. First, stories would never get done. Second, it’s a violation of basic journalistic standards to have a source edit something. Instead, offer to check facts.
  13. Understand that NOBODY cares about how environmentally friendly your company’s toilets are. Unless it’s The Journal of Green Plumbing Fixtures. And I hear it’s about to go down the tubes.

Have other PR tips you’d like add? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

-Justin Rubner

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