This article was written by YEC member Beth Doane. She is managing partner of the award-winning communications firm Main & Rose, a journalist, speaker and social entrepreneur.
Attracting investors, reaching new customers or even landing a book deal, major speaking opportunity or television appearance can be game changers for you and your business. But they all hinge on good public relations. Most entrepreneurs know very little about PR and how it has shifted in the past few years — and even less about how to actually pitch the media.
You may think one way to get earned media is to make your product so incredibly intriguing that deluged content editors somehow find out about it on their own. Sorry to break it to you, but this will not happen to you. Unless your company cures cancer or produces clean energy out of Starbucks cups, an overworked editorial staff is not going to find you. You, Ms. or Mr. CEO, are going to have to get earned media the hard way — by pitching editors and journalists yourself, or by hiring someone to do this for you.
I run a firm that specializes in building personal brands for CEOs, celebrities and public figures, but I know how to secure media coverage because of my background as a freelance journalist and my years as an entrepreneur securing my own media coverage for my companies. Living on both sides of the earned media game, I’ve learned that getting media attention is all about your pitch. Award-winning senior level journalists, pitch writers and media consultants have actually made careers out of advising firms on what works (and what doesn’t). Getting a frequent inside look at this constantly shifting landscape is essential to your success.
My colleague, Isaac Simpson, and I recently sat down and dove into what has happened to the media world that makes pitching so hard — and what brands need to do as a result. We agreed that while relationships with editors are important, no editor is going to risk their reputation writing about something that is not really news. After all, they are bombarded with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of pitches a week.
Now that editors’ email addresses are more accessible and PR firms are more aggressive with their pitching, to get an editor’s attention, you need to impress them with “the perfect pitch.” Isaac and I use the following guidelines to create just that. However, don’t get discouraged if your pitches don’t get picked up immediately, because pitching is a process. It’s trial, error and a whole lot of work. Read on to see what elements go into a perfect pitch.
1. Focus on the headline.
This is where you should be spending your time. Don’t just write whatever comes to mind. A technique Isaac tells me he picked up from legendary advertising guru Luke Sullivan is to sit in silence with a pad of paper and a marker. Draw a set of boxes on the paper. Think about the most intriguing possible headlines possible, those that someone can’t not click on, and put them in the boxes one by one. Spend actual time doing this — perhaps even 20 minutes.
2. Make sure the headline is familiar, but unexpected.
Study any form of storytelling, whether it’s screenplay writing, journalism or advertising, and you’ll learn the same thing when it comes to describing your story in a few words. It needs to be familiar, but unexpected. For example, take “Zombie Love Story.” We know each individual aspect well, but the curveball comes from combining them into something new.
3. In your first or last paragraph, demonstrate your abilities.
People are more likely to think highly of you and your business if other people already think highly of you and your business. If you’ve been written about anywhere, include that in a short, three-sentence paragraph describing yourself and/or your company. This should go either very first or very last in your pitch email. Short of that, statistics and alma maters could give you a boost when it comes to personal branding.
4. Use your friends.
Editor relationships are key. They are the gatekeepers. Even if you don’t know them personally, at least address them by their name. One quality personal pitch is worth at least twenty anonymous blast pitches.
5. Keep your copy as concise as possible.
Isaac (and every other top editor I know) will delete your email if you write too much in your pitch. Go for brevity. Anything more than two paragraphs, and you’re going to be ignored with a sigh and an eye roll.
6. Take a specific angle.
An angle is more or less the reason that this particular news source is covering this particular story — at this particular time. Why is your story newsworthy here and now? Is there a product release on the horizon? Is there an event coming up? The more a pitch can be tied to something new and interesting, the better.
7. Be engaging.
Injecting voice into your writing is key to getting the media’s attention. Most of us have a tendency to do this naturally when we’re informally writing texts or chatting, but we abandon that voice when it comes time to send an email. Be sure to always be authentic and engage your intended recipient in a relatable way that will resonate with them.
If you take the time to craft the perfect pitch, you’ll discover you can cut through the noise and earn credibility in the process.