A list of tips to help amateur publicists get media attention for their stories.
Journalists are busy people. Their job is to fill their publication with stories of interest to their readers (or viewers or listeners) under often extremely tight deadline pressure. There are a few simple ways to make the story or organization you are promoting more likely to be picked up by a journalist.
1: Story not an advertisement.
This is the first hurdle at which many press releases and 'tips' fall. If all you are doing is plugging something then your suggestion will go straight in the recycle bin. If you're a not-for-profit, you may get away with it in some cases, but all you're probably going to get is a brief stuck in a corner somewhere.
2: Is it news?
This is the second difficult hurdle. An organization profile is not news, no matter how worthy the organization. You need an event or an achievement. It could be an award, an anniversary or even an innovation, but remember tip number one - it can't be just an ad.
3: Public interest.
This one sounds rather lofty and evokes images of secret meetings in trench coats and exposing corruption, but there is a more simple way to look at it. Am I presenting useful information for a journalist's readers? Can you find something in your story that people would actually be interested in? For example, if you represent a company, you might want to publicize a scholarship program you support.
4: location location location.
Most of the time you won't be pitching articles to the New Your Times. More often than not you're looking at the local paper. The local kid made good can make a great story for a local paper. Local events and happenings make good stories too.
5: Short Sharp Press release
This is an important way to let the journalist know what your story is about. Don't make it over a page and write in a clear, large, font with double spacing. If you need supporting documents, then so be it, but remember the story itself will be quite short in the end.
6: Tell it the way you would tell your mum.
When I was a junior reporter a sub-editor gave me this tip. Think of the story you are trying to put forward, and then picture yourself telling your mum on the phone. If you witnessed a shark attack at the beach that day, you wouldn't start that conversation with what you had for breakfast. Start your press release with the most newsworthy thing about your story. This may not be the exact thing you are trying to publicize, but don't make the journalist hunt for the angle. If your first paragraph is a plug for your business and the third paragraph is the fact that you've just raised $3000 for charity, then it may be tossed out for looking like an ad.
7: Have a named spokesperson.
Having someone the journalist can quote is important. A story tends to fall apart without quotes, as they lend veracity to the information. It is a good idea to put some quotes in your press release, but the journalist may want to ring up and get something different.
8: Write in a news style.
Look at the publication you are pitching for and try to emulate their style. If you are successful at this, it will be easier for the journalist to picture your article in their paper. Also be sure to do a spelling and grammar check before you send it off.
9: Have all the information.
It's you that wants this article in remember, so it doesn't hurt to make the journalist's job a little easier. Make sure you have supporting facts and documents ready to show the journalist. Also make sure what you say is correct. If you are found to have said something untrue it could blow up in your face.
10: Include a photo.
It must be 300dpi or greater to be published in most cases and be a decent shot. Send unique photos to each publication. If you can tell a paper they are the only ones who have a picture they are far more likely to use it. Think how bad it would look if rival publications happened to run the same picture.
11. Be available.
Wherever possible, answer any queries as promptly and fully as possible. Remember those deadlines? If you push them you will miss out.
These are a few simple things that should make life a little easier if you are trying to get a message out there.
Good luck and happy pitching.