Dos and Don'ts of pitching your press release to journalists
Pitching your news story to the press may seem like a daunting prospect but this shouldn't put you off. If you read your local or sector magazine, for example, and think a lot of the stories seem similar to what you've done or achieved then you're already onto a winner. At this point, I'd suggest reading our blog "What makes a news story?" as this provides key questions to ask when identifying news within your business or organisation.
One of the primary points made in that blog is identifying the outlets you believe will run your story. That might be your local newspaper, a sector magazine or even national television. Make sure you can justify why they should run your story. Next you need to find a contact at that outlet - usually by checking the publication you want to target for contact information, looking at the Contact Us section of their website or using a search engine.
Agencies such as Schofield Communications have access to vast databases of journalists and have built up relationships with many of their key contacts over the years. If you are starting from scatch, you're obviously not going to have this relationship, and will essentially be cold calling / emailing in the first instance.
Before you starting doing that, however, you need to have an email or press release ready with all the necessary details of your story. If you're not sure if you need a press release, check out our blog "The power of the press release". Then check out "The basics of press release writing" to ensure you have all the necessary information and it's presented correctly (take particular care with spelling and grammar errors!).
When you're ready to start pushing your story out there, here are a few dos and don'ts:
Call - Especially if it's the first time contacting a particular publication. Make the acquaintance of the reporter you want to speak with so they know to keep an eye out for your email. You can also call if you want to get their feedback on a potential story, before you go to the trouble of writing it up. This may save you a great deal of time.
Email - This is the best way to send news to almost any news outlet - newspapers, magazines, digital or broadcast. Even if you call first, a reporter is likely to ask if you can send details over email.
Follow-up via email - If you haven't seen your story appear within a couple of weeks (leave it at least that long) you may want to ask if they are planning on using it. If they say not, ask why, so you can take their feedback into account if you plan on sending further stories. It's worth remembering, however, that there is always a chance a publication won't use your story.
Make follow-up calls - A pet peeve I've heard from numerous journalists is calls from someone who has sent them a press release via email to ask if they've received it. Or to ask why it hasn't been used already. If it's been a couple of weeks and you've still not seen the story, send an email to ask why it wasn't used or if they're still planning on using it.
Take it personally if your story isn't used - There are never any guarantees. The bigger the outlet, the more competitive it is for space. If you're sending a story to the BBC One Show, for example, you're going to need to work hard, have a really strong story and probably a bit of luck. If you're sending a charity fundraising story to your local newspaper and it wasn't used, you probably need to take a look at how it was presented.
Rapid fire stories - Whether you've had a bit of success already and want to strike while the iron is hot or if you've been knocked back and want to try again, don't start hammering journalists with new stories and ideas. Make sure you work each story so you're giving it the best chance possible. If you start getting known for sending a lot of rubbish, a journalist is much more likely to simply ignore or delete your emails without reading them.
There is, of course, much more to pitching news to journalists. There are variances depending on the outlet, how frequently they publish, the best ways to contact them. No two journalists or publications are exactly the same, so make sure you tailor each pitch you make. One more thing... Good Luck!
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