this piece was originally published February 2 in Seedstock, the blog for sustainable agriculture focusing on startups, entrepreneurship, technology, urban agriculture, news and research
Last week in our branding and marketing advice column for sustainability-minded food entrepreneurs, we kicked off our three-part series on DIY press savvy by providing advice on how to put together a story that will resonate with the media. This week’s column is all about how to get your story in front of the right reporters.
So let’s begin with the pitch.
While it’s perfectly acceptable to make a phone call to make your pitch, email is generally the best first approach. With email, you won’t catch someone at a bad moment, and you can craft your pitch without worrying about getting flustered mid-sentence or going off-topic.
Long live the personalized note!
The proliferation of media outlets and ways to obtain news has had one really wonderful effect on media relations — it’s made it all more personal. Blasting formal press releases to fax machines everywhere is less useful than ever. The press release is dead. Long live the personalized note!
Not having a one-size-fits-all release means that you can target your email to reporters and editors based on the topics that they write about and the audience for their publication. It means more work for you upfront, but since there’s a greater possibility of making a connection, there is a higher rate of success.
You don’t need to obsess over form, but here are a few good rules of thumb to follow:
Don’t waste your subject line. This is your headline and what will get your email noticed and opened. Have a little fun. A popular reporter at a media outlet has an inbox full of dreary subject lines that he receives everyday. If you can name drop (a well-known chef, romantic origins), by all means do so. Celebrity sells.
Cut to the chase. Keep things brief, or at least offer a brief summary of what you’re talking about up front, and then include more information as an FYI. If the reporter doesn’t know what you’re talking about until the third paragraph, he probably won’t read that far. If you’re story is complex, and you’d like to write up something that is more like a formal release, you can certainly do that. However, it’s still best to start your communication off with a personal note that tells the reporter why the story you are pitching is exciting.
Finding the right fit for your story
Sending your pitch to the appropriate reporter or publication is as important as assembling the elements of a good story. The most reliable way to know you that you are targeting the right person is to read the publications you want to get into, and pay attention to who writes about what. Sending a product pitch to the restaurant reviewer won’t get you anywhere. This is match-making.
If you are unfamiliar with a particular publication, you can work backwards. Available on the publication’s web site, or in the first few pages of a print magazine, is the masthead. The masthead contains a listing of everyone who works at the publication along with their job titles. Typically it is organized by subject (food, travel, environment, business) so you can find the names of the editors and staff writers. Then search by their names to pull up their recent articles, and see what they’ve been writing about. With this information, you can determine to which reporter you should send your pitch. Just make sure that you don’t pitch two people at the same publication at the same time. Nobody wants to go to their boss with a great new story idea only to find out that their office rival has shown up with the same great idea.
Don’t just target the top editors either. There is a lot of value in cultivating relationships all the way down the masthead. All editors, and even interns, are gathering new story ideas, and their youth and ambition can work to your advantage. Many times great coverage comes from a junior staffer, who passionately goes to bat for an idea. They want the best possible exposure for their idea (and possibly the writing credit) to advance their career, so they’ll fight for you and your story.
Once you have the name of a reporter or editor to send your pitch to, you will still need to find his or her contact information. There are guides priced from hundreds to thousands of dollars that promise email addresses and phone numbers for editors and reporters. With a little persistence, though, you can now find all of this information via a Google search. Most business emails follow a formula (e.g. First.email@example.com), so once you’ve found one, you’ve found them all for that publication. If you enter enough likely formulas in a Google search, you’ll probably dig up the address without much trouble.
You can also call the publication. They will usually give you the email address that you need or patch you through to whomever is working on the holiday gift-guide, for example. Freelance writers are easier to get ahold since they often maintain their own web sites.
Another great place to find information is in a publication’s Media Kit, which typically provides details on demographics, circulation and key publication dates. It can usually be found on the publication’s web site at the bottom of the homepage. It will also list any themed issues or special sections that appear throughout the year, such as a “green” issue or a special section on local businesses or food trends that might be a good fit for your story.
If you really want to dive into working with the media, Mediabistro is a resource that can help streamline your information gathering and teach you a lot about the industry. It’s the go-to jobs and news site for media and PR, and it’s where you can pick up information on new editors being hired and new publication launches. The “how to pitch” features provides you with lead times and interests for specific editors and publications as well as their contact information. Some of the content is free. Most is accessible with a subscription ($55 for a year).
Trade Tips & Cautions
The following guidelines will help you navigate like a pro:
- Follow up: Stuff gets lost. You won’t be considered a stalker for sending a follow-up email a few days after the first one. Even a third note is OK.
- Speed is really, really important: if a reporter calls or emails you, respond immediately. If they are on deadline and calling everyone they can think of, the first one to get back to them wins.
- Photos: If you have photos, say so. Having print-quality photos can sometimes make the difference between getting coverage or not. If possible, include a link to where the photos can be viewed online. Don’t send photos (or anything else) as attachments.
- Let reporters do their job: Telling the story through their media outlet is the reporter’s job, and you shouldn’t try to micromanage how they run with a story. Don’t ask to read and sign-off on a story before it runs.
- Beware of pay-to-play coverage: If the “editor” or “producer” starts talking about “sponsorship,” this is not real journalism. Move on.
- Be gracious: Once the article happens, even if it’s only a mention, send the reporter a little thank you note.
Getting media coverage is exciting, but ultimately it’s what you make of it that counts. Tune in next week to find out how to get the most from your 15 minutes of fame.
About Alisha & Polly’s company: Polish Partnerships
Polish is a branding and communications company for the new gastroconomy. By creating strong partnerships with food and beverage producers, hospitality groups and industry innovators, we go the extra distance, transforming hopes, dreams and expectations into tangible, sustainable and polished realities.