I know—you write and talk for a living, so how hard could this stuff be?
And the truth is, it’s not hard; it is tricky. Communicating with the media is complex and delicate—a world of nuance. The stuff you get a little bit wrong can be what gets you in trouble.
Is this fair? Maybe not, but it’s the truth. And it’s not just caprice, or a desire to keep outsiders out. Producers/journalists are highly stressed individuals who receive hundreds of story pitches per day. What would seem like a small gaffe to you (or frankly, me) is amplified exponentially and becomes a reason to say “no” and move on to the next pitch in their inbox.
Keep these things in mind:
Your written publicity materials to the media are not marketing materials. Not knowing the differences can be a big turn-off when you’re trying to get media exposure.
The novelty of new media is gone, which means old-school rules still apply. (Hint: they never really left.)
The great news about having so many media outlets now is that it’s opened up more direct access to the decision makers for everyone. No one needs a publicist to be heard by the press anymore.
So how are you going to catch your breaks? Great content is everything. And great content is…
- and/or noteworthy.
Know who you are pitching to and tweak the pitch accordingly.
I’m constantly hearing complaints from my media contacts about this one. To speak to people and be heard, you need to learn their language. That takes research (and a certain amount of patience).
Pitching a TV morning show? Your press release should sound a lot like something their morning host would read. Pitching a book blogger? Make sure they cover your genre and then write a quick introductory paragraph that tells a little about who you are and why you think your book is a perfect match for them.
Either way, you have to be relevant to the specific media outlet you are pitching and most specifically to their audience.
A personalized approach takes more work up front, but will take you much further in the long run.
The media has a short memory…except when it comes to a bad impression:
You communicate a lot about yourself without realizing it. Phone calls, emails, your website, pictures, and Facebook/Twitter pages, all add up to say a lot about you. The media isn’t only judging you by your press release.
This brings to mind a (great) client whose work was something akin to a Wayne Dyer or Deepak Chopra, but whose website did not do him justice. After going back and forth with his (stubborn) staff, I finally went against my better judgment and started pitching without a change to his website. When I spoke to an editor at the New York Times, she said, “he looks like one of those guys who hands out pamphlets in Times Square.”
And she never forgot him.
Be Gracious –
Remember, you might be providing terrific content for them, but they are still doing you a favor. Respect their time. Don’t call them or send an email every time you have a question or another idea for them. And finally, don’t disrespect their graciousness by making your interview spot a thinly veiled advertisement for you.
Trying to stand out with overblown language or dramatic hijinks will only make you part of the noise that is in their already flooded inbox.
Lots of other people pitching are trying to stand out too; when you have people trying to stand out to you all day, it gets annoying. Fast. Besides, it just comes off as a big red flag that you don’t have a decent story idea in the first place.
If you heed nothing else, heed this: the smaller you can distill your story idea into a clean, popping, driving force of nature, the better it will do.