The 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Pitch the Press
When I first had the idea to launch Baby Got Booked, an online course to teach entrepreneurs how to do their own PR, I did what every startup owner is supposed to do. I went around surveying my market to gauge interest. What I heard over and over was, “Sounds like a great idea, but press releases don’t work. I’ve tried.” And: “TV’s not really my thing.” And “I’m not ready for the media.”
It was maddening. Like, rip-my-eyelashes-out-and-set-them-on-fire maddening.
As a former journalist, with 22 years of experience interviewing thousands of people, I know that some of the best stories I’d written or presented over the years came from people who didn't think they were ready for the media, either. Yet, too many think that media happens to “other people.” Meaning: other people with bigger, better businesses than they have. People with advanced degrees. Rich people. Beautiful people. And yada, yada, yada.
But, here’s the truth: The media is interested in, make that obsessed with, good stories. Anything that will make their audience sit up, take notice and tell their friends will engage them. Period.
And, chances are that, as an entrepreneur, you have just such a story to tell. That is, after all, why you walked away from the security of corporate life and set out on your own.
Don't believe that the press release is 'dead.'
Where you may be stumbling a little is in the packaging of your message. Because, if you’ve ever sent out a press release and not heard back, chances are you’ve focused on the typical “PR formula”: answering the questions “who, what, where, when, why and how." Yes, that's a start. But, ultimately, it’s the most basic of recipes. Like a really plain, dry muffin. A reporter would have to be starving to go for one of those. And most reporters have no shortage of those “dry muffins” sitting in their inboxes.
Instead, answer three questions.
By all means, include the 5Ws if you believe the reporter you're talking to needs the information to complete his or her story. But make sure to also answer the following three questions when you send an email pitch to a media outlet. By doing so, you'll be presenting that outlet with the story-equivalent of a moist, delicately iced cupcake. Immediately more attractive in that sea of dry muffins.
1. Why is my pitch relevant? More than anything else, you need to prove to the reporter that his or her audience is passionate about your topic. Or that viewers or readers really should know more because your expertise makes their lives better.
For example, if you’re a gastroenterologist who specializes in irritable bowel syndrome and you’re pitching a morning-time television producer, include a link to a reputable study that proves that IBS is a fast-growing epidemic. You might hammer this home even further by sharing the fact that 60 percent of IBS sufferers are women (the demographic for morning TV shows).
2. Why now?
Too many entrepreneurs and experts make the mistake of assuming that just because their product or service is one that’s useful throughout the year, it’s automatically interesting as a story at any time. It isn’t.
The media are obsessed with remaining relevant to their audiences. So, you need to “hook” your message on to whatever’s currently front and center right now. The reporter who prints out your pitch and brings it into his or her morning meeting is going to have to defend it to a senior editor or producer, who will ask things like: Why is this story of interest right now? Why is it newsworthy? Is it based on an emerging trend? Does it speak to a breaking news story? Is there a celebrity whose actions call this expertise to the fore?
For example: A breaking story about a celebrity committing suicide opens the door to an expert in mental health or grief counseling to step forward to share insight.
If there’s a stock market crash, a real estate investor can speak about how diversifying one's portfolio will save a chunk of cash.
If there’s an election running, an image consultant can offer commentary on the candidates’ fashion sense and how the public perceives them.
See how we’ve taken evergreen topics and made them current simply by hooking the message on to something that’s happening right now? Another fun way to figure out a “why now?” for your topic is to hit Google and enter the title of your topic plus "awareness days.” There is an awareness day or week for just about everything.
3. Why you?
Once a journalist is hooked by your story idea, he or she will obviously want to know what makes you a credible source. Now, here’s where too many wannabe media magnets drop the ball and blurt out their entire school, university and employment history. You'll want to keep your bio short, human and if possible, humorous.
Your bio is a chance -- in addition to the rest of your pitch, of course -- for you to reveal your signature style. So, make sure it does just that.
Here’s a sample way to present your bio.
I’m Geeta Nadkarni, and I’ve spent my more than 20 years of journalism experience producing content for TV, radio, print and new media for companies such as Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Reader’s Digest, CNN, CBC [the Canadian network] and more. My newest creation is an online course called Baby Got Booked.
I wake up at every morning with a big smile on my face because my students are crushing it. They’re using what I teach them to connect with local, national and international audiences within a matter of weeks (often even days) with no prior media experience or contacts.
I’m a passionate believer in entrepreneurship. and I’m using my gifts to support small businesses (which represent 98.2 percent and 99.7 percent of all employers in Canada and the United States, respectively) and tell better stories and build a stronger economy.
Okay, now it’s your turn.
Fill in the blanks with your own story and leave out the bits (like the title of your book) that don’t apply to you.
I’m ____________ and I’ve used my ___ years of ________ experience (or experience as a__________) doing ____________ to create______________. I am also the author of________. I jump out of bed with a big smile on my face each morning because _____________ (talk about the outcome or transformation you create for your clients).
This is more than a job; I’m on a mission to _________________. (Include relevant statistics).
There you go. You are now equipped to make a reporter’s day by sending that person a story-based, emotion-evoking pitch rather than a dry, boring press release. And reporters are a powerful bunch of people when they’re happy -- they tell everyone!
Related: 6 Tips for Handling a Failed Pitch