How to Pitch a Story like a Journalist

By Mark Macias

It’s the one question every person wants to know. How does the media decide which news stories are important? Here’s how to pitch your story like a journalist.

When I was an Executive Producer with NBC in New York, many of my friends quizzed me on whether there was a conspiracy in the media. After all, they would ask, how could it be possible that all of the news organizations would typically run the same stories?

There is no conspiracy and there is no magic formula, however there are ingredients that do make for a news story.

If you want to get your business on the news, you need to first identify what is different, new or unique about your product or service. News is based on the root “new,” which is why all news stories must be timely.

How to Pitch a Story like a Journalist

The more you can make your pitch sound timely, the better chances you have of getting your business on the news.

You can increase your chances for news coverage by answering these questions before you reach out to reporters:

* What is different about my business?

* How does my business help the public and why is that service unique?

* Is there something timely about my business or product?

* Is there a personal story to tell about my business, like maybe a grandfather is passing the 75-year-old family business onto his grandchildren in a public ceremony?

* Is there a new trend arising in my business field that will affect the pocket books of consumers?

* Have any trade organizations recognized my business as a leader in innovation that will help shape the future?

Finding a unique angle is not as difficult as it may sound. You just need to open your mind to timely events that impact and influence sales of your product or service.

The more you understand the definition and value of “newsworthy” the better chance you will have of getting the media to do a story on your business.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR. The company also does financial PR – which you can read more at MarketYourFund.com.

Get my Story on the News

By Mark Macias

It was one of the most popular questions I heard when I was an Executive Producer with NBC.

“How can I get my business on the news?”

There is no magic formula to getting your service or product on the news, but there are guidelines that will increase your chances.

You can increase your chances for coverage by identifying what is different, new or unique about your business. It sounds simple but a lot of people forget that news is based on the root “new.”

If you don’t have that “new” component, your story is at a disadvantage. You might be able to find a new angle by asking pointed questions:

Is your business contributing to the local community in a unique way we might not expect?

Are you about to accomplish a feat where others have failed?

What is different between you and competitors?

Focus and Clarify your Pitch

The more you can clarify and focus your pitch, the better odds you have of getting your business on the news.

Finding a unique angle is not as difficult as it may sound. You just need to open your mind to timely events that impact and influence sales of your product or service. If you own a fashion or jewelry store, try to link your product to high-profile events like the Academy Awards or the Grammy Awards. If your business is geared towards a niche audience, like traveling business executives, scan the headlines for possible tie-ins to current events.

Biggest Mistakes Most Publicists Make

Not properly defining the story is one of the biggest mistakes most publicists make. Your success on pitching depends greatly on how well you define that story because in many cases, you may only get one shot at pitching your story idea. You can focus your story by understanding and applying the five W’s (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How).

Who is this story about?

What is this story about?

Where is this story taking place?

When does your story take place?

Why should anyone care about your story?

How is your story, business, service or product changing lives?

The more you learn and understand the definition of “newsworthy,” the better chance you have of getting your story on the news. And once you successfully make that placement, you are better able to shape the message with the media.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

Most Common Publicist Mistakes

By Mark Macias

I was going through my emails this morning and found an old story I wrote while I was a Senior Producer with CBS in New York.

A global PR agency had asked me to write an article for their employee newsletter, giving their publicists some tips on how to write a better media pitch. I reread the story and decided to repost this for business owners and entrepreneurs trying to get their stories told on the news.

Common Mistakes Made by Publicists

Every morning when I log onto my computer, I have about 100 new emails from publicists trying to get their client on the next local newscast. I want to read every email closely, but in an era of shorter staffing and larger workloads it is physically impossible to read every single pitch word-for-word. Unfortunately, I know I may be missing some good story ideas, which is bad for everyone. Viewers won’t get to see the next great product and I won’t get to pitch the next great idea.

This is why it is so important to clarify and focus your pitch off before you hit send. Publicists have only seconds to make a lasting impression with the media, and if your email doesn’t catch the eye, there is zero chance of getting on the newscast.

There is no official “right” or “wrong” way to draft a press release but there are definitely “dos” and “don’ts” that will either increase or decrease your chances of getting a reporter’s attention. Here are a few of the biggest mistakes I see publicists make with their press releases time and time again.

Publicists try to cram everything into one press release.

A press release has a purpose. It is to alert the media to your story idea, not a time to make the hard sell. Your press release should not encompass every single fact and angle for the story and it should never be more than one page. (Think white is good). The release is merely the first step towards getting you on the newscast or in the local papers. Many publicists make the mistake of trying to cram everything into one page, causing the release to lose focus or clarity. Instead, write your release so it sounds more intriguing. Look for interesting angles, ways to tease your story and pique the reporter or producer’s interest. If the journalist finds your story interesting, trust me, he or she will follow-up with you and ask you about the facts you left out of the initial release.

Publicists pitch evergreen story ideas.

It’s hard to fathom how so many people pitching the media forget the basics of news. People watch the news and read the newspapers because they want to find out what is “new” that day. It’s a simple formula: news is new minus the S, yet surprisingly many publicists seem to forget this in their pitches.

This is why you should never send a news release that sounds like it could have been written a year ago. I frequently get the same email pitches from publicists that they pitched me several months earlier. They probably assumed I wouldn’t remember it or perhaps they think I didn’t read their release the first time. No, I didn’t pitch their story the first time because it wasn’t new.

Laser hair removal is not new no matter how you try to spin it. However, the fiscal stimulus plan is new and a good publicist will find a way to link their salon to the new fiscal stimulus plan. In late February, I read an article about a salon in Springfield, Illinois that was offering its own stimulus plan for people who lost their job. The reporter wrote about how the salon was offering free haircuts to people who were about to go in for a job interview. They only had to tell the receptionist that they were in for the “stimulus haircut.” The article also profiled the salon’s new royalty rewards program, which essentially offered 25 percent off a haircut over the course of the program. This article was a great public relations coup that raised the salon’s profile in the community. And, it was a timely piece of work that could travel anywhere (in other words copied by other publicists in other cities). Finding a timely article isn’t as difficult as it sounds. It’s actually quite easy once you learn how to learn to follow the news cycle.

Publicists don’t personalize their pitch.

It’s okay to pitch the same story idea to different news outlets, in fact, I encourage it. You never want to limit your success to one person, and the more people who read your news release, the better chance you have of getting it read. However, I am not a fan of massive email blasts. It’s just another form of spam and it usually ends up getting automatically filtered into my outlook junk mail box without me even knowing it.

You don’t have to rewrite the release, but you should add a one-liner at the top of the email, telling the producer or reporter why this is a good story idea for him or her. Also, take the time to research the right reporter or producer. If you’re pitching a consumer story idea or anything that involves money, send it to the consumer reporter or producer. If you’re pitching a story on a restaurant, pitch it to the food critic or the lifestyle reporter. To me, that’s common sense, but surprisingly I frequently get pitches for sports and entertainment.

As a special projects producer, I suspect my profile in the various media databases details my broad background in consumer, entertainment, medical, lifestyle, investigative, etc. I still always forward good story ideas to the proper person, but a publicist could increase his chances for success by pitching the consumer idea directly to the consumer producer. Finding the right person is not that time consuming and you don’t even need to be subscribed to expensive database lists. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking at the company’s website or calling the news desk and asking for a name.

I understand how difficult it is to get the media’s attention. I’ve called some of my own friends in the media and I don’t even get a call back. It’s nothing personal. If you call a reporter or producer and they ask you to email them a press release or they don’t return a voicemail, it’s probably because they want you to focus the idea rather than ramble on about why you have just discovered the next great idea.

I do believe there is a home for every story idea and it’s just a matter of discovering where that outlet is. So don’t get discouraged if no one is biting on your story idea. Perhaps, you need to go back to the drawing board and find a more timely angle. Or maybe, you need to reformat that press release so it doesn’t look so cluttered. By following the above rules, you may not get on the news that day, but you will definitely improve your chances of getting your product, service, business or client on the news.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR or MarketYourFund.com

 

 

Cat and Mouse – Related to PR

By Mark Macias

Why does the cat always catch the mouse? When you think of how agile and quick a mouse can be, he should always be able to outmaneuver the cat. Yet, nearly every time, the cat will always catch the mouse.

That’s not just a fun question. It’s actually a way of thinking that applies to public relations.

First off, I don’t claim to be an expert on mice or cats. I have never owned a cat and I hate mice, so I am not skilled at analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of mice and cats. But as a person who lives in Manhattan, -and every New Yorker will tell you – “if you have mice, get a cat and the problem will go away.”

There must be some strategy behind a cat’s approach. There is and here is how it applies to public relations and business.

What Cats and Mice Teach us about Public Relations

A cat traditionally studies its prey before it attacks. It tries to understand the mouse’s movements and agility in advance. The cat is more patient. It takes his time approaching the mouse, waiting for the right moment to pounce while the mouse is busy sniffing the ground.

Now let’s take a closer look at the mouse. I’ve watched mice move on the streets of Manhattan and I will never understand why he loses to the cat. The mouse is faster and more agile and should run circles around the puffy paw.

Trust me, I couldn’t catch a mouse on the streets but I guarantee you I could catch a cat if I needed to. The mouse – on the surface – has every natural talent to win the household game, but it doesn’t because he is afraid.

In the world of PR, you should study and understand the journalists you want to pitch because you only get one chance. If you fire off that story idea before it is completely developed, you risk losing an opportunity for coverage.

Many clients want to see results quickly, and as a business owner, I understand. I want to see a high rate of return as well on my investments. But if the execution of the strategy is rushed and sloppy, you risk losing out on solid media placements.

Fear of Failure Destroys PR Campaigns

Fear is another failing item that can’t be associated with public relations. A creative media strategy requires confidence in an idea and strength with the execution. You can’t be afraid of creative ideas when pitching reporters. Sure, I’ve come up with some crazy publicity stunts and not all of them worked. But a good majority did. If I was afraid of failure, I would have missed out on the home runs. The same applies to your business. You can’t be afraid like that little mouse.

Finally, the mouse fails because he doesn’t think. If you have observed any mouse in a kitchen after turning on the light, they don’t react to change well. Their bodies scramble without direction. It’s like they are immobilized by the sudden change in environment. As a publicist, you need to be able to adapt quickly to change. If you are getting multiple rejections from reporters than it is highly likely your strategy or media pitch is off and needs to adapt to the moment.

If you’re trying to succeed with media placements, you really do need to think like the cat but move like the mouse. If an idea doesn’t seem to be catching on, listen to the feedback of reporters. Are you missing an element with your idea? Does the reporter need more evidence to support the story? Be nimble and respond to their questions. Be like the mouse – fast, agile and quick to respond.

In the cartoon, Tom & Jerry, the mouse always won because he out-thought the big, slow cat. Of course, that is the land of fiction, but since the Tom & Jerry narrative was created by a real person, I can now understand why little Jerry won every time the two battled wits. The publicist or business that out-thinks the competition, usually wins.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR or MarketYourFund.com