As a former business journalist, I know how hungry editors and reporters are for unique, yet-untold stories about in-the-trenches business ups and downs. But what usually arrives in their email boxes? Cookie-cutter product or service announcements.
That’s why customer stories are extremely effective when pitching to the media. They provide complete problem-solution-results narratives that show solutions in action.
When you’ve got a hot story in hand, how do you make the pitch? I turned to my friend Mary Ellen Merrigan, author of the ProfitMeister blog and president of Connecting Point Communications.
“With media jobs disappearing, journalists have never been busier,” she says. “Their inboxes are cluttered, so you have to be very succinct to break through the babble.”
Above all, Merrigan recommends pitching stories that are relevant to current events or tie in with hot topics in your industry. I recall a case study on how the state of Arkansas used my client’s software to assist Hurricane Katrina evacuees coming to the state. CRM Today found the story of interest and ran it.
Pick Your Top Targets
These days, it’s popular to send a press release via one of the online wire services. It’s great for search engines, but doesn’t necessarily get your story into your target publications.
Merrigan suggests picking 3-5 key media outlets with audiences that fit your subject matter, and truly matching your pitch to each publication.
“Whether you make your pitch by email, phone or snail mail, customize and personalize,” she says.
Even better, Merrigan recommends building relationships with those media before you ever pitch anything. Encourage them to see you as a resource for information to support stories.
Make the Pitch
Pitch different angles to each of your top targets, so you don’t lose their trust. Provide some teaser information by phone or email, and if they are interested, then send them a link for the full customer story. (Don’t send attachments)
Avoid the Biggest PR No-No’s
As you pitch your customer stories, keep Merrigan’s biggest media no-no’s in mind:
- No focus – You have to focus on how your pitch fits the audience when talking with reporter or editor.
- No solution – The story must come full circle and show how problems were resolved.
- No blast – Don’t blast a press release to a gang of journalists as your only outreach. Target and personalize!
- No pre-work – Study publications in your industry, network with journalists and build relationships before pitching.
- No contact information – Don’t forget to include contact information on your press release for the best person to reach at your organization.
Once you pitch an idea, realize that the media may not have an interest in your story for a while. Merrigan recalls a media pitch that a journalist called about 11 months later!
Consider an Online Media Room
Make all your customer stories available online 24/7. Create an online media room.
More of Merrigan’s No-Cost Resources
Mary Ellen Merrigan offers a number of valuable resources on PR on her ProfitMeister blog and Web site. Her blog has recently provided fantastic advice on online media rooms that I’ll be heeding myself.