Prepare for media pitching take-off

There’s a lot more legwork to helping our clients’ stories take off than writing a press release and hitting “send.” A decade ago, it was standard to write an upside-down pyramid-style release, leading with a terribly boring who-what-when-where sentence. Then, it would be sent to a mass distribution list of reporters. The surprising thing is that a lot of businesspeople still believe that’s what PR pros do. But media pitching has eclipsed press releases and doing it well is more important than ever.

Today, the method of writing a press release and sending it to a big list is known as “spraying and praying.” And if a business is doing that, a lot of praying is required. That’s because journalism staffs have gotten leaner. Take a local large metro newspaper for example. Its business section alone had a staff of more than 20 reporters in the early 2000s. Now it has 2. This is not an isolated incident.

Media’s small staffs still receive hundreds of press releases and pitches a day. If they don’t have a relationship with the person sending them, they’re probably not giving them consideration. But if you get them at the right time and with the right pitch, you can still get their attention and land great coverage for your news stories.

ClearWing focuses on techniques that strengthen the writing and give reporters (and more importantly, their audiences) a story worth paying attention to.

Pre-pitch planning

A thoughtful, targeted pitch can get attention in ink, digital or on air. To do this successfully, we must start with something that is newsworthy, think about the audience we intend to reach, the media vehicles they consume and the people doing the talking or writing. While traditional media may be a fit, we may also consider trade publications and even influencers. Today, landing your story with a highly-trusted influencer with a small but loyal following could be just as powerful as landing a story in the general media.

Who is the story about?

It’s always best to find the human in the story. People don’t care for stories about things. But they’ll read a story about how a thing impacted a person.

Put the reader at the focus of the lead when possible, answering the question: “Why does the reader care?” 

In 2018, we worked with Atlanta start-up InpharmD to earn media attention to garner awareness and gain credibility.

We identified a targeted list of media and reporters who cover healthcare and tech stories. The list included trade media as well as general media. But it was tricky. InpharmD’s app was created for use by physicians, not the general public. Would a general news audience care? We needed to humanize the story.

After some thought, we pitched a behind-the-scenes story about how patients’ doctors are using technology to give them high-quality care on a hospital floor. We paired our pitch with a popular trend topic (apps for home health care).

This is how we pitched a reporter at Atlanta’s NPR station:

Everyone talks about patients using apps for healthcare at home. But what about health care providers using apps in their healthcare facilities? A new app developed in Atlanta gives physicians a chance to submit complex questions about medications to reduce research time by hours.

Cleared for take-off

You may have notice there’s not even a company name in that pitch. That’s okay. The pitch was designed to get attention. Names, titles and industry jargon slow down the attention-getting process. Once the reporter was interested, ClearWing coordinated interviews with the app founder and a physician who used the app regularly. The company’s name led the headline in the final story, which ran on several different programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered. The lead below is the reporter’s wording, but the meaning was based on our own pitch above:

Smartphone apps that allow patients to communicate with their health care providers using only their cellphones have gained popularity, but an app developed by an Atlanta-based startup is moving the concept forward.

Shaping the story

For companies that seek media attention, it’s also important to note the level of their control over the story. While brands have complete control over what a paid advertisement looks like, PR is different . While a strong PR pro puts a lot of thought into shaping our pitches, press releases and headlines, there’s no guarantee what the media will print or say (unless it’s a paid advertorial, but that’s another topic for another day). Those are the positives and negatives of public relations. People tend to trust information from a third-party more. The trade-off for the company is giving up control. And…sometimes a headline that will surprise you. But the pay off of a great story is often worth the risk.

In the client example above, the similarity between our pitch and the media’s lead isn’t a coincidence. We gave the reporter a good angle and he used it. That’s the best outcome when we do a great job of preparing client stories for take-off.

If you’re ready to discuss how to help your organization’s stories take off, let’s talk.

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