Anyone who has ever tried to write & distribute a press release may have despaired when it was not immediately picked up by the major media outlets and run, 24-7, on CNN, NBC, CBS, and Page One of the Wall Street Journal. What went wrong? Do reporters still read press releases, or do they select their stories in secret, cupcake-fueled meetings held in underground caves?
While searching for an answer, we happened to meet Richard Brandt, a veteran Business Week reporter who now consults with hi-tech entrepreneurs on how to talk to the business press. He's also writing a book about Google. As someone who spent more than 15 years on the other side of the press release, Richard knows what reporters want--and don't want--from press-release-writing entrepreneurs. Following is our summary of his advice.
1. Save the Spam for Breakfast
One of Brandt's pet peeves occurred when executives would call or e-mail him with a pitch on a topic that fell completely outside of his beat. Entrepreneurs who came to him without any knowledge of his interests were treated with the same ignorance with which they treated him. He avoided them. Ditto for spammed press releases.
So, how *do* you reach a stressed out journalist with an idea you think will truly interest readers?
2. Change Thy Attitude, Grasshopper
Journalists are a lot like us. They respond to folks who have something of value to offer and who are interested in long-term relationships. It follows that the best way to approach them is with with a spirit of giving. Rather than immediately asking a journalist to write about your company, offer her a tidbit of industry gossip or other useful insider information. When you change your attitude, you can't help but also change your approach. And your results.
Which leads us to research.
3. Do Your Homework
Search for relevant articles in a niche magazine or other publication, and find the reporter who has covered that topic. Now, read the other articles that reporter has written. When you've done your homework, you can approach reporters as someone who is genuinely interested in helping them. This simple step will position you light years ahead of your competitors--including many PR agencies. You can't help but stand out.
4. Cultivate a Soulmate
If you happen to have any insider information or connections, e-mail or call the reporter telling him you really enjoyed his article on X, and have some information on Y you think would be of interest. Everyone likes to be appreciated, and it's particularly welcome after a day of spam & solicitations.
5. No Hit-and-Runs
Don't expect to get instant coverage. Most people are offended by the idea of an immediate quid pro quo. Instead, focus on developing a long-term relationship with your reporter in which you position yourself as an expert on her topic. And where you give more than you receive. This builds your credibility. When the reporter is ready to write another story on this topic (or, when you're ready to write your next press release), your name will be on the tip of her tongue.