Once you’ve created a story to convey your frame and messages, and once you’ve identified a strategic news hook, you’re ready to write a press release and pitch to reporters. Good stories are their bread and butter. So treat these steps like a business transaction between you and reporters—and do your best to offer substance, not junk food!
• Translate your story into a press release. The most important thing to remember is that your press release should read exactly like the story you’d want to see in the news. Your headline should, too; craft a headline that reads like a newspaper header. It should capture what’s new and what’s significant. Use CMJ’s press release template and sample to help you write your own. (Worksheets attached below)
• Spell-check! In many cases, your press release is the first point of contact with reporters. Your credibility can be made or broken based on the professionalism of your press release. Get a fresh pair of eyes to line edit, use your computer’s spell-check function, and make final changes before sending out your release.
• Email and fax press releases. You should send your press release out several days before your event, and then again 24 hours before your phone pitch. You should both fax and email it if possible. The more times a reporter or editor receives your press release, the more likely it will stand out among the volume of the corporate press releases pouring in from corporate PR firms every day. Fax press releases to newsroom numbers, and email reporters and editors directly.
• Write a persuasive pitch. Press releases alone won’t earn you media coverage—but a good press release followed by a strategic pitch will. Pitching is the second step in delivering your story idea to a reporter. Your pitch should be a 30-second rap crafted to convince the reporter you have a hot story item they shouldn’t pass up.
• Practice and deliver your pitch. When you pitch, make it fast and efficient, but casual and conversational. At all times, try to keep opportunities open by asking permission to follow up: Can I send you more information? Can I check back with you tomorrow or at another time? Is there someone else at your outlet I should talk to? Can I leave you my cell phone number in case you have questions?
• Call until you talk to a live person. If you get voicemail, leave an initial message with your phone number and a quick description of your story idea. Then call back (but don’t leave any more messages) until you reach the reporter or editor so you can introduce yourself and gauge their response to your pitch. Remember, your role is to be a credible resource to reporters, not to strong-arm them into covering your story.
• Follow up to build relationships. Even when you don’t have a specific story to pitch, email target reporters personally with new developments on your issue to keep them informed. Most reporters appreciate this kind of ongoing community-based information.
• Create an organizational press kit. Include your group’s brochure, reports on your issue, fact sheets, spokesperson bios, photos, and any other background information reporters should know about your organization. In the future, you can put your most up-to-date press release in this press kit and mail these to reporters or pass them out at your next media event.