5 mistakes to avoid when pitching the media with your latest news

5 July 2022 | 5 min read | PR
Portrait photo of Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

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The media is a hungry beast. It needs feeding with information that is relevant to the here and now, adds value to the plethora of debates taking place, and offers something different to what is already out there. They need your stories, your news.

But before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards) to prepare your next press release for distribution, read this first or else you might find yourself walking into a common set of traps which could do your organisation more reputational harm than good.

Reason 1: You’re trying to sell

Journalists detest salespeople…fact. So, pitches (and that’s essentially what a press release is) that are blatantly self-promotional will only be afforded the attention needed to move them from Inbox to Trash folder.

If the aim of your press release is to drive sales, then save yourself and everyone some time and run an advert instead. Don’t piss off those journalists who could be your biggest influencers when really you do have something good to tell and share.

Reason 2: You believe your own hype

We all like to think that our opinion is worth hearing, but how much sway does it have outside the four walls of your business? Will anyone really care what your boss has to say, or are you planning a press release in a bid to massage his or her ego?

Reason 3: You’re not getting to the point fast enough

The role of a journalist has evolved significantly over the last five years. Gone are the days when a hack would work on one or two main stories each day; today, they are typically required to work on five or more stories. That’s a heck of a workload, but it also means that they need media-friendly press releases sent to them.

In other words, they will grant no more than 15 seconds (if you’re lucky) to each press release they receive, and if they don’t ‘get’ what you’re talking about within that time then your chances of being published have gone. Avoid waffle and industry jargon and get to the point of what your story is all about:

  • The headline needs to tell them everything (but it also needs to be short)
  • The opening paragraph needs to address the Who, What, When, Why and How in 40 words or less

That opening paragraph needs to encapsulate the entire story into two sentences – the rest of the press release is quite simply padding.

Reason 4: You don’t ‘get’ how influential journalists are

Journalists have it tough. They want to work with businesses who a) make their lives easier by having a good story to tell, and b) could be a great source for future commentary if the journalist is running a story on a similar topic further down the road.

To win their trust you need to understand what they have written about in the past. Take a look at the publication(s) they write for. This will enable you to spot their style of writing and their perspective on certain subject matter. It also makes the journalist feel that you have specifically targeted them, rather than scatter-gunned your press release to hundreds of others on your list (and no one wants to be on someone’s ‘list’).

Reason 5: You struggle to answer one simple question…Why?

Pitching a press release is no different to pitching your business to a potential new client – you need to address the what’s-in-it-for-me factor. Journalists by their very nature are inquisitive so and so’s (I was one myself). They were that kid in school who kept putting their hand up in class to ask, “But, why?”

So, when you are writing what you hope will be a stupendously superb press release that will wow the media, make sure you get your message right first. You need to be able to explain the purpose of your press release in such a way that your mother would understand it.

People don’t read the media to gain an in-depth understanding of a subject – there are scientific and other journals for that. Rather, they want to gleam the essential elements of the story. Think about their interests and how what you have to say will be of interest, and then focus your energies on approaching the right media.