In a fast-paced, digital-driven world where information moves at lightning-fast speed, pitching your story to the world entails top-class PR expertise to crystallize a punchy headline. A vast majority of the people seeking to leverage PR forget that successful outcomes rely on their joint efforts with the media. However, there are two challenges you first have to face: figuring out what your story is and then getting the media to actually be interested in it enough to pick it up and run with it.
To get insider tips and tricks, we invited three media experts from different sides of the field including Editor in Chief of Sprout Remy Ludo Gieling, freelance writer and former journalist for De Zaak Flip Schultz, and former PR Agency owner and journalist Jeroen Goeman Borgesius to our most recent PR Lab in Amsterdam. During the panel discussion our host, Matias Rodsevich, got us started with some of the top questions on every PR manager’s mind. Here are our key takeaways from the discussion:
Find your story
Gieling from Sprout explained that rather than taking your product, packaging it and sending it to a journalist as is, you have to tell a story. Indeed, this is one of the main fails many new companies without expertise in PR make. Unless your product is some revolutionary, disruptive tool that will help solve a world problem, most media won’t be calling you up to write about it. Nonetheless, every product has a story. The trick is how do you make it interesting enough that others will want to hear it?
Light heartedly, Gieling suggested, “If it’s an interesting enough story to tell your friends in a bar, it may be interesting for publications.” While coming up with your PR pitches in a bar may not seem like the most productive location, he has a point. While you may be over the moon about your product, others could care less about the newest automation feature. Try coming up with a story and pitching it out loud to people who don’t work with you. If you see their eyes start to glaze over it’s a sign you need to rethink it.
Be your own investigative journalist
What happens when there’s absolutely no new news going on in your company? Borgesius suggests that the best thing to do is be your own investigative journalist, “Sometimes you just have to go into the company and talk to people and see what they’re doing.” People often have no clue that the things they’re working on, or their vision, can be very newsworthy. Is there a story there? Is there something that went wrong that you could teach people about? Is there a study you could conduct with your product or amongst your users which could provide interesting insights on a social issue? Don’t forget to remind your colleagues to keep you informed of interesting topics that are going on within the company and proactively reach out to them on a regular basis.
What if you’re new to the game?
If you’re a young startup looking to try and start a buzz about your company, figuring out where to start can be daunting. Gieling summed it up in a quote from a recent podcast he had listened to: “People don’t care about startup news.” If you’re not a big name company like Airbnb, Tesla, Google, chances are nobody will know or care enough to click on a headline about “Xyz’s new seed funding.” What he suggests is looking for something you’ve done or experienced that other people in your niche area can learn from.
Write about a trending topic
As Flip Schultz explained, successful stories are those that relate to trending topics at the moment. As an example he gives climate change or the future of Europe. While your product may not have anything to do with easing relations after Brexit, there could be some common problem that you can tie it to that will make a publication’s readers interested in learning more.
Keep in mind, even if you don’t write exactly about your product or service, creating thought leadership pieces about challenges being faced in your industry will boost the credibility of your brand.
Know what a journalist wants to see in your pitch
The formula for the perfect pitch is something every PR professional is searching for. Too much information and your pitch will be tossed in a second. At the same time, trying to keep your story short and concise may risk it being dull or uninsightful. Gieling suggests when pitching a story to a publication, you should first think about their target audience. Why would this story by interesting or relevant to them? As Gieling explained, “we receive 200–400 press releases a day.” Being able to pitch that story in a few lines is key. While this may not necessarily be the secret formula for success, it definitely helps the journalists reading your pitch find what they’re looking for.
Get a freelancer to write about you
Getting publications to write about you can be tough. Another option is to pitch your story to a freelance writer who’s focusing on your field of expertise. One of the pros is that they’re usually more eager and open to receiving pitches than newsrooms which receive thousands a day. Of course you don’t want to approach just any freelancer. You want someone who is experienced, well connected with important publications in your space and someone whose writing style will fit the image you want to present to the public.
As our host, Rodsevich pointed out, it may be even more relevant to reach out to a freelancer who specializes in a very niche topic relevant to your product and how it relates to the industry. For instance, a freelancer specialized specifically in FinTech may be more adept at capturing the most important insights your audience needs to learn about your story, than a journalist from a publication which covers tech in general.
As a freelancer himself, Schultz suggests that the best way to start is to, “try and get into the network of freelancers who are specialized in your topic.” Jeroen Borgesius emphasized that he actually advises people, “if a publication doesn’t pick up a story you send them, try getting it to them through a freelance journalist. Whether or not it’s picked, at least it can get your foot in the door.” Reviewing pitches for Sprout everyday, Gieling confirmed that he’s much more likely to take a pitch from a freelancer into consideration than a PR firm with a clear agenda for selling their client’s product.
Going from owning his own PR agency to being an Editor in Chief to being a freelancer, Borgesius has seen the media game from all sides. During the panel discussion he shared insights from his new adventure, starting his own digital PR Dashboard. Journalists get thousands of pitches a day that they have to sort through. According to a study conducted by Borgesius’ company, there are only about 50,000 journalists and 150,000 PR professionals!! That’s where they’re all coming from!!!
To make the lives of both groups easier, Borgesius’ PR Dashboard provides a platform through which pitches can quickly and easily be sent straight to journalists’ smartphones. Rather than responding or even just deleting emails, journalists have the convenience of being able to swipe left or right on a pitch. Consider modernizing your approach to PR with new PR tech.
Now for my concluding pitch: Pitch a story not a product. Investigate what’s going on inside your company. Get advice from others. Link your story to trending topics. Explain why your story is interesting for readers. Make friends in your industry’s freelance network. Try a modern twist and tinderize your pitches. And most importantly, Join the next PR Meetup in Amsterdam November 23, 2017!