In this fast-paced, digital world where information moves at lightning speed, a winning story pitch requires first-class PR expertise and a punchy headline.
The vast majority of people seeking to leverage PR often forget that successful outcomes rely on their joint effort with the media.
However, there are two challenges you face:
- Figuring out what your story is; and
- Getting the media interested in it enough to pick it up and run with it.
For insider tips and tricks, we invited three media experts from different sides of the field including, Sprout editor-in-chief, Remy Ludo Gieling, freelancer and former De Zaak journalist, Flip Schultz, and former PR agency owner and journalist, Jeroen Goeman Borgesius, to our most recent PR meetup in Amsterdam.
I opened the panel discussion with some of the top questions on every PR manager’s mind.
Here are the key takeaways from this discussion.
Find Your Story
Remy Ludo Gieling explained that rather than packaging your product and sending it to a journalist as is, you need to tell a story.
Indeed, this is one of the main fails many new companies without PR expertise make.
Unless your product is some revolutionary, disruptive tool that will help solve a world problem, most media won’t be calling you to write about it.
Nonetheless, every product has a story.
The question is how do you craft your story pitch so the media will be interested enough to publish it?
Lightheartedly, Mr. Gieling suggested:
If it’s an interesting enough story to tell your friends in a bar, it may be interesting enough for publications.
While coming up with your PR story pitch in a bar may not seem like an ideal location, he has a point.
And though you may be over the moon about your product, others could not care less about the newest automation feature.
Try putting together a story pitch and tell it out loud to people who don’t work with you.
If 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 news going on in your company?
Jeroen Goeman Borgesius suggests 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?
Maybe something went wrong, and you could use that example to teach people while crafting a story pitch at the same time.
Perhaps there is 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 or things happening within the company and proactively reach out to them on a regular basis.
What to Do if You Are New to the Game
If you’re a young startup looking to start a buzz about your company, figuring out where to start can be daunting.
Mr. Gieling summed it up in a quote from a recent podcast:
People don’t care about startup news. If you’re not a big name company like Airbnb, Tesla, or Google, chances are nobody will know or care enough to click on a headline about “xyz’s new seed funding.”
Instead, share a personal story or experience that other people in your niche area can learn from.
Use that to craft a winning story pitch.
Write About a Trending Topic
As Flip Schultz explained, successful stories are those which relate to trending topics of the moment, for example, climate change or the future of Europe.
While your product may not have anything to do with easing relations after Brexit, look for a common problem you can tie your story pitch into to 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 the challenges you face in your industry will boost the credibility of your brand.
Know What a Journalist Wants to See in Your Story Pitch
The formula for the perfect story pitch is something every PR professional wants to perfect.
Too much information and your pitch will be tossed out in a second.
At the same time, by trying to keep your story short and concise, you risk it being dull or uninsightful.
Mr. Gieling suggests that when pitching your story to a publication, their target audience is who you should think about first.
How or why would this story pitch be interesting or relevant to them?
As Mr. Gieling explained:
We receive 200-400 news 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 seek.
Ask a Freelancer to Write About You
Getting publications to write about you can be tough.
Another option is to send your story pitch to a freelance writer who’s focusing on your field of expertise and ask them to write about you.
They’re usually more eager and open to receiving pitches than newsrooms which receive thousands of these each day.
Of course, you don’t want to approach just any freelancer.
You want someone who has experience, is well-connected with important publications in your space, and whose writing style fits the image you want to present to the public.
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 who specializes specifically in FinTech may be more adept at capturing the most important insights your audience is looking for in your story, rather than a journalist from a publication which only covers tech, in general.
As a freelancer himself, Mr. Schultz suggests the best way to start is to:
Try and get into the network of freelancers who specialize 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 gets picked, at least it can get your foot in the door.
Reviewing pitches for Sprout every day, Mr. Gieling confirmed he is more likely to take a story pitch from a freelancer into consideration rather than a PR firm with a clear agenda for selling their client’s product.
Moving from owning a PR agency to being an editor-in-chief to being a freelancer, Mr. Borgesius has seen the media game from all sides.
During the panel discussion, he shared insights from his new adventure, starting the digital company, PR Dashboard.
Journalists receive thousands of story pitches a day that they must sort through.
To make it easier for both PR professionals and working journalists, PR Dashboard provides a platform through which a story pitch can quickly and easily be sent straight to journalists’ smartphones.
Rather than responding or even just deleting emails, journalists have the option of being able to swipe left or right on a pitch.
Perhaps you will consider modernizing your approach to PR with new PR tech.
Now for my concluding recommendation: pitch a story, not a product.
Investigate what’s going on inside your company.
Share your advice with others.
Link your story pitch 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.
Join the next PR Meetup in Amsterdam on November 23, 2017!
What advice do you have for crafting a winning story pitch?
Please share in the comments below.