How should I share company news and information with a journalist?
Back in the days before mobile devices could connect to the internet, newsrooms would be buzzing with the sound of phones ringing. Today, another form of communication has prevailed: the email.
The power of the email
Emails might seem simple, but for most journalists, they provide the best way for you to contact them. That’s because they will have developed a process to manage their emails, and an email also gives them time to respond when they can. This can be a challenge for those, like us, who want to attract their attention. We need to compete with everybody else across the same channel.
And that’s why emailing journalists requires skill and experience to do well.
There are, of course, some journalists who might prefer a phone call, social media message, or text message. And if you’re able to develop a good relationship with a journalist, he or she might be happy to transfer over to another medium of communication. But in most cases, the humble email is the industry standard.
How to write an email pitch
In PR, the word ‘pitch’ refers to a company’s attempt to convince a journalist to cover a specific piece of information. As above, these are in email format for the most part.
The email pitch is extremely important. You need to summarise the information you want to share in an exciting way that compels the reader to either continue reading or contact you for more information. Doing this well takes years of practice.
Most journalists want your pitch to respond to three questions:
- What’s happening? In other words, what is it that you want to tell us?
- So what? Why should we care? Why does this matter?
- Why now? Why is this information, story, or news worth telling now (and not last month)?
These questions apply to most pitches. And in our experience, people often find so what? the hardest to answer. Try to think about the wider trend that your information fits into. If you’re releasing a new product, does this product use specific technology that has become more popular in the past year? What can that tell us about society as a whole?
As a rule of thumb, try to keep your pitch to three short paragraphs in length. Journalists are busy, and a long email can suggest that you haven’t condensed your story well enough yet. The first paragraph can answer the what’s happening? The second paragraph can answer so what? and why now? The third can explain what you can offer (press release, interview, product sample.)
How to write a press release
For important stories like completed funding rounds and product launches, you may want to send the journalist a press release too. You’ll still want to include your pitch.
This will persuade the journalist to read your press release. But the press release will provide enough extra information that the journalist could publish an article or radio segment based on that information alone.
The press release should answer the same three questions we described above, but in more detail. The first sentence should include the who, what, where, how and why, if there’s still space.
One of the most common errors we see is over-written opening sentences. Try to limit them to 25 words. Anything longer than that will becoming confusing for the reader.
Once you’ve completed the opening few sentences, and answered all those questions, it’s time to fill out the rest of the press release with other information. Anything that didn’t make it into the first sentence should follow in order of importance.
Beneath this information, you’ll want to include some quotations from the parties involved. Journalists use these to add some colour to their stories, so try to make them more emotive than the preceding description. Important information should be included outside the quotations. Here’s an example:
Joe Bloggs, CEO at Bloggs Ventures, said: “I’m delighted that the deal turned out this way. It really was a surprise when we received the bid. The team couldn’t be happier. And we’re looking forward to an exciting new future with our new partners.”
Once you’ve added the quotations from you and any partners involved, provide contact details. It’s best to include both an email address and phone number here, as the journalist may want to call to check specific pieces of information.
Beneath all this, provide a boiler-plate description of your company and any other organisations involved. You can also use an asterisk to link to this from further up the page.
Pitches and press releases are very difficult to get right. And, as we mentioned, you’ll be competing against many other companies also trying to capture a journalist’s attention. Some editors receive hundreds of email pitches every day.
A good PR agency will have the expertise to create a compelling argument and story. It will also retain good relationships with relevant journalists, so that your company news stands out above the rest. If your company has the budget available, it’s worth considering a partnership with an agency. A great idea is a great idea. But if nobody knows about it…