You know the song and dance - you pitch the press about your business, and they respond with: "Sure, we can publish that - when you place an ad." And they may CC their marketing person or provide you with their email address. As a digital marketing producer, I've heard this complaint from clients when I encourage them to pitch the media with their anniversary celebration, or any other reason that they should try for pure editorial.
Now as a publisher of a local online newspaper/blog, A Little Beacon Blog, I get several pitches from businesses and organizations. Some of these pitches get turned into pure editorial, and some do not, but could get published if they were via our advertising channel. So what gives? How am I suddenly being part of the dreaded answer that my business friends and clients complain about?
It's All In The Pitch
It came down to this problem: the simple-ask pitch.
Businesses who emailed in a simple ask: "Can you feature my business?" were not compelling enough to stop everything to write an article about. When we write an article, we put resources into it. We pay a writer (or it's me and I don't pay myself) for content and photos. We pay our own production editor to socialize the story on all three channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). We usually produce a newsletter around the article, or at least feature it in a related newsletter.
I'm all for encouraging businesses to go for it, and ask for what you need, but this kind of simple ask won't get you what you want - the PR feature. I took a step back to review the pitching situation, and it hit me: my knee-jerk reaction was all about the pitch. And I'd put money on a bet that other writers and editors have the same reaction. See our TuneUp with GQ writer Sarah Crow, who also agrees with this and experiences it a lot from businesses pitching her. How the pitch was worded led me to either be hooked on the story, and turn it into a must-publish article, or it gave me the reaction of "Well, buy an ad, and sure, we'll produce an article." But what was the difference?
Hey - Feature Me!
Businesses that reached out and said these words did not get a feature: "Would really love you to write about my business."
This angle has come in via email, Instagram comment and Facebook page message. This pitch will rarely work and here's why: We have compelling articles already in the schedule that have juicy and timely hooks to them. Either they are being talked about by people in the community, or it's about a big event that everyone is anticipating, or it's about an event or a piece of news that is so cool but nobody knows about it yet.
The only people we stop the presses for - as in stop writing pure editorial just to plug a business - are advertisers. Advertisers are part of what keep a publication alive, so having them is important. Anniversary stories are a no-brainer to throw an advertiser a bone and write about their anniversary. There are (hopefully) so many businesses celebrating anniversaries, that a publication can't possibly write about them all. So if you're not an advertiser and you want to feature an anniversary, you would need to email a reporter or editor and state reasons why your first year or five years or twenty-five years are so important. What happened in them? Did you almost go out of business XYZ years/months ago and made a comeback? Do you employ a large amount of people in the area? Did you create special employee incentives that make your business a trend-setter (Paid Family Leave is being talked about right now...what can you talk about to this trend?) And you'd pitch it in with bullet points.
"Feature Me!" Needs Juicy Details
At the end of the day, you're really saying to reporters: "Hey! Feature my business! We are really terrific!" But because space is tight and not all of the great stories of the world will fit, you need to identify why your story would be a great one right now. It must rise above the competition for the other articles that are being written that are really juicy and that the publication's readers will love and share on social media or through word of mouth.
Here's an example of a pitch that did not work, and how it could work better:
Pitch Example #1 That Did Not Work:
"Hey, our business has been here for 20 years and we just bought land and are expanding. Would love if you wrote about us."
This pitch failed because it requires homework on my part. It's from a business I don't know, and was pitched via Instagram comment. First of all, Instagram comments get lost real quick. Second of all it's impressive that the business has been around for 20 years and that they made an investment. But I need more in my inbox without needing to do homework. Not pages of content, but I need:
What people can do on the land. Why did you expand on it?
Something unusual that people do with your business. Why are you successful?
Pictures of your current location (triggers familiarity) and pictures of the land.
Anything noteworthy about the business owner, like if the owner or business has been featured on national TV shows. As a local publication, the other local publications are competition, so mentioning them probably would not be compelling. And vice versa for national. If you were on Good Morning America, you don't need to mention you were on the Today Show just last month.
Pitch Example #2 That Did Not Work:
"We are fans of your blog and were wondering if we could either have a small article about us featured or a social media mention?"
This pitch was from an exercise studio. This writer made a good move of at least indicating that they read the blog. But to flat out ask for an article or social media mention means that you are asking us to do work for you. And if we are going to do work for someone, that someone is going to be someone who is paying us. Otherwise, we work for free for our readers. We work very hard to give our readers articles and ideas that they will love. That concept even translates into how we produce advertisements. We want our readers to be interested in what is being advertised, as that is a win-win for everyone.
Meanwhile, we were working on an article about another fitness studio that was going through a major change, and bringing in new business partners and offerings. This business did not even pitch us to try for an article. The reason the business will get featured is because they have been around for a number of years and are well known in the community. To make a major change triggers newsworthiness.
Newsworthiness and Timeliness
Therein lies the secret to a pitch: what makes it newsworthy. This may be hard to identify if you are doing your own PR pitching, since everything you do is newsworthy, right? Keep your ears open to what impresses others about your business, and pick one of those reactions and turn it into a pitch.
Even for our own advertisers who buy branded content articles from us, we pitch them newsworthy ideas and we write the article for them. We have to make sure it appeals to our readers. However, 95% of our articles are pure editorial - not from advertisers - and those that are, blend in rather seamlessly with the content. But you can tell that with so many articles being written, competition is thick for what gets chosen. Often, it comes down to what is relevant right now this instant, aka timely. Why now? What would people care about the story right now? Is it about an event that is coming up? Or an issue being discussed?
Pitching the media and not getting picked up doesn't harm your business at all. If anything, it simply informs reporters and editors who gradually may become more familiar with your business simply through your email pitches, even if they don't respond to you. One day, one hook, one pitch may be just the hook they were looking for - and they didn't even know they were looking for it. It just hooked them.
So keep pitching. No matter what.