Pitch perfect: do's and don'ts of good PR
Tell a story, says publicist Sarah Morton.
Public relations can be a potent force. Exposure in newspapers, magazines and blogs spells credibility that money cannot buy because the attention is earned, not bought.
But media gatekeepers face a daily barrage of pitches, which raises the question of how you catch and hold their interest amid the hubbub. Here are some tips on how to pitch in an appealing, professional style.
“First and foremost,” says magazine editor Kanchi Williams, “gaining attention is a matter of building rapport with the media and gaining their trust for your products or services.
Luke Humble warns against using amateurish photos.
"It is a long-term commitment and not a quick fix,” says Williams, who runs media workshops for emerging businesses.
Encourage rapport by taking a targeted approach, she says. The contacts and publications contained in your media list should match the message conveyed by your media release.
When writing the statement, understand that the headline, which your email subject line should track, is vital. If your headline fails to grab attention, your email will be deleted without even being opened, she says, adding that big attachments of more than 2 megabytes are also a turn-off.
In the body of your media release, focus on one key message and three “sub-messages” at most. “Do not try to cover as many points as possible. You will only end up confusing the journalist and muddying your brand,” Williams says.
Dramatise your brand by telling a story, says another publicist Sarah Morton. The media loves a good yarn, she says. So pinpoint an arresting angle, a prize won or a milestone marked.
And think about how you frame the event you highlight. Instead of baldly stating you just hired new staff – a non-story – you might stoke intrigue by saying that new graduates give your business “a Gen Y touch”, Morton says.
The photos you present should illuminate the story, so brainstorm some apt compositions.
“For example,” she says, “if you have just sold your 30,000th coffee in your cafe, the best shot would be of you or one of your staff pouring a beautiful latte, with some happy customers milling about in the background.”
A bad shot would show a marginally relevant celebration cake.
Ideally, the person who takes the shot should be a professional photographer or a capable amateur with extensive experience, according to the director of the design and marketing firm Pixel Perfection, Luke Humble.
The key to strong pictures, he says, is good lighting. Outdoors, the best light comes in the atmospheric early morning or late afternoon. To prevent blown-out highlights and lens flare, the photographer should stand with the sun behind them.
Shots should be taken at high resolution from varied perspectives, showing the subject at a slight angle but still looking towards the camera and doing something, perhaps a work-related activity. Avoid a cluttered, noisy background that causes distraction.
After the shoot, Humble says, digitally tweak your publicity shots with the app of your choice. He singles out Instagram, Facebook apps and even Twitter, which now has photo-editing software.
Like Morton, Humble recommends you maximise the splash your pitch makes by tagging it to milestones and prizes. Winning awards that relate to your industry “is a big benefit to any small- to medium-sized business, without a doubt.”
He says if you lack achievements to trumpet, get involved in a charity event, citing the Vinnies CEO Sleepout where business leaders experience homelessness for one winter night.
Beware giving the impression that you just have a product to plug and are looking for a free advertisement – a bitter gripe among editors, who dislike sources who try to groom them as shills.
Another complaint is “been there, done that”: pitches pegged to recently reported stories or events. Editors rarely want to revisit a subject they have just covered. Do not assume that one article signals a commitment to a particular theme. If anything, a shift in direction may be welcome.
During all communication, remember that, as any media insider will vouch, journos hate sources who drone on in a stab at landing maximum exposure. Keep your spiel snappy: no sermons or novels.
Finally, think twice before sending gifts. Media ethics manuals forbid journalists taking them. Just offering gifts may seem slimy or even smack of bribery, which must be disastrous PR.
- For more information on PR, visit the Public Relations Institute of Australia.