If you have a small business, getting a write-up in a local or national news outlet can be a great way to attract new customers. But many small business owners can’t afford to hire a PR professional to pitch their story to editors and reporters. That doesn’t mean press coverage is out of reach, however. Anyone can pitch a story to a journalist—in fact, newspapers, magazines and online sites are constantly looking for interesting stories to tell. But being your own publicist takes some determination, a little courage and knowing few tricks of the trade.
Most journalists prefer to be pitched by e-mail, so here are five tips for creating email pitches that will increase your chances of generating ink for your small business.
Know your story: This one may sound obvious, but just saying you run a winery or a graphic design firm isn’t enough. You need a hook that makes the story newsworthy. For instance, do you provide an innovative or niche product or service? Do you bring an unconventional twist to a traditional business? Is there an unusual or inspiring backstory to how you got started? Every business is unique in some way; whatever sets yours apart is your story.
Make it Timely: Another way to make your pitch newsworthy is timing it to coincide with a larger cultural event. Seasons, holidays, trends, elections, weather, major sporting events all offer potential tie-ins for an article about your business. For instance, if you make chocolates, a few weeks before Valentine’s Day might be the ideal time for a story about your business. Remember to send your email pitch out well in advance of when you hope it will run to give the news outlet plenty of time fit it into their editorial calendar.
Target your pitch: Figure out which publications, Web sites or blogs your prospective customers are likely to read. (For instance, if you sell bridal gowns, Guns & Ammo probably wouldn’t be your first choice). Don’t forget local outlets as well as trade or special-interest publications that cater to your target customers. Pick the ten in which you’d most like to see your offerings mentioned. Then—and this is very important—go through each publication to see if there’s really a place where a story about your product or service would fit in. If you find a piece on a similar topic, make a note of the reporter’s name so you can pitch him or her directly. If you don’t see anywhere that an article about your offerings would fit, cross that publication off your list and move on.
Be courteous and respectful: Remember, reporters and editors are professionals. Their job is not to publicize your business—it’s to inform and entertain their audience. Your job is to make their job easier by pitching them a story that serves their needs and yours. Do not send a “To Whom it May Concern” form email to 10 journalists. Tailor each pitch to the appropriate reporter, greet him or her by name, and if possible, briefly mention a previous article of theirs that you liked.
Keep it short: Most journalists are flooded with literally hundreds of pitches and press releases every day. So get right to the point: Your e-mail subject line should clearly state what your pitch is about. After your brief introduction, include two or three paragraphs—just enough information to allow the journalist to decide whether the story is right for them. And of course, include all your contact information so they can follow up with you by phone if they need to.
Armed with these guidelines, you’ll be ready to launch a mini-PR campaign for your business. Of course, there’s a lot more to public relations than sending e-mail pitches, but it’s a great, inexpensive place to start.
Andrew Hindes is a former journalist and the president of The In-House Writer, a Los Angeles-based PR and marketing copywriting firm that helps businesses of all sizes increase sales and communicate more effectively with customers, investors, employees and the media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @theinhousewriter.