How to Send Press Releases to Journalists: A Short Guide
by Michelle Garrett on Mar 22, 2023 3:28:00 PM
For some, that’s where it ends. But once you have the release, there are other ways you should be leveraging it.
Beyond press release distribution and using a wire service that gets your news in front of key media outlets, it’s important to share your news with reporters who may be interested.
It’s a good media relations practice to get in the habit of – however, surveys show that journalists receive MANY pitches each week. So, how can PR pros cut through the noise and get their news seen by reporters?
In this article, journalists and PR leaders provide practical tips and advice on how to pitch your press release with the goal of earning media coverage.
Keep reading to learn more!
Support Your Press Release Distribution: How to Pitch Your News to Journalists
1. Include a brief overview of the news in your email to journalists.
It’s important to remember that journalists may not have time to read your entire press release, so including a brief overview in your email – then pasting the body of the release below – can be an effective technique.
“Include a brief note at the top of your pitch summarizing the news below so the person you’re pitching isn’t overwhelmed by the lengthy content,” suggests Michael Kaye, Head of Global Communications at OkCupid and adjunct instructor at New York University. “Understand the subject of your press release thoroughly, but don’t expect every journalist you’re pitching to as well.”
2. Offer an exclusive.
Experiment by offering a reporter an exclusive. Choose the reporter who’s the best fit for your story and work with only that reporter to publish the story.
“One thing I really appreciate is being offered an exclusive and a short, well-worded press release about why the topic is timely,” says reporter Danna Lorch, who writes for publications including The Washington Post and The New York Times. “It’s not very motivating to receive a press release knowing it’s gone out to 100 other people, and know they will be writing about the same topic at the same time.”
A slightly different approach is to offer a journalist an exclusive piece of information or unique angle regarding an announcement.
“It can be a tidbit that other outlets won’t get,” says Lisa Devaney, a public relations consultant.
“Reveal to the reporter something that isn’t in the press release that you think would be useful specifically to them – maybe a stat, anecdote or data that was left on the cutting room floor in an earlier draft,” says Paul Wilke, CEO of Upright Communications.
Whichever approach you try, honor the exclusive agreement you’ve made with the journalist. That builds trust, which is necessary for any long-lasting relationship.
3. Don’t send attachments: If you include photos or visuals of any kind, send a link.
“Send links for everything – data and photos,” says Ellen Chang, a freelance journalist for publications including The Street.
4. Don’t turn it into a sales pitch.
A press release shouldn’t be written in an overly promotional style. Neither should the pitch accompanying your press release.
“Be topical and informative and avoid the mistake many make of turning the release into a sales pitch,” says Greg Sleter, Executive Editor at EnsembleIQ. “Stay away from saying it’s the greatest product ever.”
5. Personalize the pitch.
When you send the press release to a reporter, be sure to personalize the email. Don’t just blast it out with a generic “hello” to hundreds of reporters.
“Mention articles you’ve enjoyed of theirs and say why you are reaching out to them specifically,” says consultant Morissa Schwartz. “No one likes feeling like a number, and that’s exactly how they will feel if you copy and paste the same message to multiple journalists.”
6. Go local – or industry-focused – with your pitch.
Remember that while the client may say they want to be featured in The Wall Street Journal (and there’s nothing wrong with wanting that), it isn’t a fit for every story – and it isn’t always simple to get a client featured there.
Beyond that, it may not be where the client’s audience is spending time.
“Include local or smaller publications, depending on the nature of the pitch,” says Paul Drecksler, Editor of Shopifreaks e-commerce newsletter. “Too many folks go straight to pitching Insider or GMA when in reality, the big guys regularly pick up stories from local news, which are more accessible and have content slots to fill.”
7. Provide enough lead time.
Not only are journalists inundated with pitches, but they’re also working against deadlines. This means you must think and plan ahead when you know you’ll have news to share.
“Give reporters enough notice,” Kaye says. “Don’t send a pitch with your press release the morning of and expect it to result in meaningful, thoughtful coverage within the hour.”
8. Include everything that’s needed in your email.
Keep in mind that reporters are BUSY. Make it easy by including everything they might need in your initial email.
Be sure to do the legwork before any announcement by gathering visuals, customer references and data, so you can link to those – and check the spokesperson's availability to ensure that you can offer an interview if the reporter wants one.
It’s never a good look when you send out news, a reporter agrees to do the story, asks to speak with an executive – and that’s when you find out they are on a three-week vacation and can’t be reached.
Take the time to ensure you have all the bases covered before you send out any news or pitches.
“Provide everything a reporter might need in your original note with the press release,” Kaye advises. “If you have visual assets, hyperlink them in a shared folder. If you have an executive available for interviews, tell them. Think about every question the reporter might have and answer it before they have to ask it.
9. Do your research.
Before you pitch, be sure you’re pitching a reporter that’s a fit. That means using a media database to research them – or going to their Twitter profile to see what they cover (and following them while you’re there).
Read at least a few of their stories. Understand their audience and their beat. This can never be over-emphasized. Time and again, reporters cite this as a top reason they become frustrated with public relations practitioners.
“First and foremost, make sure the recipient is the right person,” says Kristi Waterworth, a journalist who writes for publications including The Motley Fool and U.S. News. “I got one today, and I can assure you it was a waste of my time.”
10. Visuals matter.
Not only will visuals increase the odds of a journalist picking up your news (through press release distribution and pitching), but making it easy to access the visuals can save them time.
Often, there are no visuals included with a pitch, the visuals are low resolution, or – gasp – stock photos have been used.
“If you’re sending a news release, I’m assuming it’s an issue that is very timely and relevant to a larger than average number of reporters, so easy-to-access photos can speed things up for those pressed for time,” says Christy Delafield, a communications professional.
11. Write the pitch in the same tone as the publications you’re pitching.
Matching the tone of the publication you’re pitching can help increase the chances that a journalist will take an interest in your news.
“Use the same format and tone of voice as the publishers you’re pitching,” says Domenica D’Ottavio, Director of Digital PR at Fractl.
12. Paint a picture.
If you can tell a story – not just pitch a product or service – that can go a long way toward earning a journalist’s attention.
“Pitch a story, not a product--even if it’s the story behind the product,” says freelance writer Ashley Cummings.
“Pitch the story or angle, not a specific person or product,” says Mary Ellen Slayter, founder of Managing Editor magazine.
And if you can make it timely, all the better.
“Context is everything; paint a picture for a journalist as to why this matters now,” says Heather Hansen, a public relations professional.
Newsjacking, when done well, can be an effective technique to secure media coverage. If you decide to use this approach, don’t be insensitive.
For example, I once received a newsjacking pitch the day after Kobe Bryant lost his life in a helicopter crash. That type of thoughtless behavior will only burn bridges.
13. Build a relationship.
Even before you pitch your press release to a journalist, it helps if you’ve established at least a baseline relationship. This can help your email stand out. They may be more likely to read it and reply.
“I’ve found the most success in pitching when I show the reporter that myself and my company can be a resource for them before I ever send a pitch,” says Rachael Hensley, a communications pro at Shippo. “Build the relationship. Show your value. Be a human. Then pitch – and only when it’s truly relevant.”
14. Proof your pitch.
This may go without saying, but often, journalists complain that pitches they receive are riddled with errors. This should be an easy fix, as you can proof the pitch, use a tool like Grammarly to help you catch any errors, then reread it – aloud, if possible.
Be especially careful to check any numbers you’ve included. It’s easy to transpose them, leaving incorrect information (like phone numbers or addresses) in your pitch.
“Check ALL of your facts, beyond spelling. Hyperlinks included - do they go to the correct page? Check names of quoted people and their job titles and especially the contact details for the PR representative,” says Victoria Gibson, a freelance journalist who writes for France Magazine and others.
15. Keep it brief – and get to the point.
As journalists struggle to keep up with the deluge of pitches they receive, help yours stand out by getting right to the point. Why are you contacting them? Why should they care?
“Get to the point fast — if I don’t understand what you’re pitching in the first two sentences, I’ll move on,” says Arun Kristian Das, a producer at Fox 5 in New York.
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