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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Be Your Own Reporter

One of the most frustrating obstacles most small businesses and non-profits run into early on in their public relations efforts is a lack of success when pitching their stories.  This is to be expected.  We all want instant gratification, and we want it NOW! 

Even if you follow every tip and bit of advice from this blog, or any other expert, there's no guarantee that your pitch will get picked up by a news outlet.  Sometimes, you just get unlucky.  I remember pitching a story I really thought was a "slam dunk," a story too perfect to not be picked up by reporters, producers and editors.  However, after three straight days of sending emails and follow up phone calls, I was getting nowhere. 

Annoyed, I ran it past a few of my producer and reporter friends locally.  I wanted to see if there were flaws in my pitch.  I sent them the emails, I walked them through the follow up and each one of them said it was a great story.  Had it been local, they would have picked it up.  For some reason, the news outlets in the cities I was pitching just didn't seem interested.  Or so I thought.  I kept pitching as three days turned into four and then into five, all the way up to a week.  Then, just as I was about to give up, the phone calls began to roll in. 

It just took a little time for them to take notice, which happens sometimes.  The story was good, but as it turns out, the region I was pitching to was going through a unusually busy news cycle and they just hadn't had time to really look at my pitches.  I couldn't help the timing, as the event I was pitching was taking place at a time that happened to coincide with the odd news cycle.

I learned a great lesson on that pitch, namely, sometimes you have to write your own story, be your own reporter.  Fortunately, with the technology we have at our fingertips today, that's easier to do than ever before.

You Are the News!

As I've pointed out in previous entries, writing full press releases has slowly gone out of fashion in recent years.  Most of my pitches are simple emails personally addressed to individual reporters, producers and editors.  The exception is when I'm pitching a specific event, in which case, I will normally put together a media alert, detailing the who, what, when, where and why of the event.  It's a simple format, easy to read and gets all the information out very quickly. 

But what if you're not pitching an event, but a deeper story?  Making your regular pitch is still necessary, but there is another outlet you can utilize that is too often overlooked by small businesses and non-profits; writing your own article.

This isn't like writing a term paper or a report.  This is a genuine news article, a feature article, to be printed in newspapers and online.  Let's take this one step at a time and walk through the process that, hopefully, should guarantee you some media coverage.

The Article:

This process doesn't have to take very long, as you're not writing a novel.  In fact, the shorter the better.  Three paragraphs is really as long as you want to make your article, particularly for print outlets.  You can make it longer for online outlets, but even then, shorter is better.

First, when writing your article, you have to remember the important aspects of a feature news article.

1.  Character
2.  Message
3.  Who, what, where, when, why and how

Also remember, the who, what, when and where should take up as little space as possible, because the why and how are really the most important and interesting aspects of your story, plus that's where you're going to be able to tell your message most effectively.

For examples of some articles that reflect the kind of content and length you should strive for, go to www.cgcommunicationsonline.com.  This is the kind of article you can write in an hour, maybe two.  If you don't feel comfortable writing the article, ask someone you trust to write it for you.  Include quotes, either from yourself or from the primary character.  Also include photos as visuals will also help sell the story. 

Don't worry about the "inverted pyramid" style of news writing.  It doesn't matter here.  Just write an interesting article that you think will grab the attention of readers.  Just like everything else you write for your PR and social media efforts, you want to remember to make your article interesting or helpful, both if possible.  Finally, make sure to have someone proofread it for grammar and typos.  You don't want to send out an article that is littered with mistakes.  It distracts from the content and reflects poorly on your organization.

Article Written, Now What?

So now you've written the article.  What do you do with it now?  This is where technology comes into play.  There are a number of new outlets you can send your article to that not only want your story, but need it.  Here's a list of places you should be sending articles to regularly:

1.  MyHub.com (nearly every city has this, or something like it.  Use it)
2.  Blogs
3.  E-Zines
4.  Group boards (i.e. Meetup, message boards for groups you belong to, etc.)
5. Small neighborhood papers

I know, you're looking at these going, "But Chris, these aren't newspapers, or television stations, what's up with that?"  Well, hold on just a second.  All of these outlets are part of a wave of news outlets specifically catering to what we call citizen journalists.  MyHub is one of the major outlets designed to help local citizens tell their stories.  Because of cutbacks, newspapers around the country can't cover the volume of stories they used to, or would like to.  MyHub was created to help catch the stories that, in days past would have been covered, but today fall through the cracks.

All the stories in MyHub are written by local residents, folks just like you, with small business and working in non-profits.  MyHub wants your story, it was created to allow you to tell your stories.  The first stop for your article should be on the desk of your local MyHub editor.

Blogs are another wonderful outlet for your article.  Unlike, MyHub, though, bloggers aren't as open to outside material as we would like.  However, if you send your article to a blog that specifically relates to your organization or your story, you might find some success.  A well written article with tips and useful information, will attract the attention of a blogger who might be able to use it.  The blogger may end up using you as a guest writer/blogger.  A nice letter to the owner of the blog, explaining what the article is about and why it would be a good addition to the blog will go a long way to getting it published in a blog.

Local small newspapers, like the big boys, are struggling in today's economy.  They have even fewer resources, so well written articles that they can just plug into their format helps them immensly.  Again, a well-written letter to the editor of the small paper, much like your pitch, will hopefully persuade them to publish it in a future edition.

E-zines are simply online magazines, and like all other outlets, are in constant need of content.  Follow the same rules as with the blogs and small papers, and you could find your article in an E-zine, available to millions of people worldwide.

Group boards are a perfect place for your article, as you can often control the content of what you put in.  There are often notice boards, tips boards, helpful hints boards, any number of places on group boards that you can probably post your article.

In the end, there are a number of outlets where you can post your story.  Even other websites that are, again, closely associated with your organization's goals and philosphy.  Make sure to add in a short "about the author" note either at the end of your article, or in your initial letter so people will understand your qualifications and understand why you're an expert in your field.

As with everything involved with PR and social media, nothing is guaranteed, you won't get your article posted everywhere you send it, but you'll likely have a higher success rate than with your more traditional pitches, particularly early on.  Also remember to post your article on your own website and blog and on your other social media platforms.

Remember, YOU are the journalist of your own story.  Now get out there and start reporting!

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