Getting Your Message Across
Michael O. Schwager
[condensed from Chemical Engineering Magazine]
Though this article was written as an aide to
help companies and organizations deal more effectively
with print editors and reporters, much of this
information may apply as well to radio and television
producers and editors]
You have a story to tell.
Your company has developed a revolutionary new
product, or an improved version of one that
is known and respected in the marketplace. Most
companies are media-savvy enough to take a proactive
approach to publicity. Yet there are many firms
that instead sit on a new development, waiting
for the press to come to them because they are
unsure of how to "break the news."
The vehicle for the announcement
is critical. One should avoid the "shot-gun"
approach to publicity. In most cases, a technique
referred to as "editorial cultivation" works.
Determine the appropriate initial outlet - a
magazine or newspaper, for instance - and approach
that venue with your story. Once the story breaks
via your primary media choice, other vehicles
can, and usually will follow.
There is nothing wrong
with the standard news release, except that
most are written without first contacting the
appropriate editor at the preferred publication.
The first hurdle is deciding who to contact.
Finding your target audience
Establish your subject
and audience. Once you have done so, the job
becomes a matter of prioritizing the several
most important print outlets for your story.
If you already know your audience's preferred
industry publication, put it on the top of your
list. For backups, refer to a directory like
Bacon's Magazine Directory, The
Ayer Directory of Publications, or Ulrich's
International Periodicals Directory, all
of which provide names of the leading magazines
and journals listed under each industry. For
each specific magazine, in addition to circulation
figures, these sources list the outlet's primary
editorial contacts, including addresses, phone
numbers and e-mail addresses.
Weigh the impact, immediacy
and relevance of your story. In some cases,
your news may have an impact on a wider marketplace
and editorial audience than the sphere of influence
of a trade magazine. Examples would be a merger,
an acquisition or an initial public offering.
Such news must be immediately disseminated.
The best avenues may be: a national newspaper
such as The New York Times, Wall
Street Journal or USA Today; a
national wire service, such as The Associated
Press or Reuters; a business wire
such as Dow Jones or Bloomberg; a business
magazine like Business Week or Industry
Week; or even a national news magazine
such as Time, Newsweek or
U.S. News & World Report.
A number of Internet resources
through which breaking news can be disseminated
quickly are the PR
Newswire and Businesswire.
PR Newswire and Businesswire will carry a story
over their wires and on the Internet for a fee
paid by the source. Newswires provide the "insurance
policy" that a story will definitely get out.
Even if the article is printed in a newspaper
or magazine, the newswire provides a good secondary
backup for the dissemination, and the article
will appear exactly as it has been provided
to these outlets.
News releases, especially
informative, well-written and succinct ones,
are the sources of the majority of ideas and
leads for a trade magazine editor. The news
releases should be written in what is called
the "inverted pyramid" style, with the "fattest",
most pertinent facts on top, and the less salient
facts further down. The headline should capture
the essence of the story, and the subheadings
should clarify the impact.
For a technical news article,
details are vital. Keep them as clear as possible;
and translate technical jargon and "buzzwords"
specific to a certain segment of the industry
you are targeting, into terms that even a lay
person can understand.
Reach out and touch someone
For trade magazines and
national news magazines alike, the initial phone
call - or "cold call" - must be well-planned.
Develop a pitch, or verbal presentation, that
informs the editor of the significance of the
story, and its relevance to his or her outlet.
Keep your pitch short, succinct and newsworthy.
Just as you would write a news release with
the "fattest" or most pertinent facts on top,
organize your verbal pitch to give the most
important and interesting details right at the
One thing I do
for all of my pitching is to capture in my mind
the "essence," "vision" and "overview" of the
story, especially in the context of the news
of the day and the aspect of the story that
may be "evolutionary" or "revolutionary" in
the context of historical perspective.
Try to keep the tone conversational.
Communicate your story in a clear, concise,
yet enthusiastic fashion. Point to the relevance
and impact of your story on the editor's readership,
as well as to what is new and unusual about
its content. If the editor "bites," or at least
seems interested, offer it as a first-exclusive
if this particular media outlet is a prominent
one and important to your organization. In all
cases, be prepared to e-mail or fax the information,
and send photos, technical illustrations or
diagrams to visually describe technical information.
Schedule interviews between the editor and your
spokesperson if this is requested, or if it's
important to your organization to get its representative
Try to avoid voicemail,
unless you have honed the pitch to a point where
it is brief, clearly worded and convincing.
Voicemail is a notorious playing field for "phone
tag" and does not allow you to ask follow-up
questions or to gauge the editor's response,
thereby fine-tuning your own approach. Voicemail
is also used by some journalists as a method
to "screen out" calls. Leaving a voicemail message
supplemented and elucidated by an e-mail message
does make sense, and in my experience e-mail
often works, particularly after a live conversation
has occurred (no matter how brief) or voicemail
message has been left. After an initial communication,
whether by voice and/or e-mail, follow-up in
a day or two if you've not yet heard back from
Etiquette and other matters
If you reach the editor live, and you discover
he or she is near deadline, immediately indicate
that you'll return the call later. Better yet,
learn in advance when that magazine's deadline
is occurring, and avoid reaching the editor
at that time. If you do call at a good time,
be personable, keep your pitch brief and relevant.
Know your story.
Keep your enthusiasm high (but stay centered),
and make sure you understand the story thoroughly.
Confidence in the importance and viability of
the story always communicates over the phone.
Be warm, polite, professional and clear. If
the editor is in a bad mood, be astute enough
to know that you are not the cause.
If the news is very important
to the company, the person entrusted with the
call should be someone who has public relations
or prior journalistic experience. It is prudent
for a professional communicator to initiate
the approach and deal with the editor as the
primary contact. If the editor requires someone
with technical expertise and in-depth knowledge
of the technology, an expert's name and contact
information should be provided for a follow-up
interview. Media relations representatives should
always lead the editor back to themselves as
the primary contact. And, this is important:
as the media relations rep, remember in very
"hot" news stories with short deadlines to get
out of the editor's way once you've "pitched"
and "sold" the story. After that, see yourself
as an "assistant" in helping the editor get
the facts and the interviews, end of story.
Don't try to manipulate the story or get in
the editor's way, in any way. You'll be respected
for that, and will be able to come back to that
person in good graces in the future.
On some occasions, the
reporter or editor may wish to speak to the
chief executive officer (CEO). If this happens,
know in advance if the CEO is available for
an interview. If so, make sure that he or she
is prepared, as some CEOs may not be seasoned
spokespersons. In this case, a conference call
could be arranged between the CEO, p.r. representative
and the editor.
Listen to the
editor. Whether you initiate a
cold call, speak to an editor calling in response
to an e-mail message, or receive a cold call
from an editor who is querying about a story
or lead obtained through the newswire, it is
as important to listen as it is to talk. Be
sensitive to any verbal feedback, cues or clues
that can assist you in fine-tuning your response.
Respect the "no" and be
prepared for it. After an initial rejection,
ask quick, important questions: "What is it
about this story that doesn't seem right for
you? Is there any way this story can be adapted
to better suit your needs?" Suggest changes.
Best of all, prepare three to five different
angles in advance, as this reduces chances for
What may be appropriate
for one editor may not be appropriate for another.
Before concluding a conversation, ask if the
news might be more appropriate for someone else
with a different beat, or in a different section
of the magazine. If referred to a new person,
introduce yourself by way of that referral.
If you have exhausted all your angles to a story,
thank the editor for his or her time and release
yourself from this connection. Sour the contact,
and it will be difficult, if not impossible,
to maintain a credible relationship in the future.
Cultivate your contacts.
Whenever feasible, try to meet the editors and
reporters who are important to you. Offer to
take them out to lunch, but do not be insulted
if they decline. The better you get to know
the journalist on a one-to-one basis, the better
your chances of winning a receptive ear.
Do not be discouraged by
the rejection of a story idea. If is far more
important to keep the channels of communication
open. Record the vital information about your
journalistic contact in a Rolodex or software
address book, such as Sharkware. Also, supply
your most important contacts with your home
phone number and/or cell phone number, signaling
them that you can be reached after business
hours. This practice communicates professionalism
and reinforces your reputation as someone who
goes "beyond the call of duty" to meet editorial
punch. If your company is one
of the fortunate few whose news is printed in
a national publication, the story automatically
becomes a prime candidate for the leading magazines
within your industry, as well as for generic
print and broadcast media. Remember, too, that
broadcast often follows print (especially if
you've placed a major wire service story or
placed a story in a USA Today or Time Magazine).
When working with the media,
remember to do your homework, hone your pitch
and maintain a positive attitude.
THE PUBLIC RELATIONS CHECKLIST
- News releases should be double-spaced. Include
the media contact's name, phone number and
e-mail, as well as the date and location from
which the story originates.
- If a new product is being announced, include
all operating parameters. Clearly described
how the product works and how it differs from
what currently exists in the marketplace.
Do this by quantifying the benefits and advantages
of this product and comparing it with competing
technologies. Stress the user or customer
benefits, and explain tangible results.
- Avoid terms such as cheaper, more efficient,
fastest, unique and revolutionary without
providing parameters by which these benefits
can be measured.
- Products or other news leads should tie
in with current trends or larger-scope news
- Do not use acronyms without spelling them
out, or buzz words without explaining them
for the layman.
- For financial news releases, focus more
on how the takeover, merger or acquisition
will impact the reader or the marketplace,
as opposed to the details about money and
- Provide quotes from executives who can comment
on both technical and market information.
And always go to the bottom of the line in
- Use photos, charts, graphs or tables, with
captions and information, to elaborate upon
your story, especially if this is a new trend.
- Ask the journalist what he or she will require
to make the interview successful.