Often when I’m up on stage teaching small business owners how to do their own PR, I’ll ask a simple question: “Why should the press cover you right now?”
Hands shoot up.
“Because we have this awesome innovative new product!”
“We just opened a second location!”
“My book is coming out!”
“Our company’s going public.”
I shake my head. Because after more than twenty years of attending morning news meetings where senior producers, editors and news directors choose which stories to put out to the public, I know that these are the wrong answers to the question.
You hear “why now?” and think, “well, what’s going on in my business right now that’s new or that I’m excited about?”
But that’s not what the producer actually wants to know. You see, from her perspective, the story has much less to do with you and your company than it has to do with her audience and what’s in its collective mind at any given time.
Understanding and using these three questions as a filter when you’re writing your pitch will go a long way towards getting you booked. It has worked for hundreds of entrepreneurs and has landed them coverage in media ranging from local press to outlets like Inc., Forbes, Entrepreneur, The New York Times, CBC, BBC and The Guardian.
Question 1. Why is this relevant?
More than anything else, you need to prove to the reporter that his or her audience is interested and passionate about your topic. Notice I said topic, not product or service. They’re not always mutually exclusive of course, but too often, entrepreneurs go in focused on their product or process (in the case of a service) and the pitch will be filled with descriptions of the bells and whistles. That’s going to get deleted.
Instead, focus on the audience’s pain points or aspirations. Share tips and strategies — and yes, maybe use their pain as the “why” for how you came to design your product. In other words, make the story about them rather than you.
For example, if you’re a gastroenterologist who specializes in irritable bowel syndrome and you’re pitching a morning TV show producer, include a link to a reputable study that proves that IBS is a fast-growing epidemic. You might hammer this home even further by sharing the fact that 60 per cent of IBS sufferers are women (the key demographic for morning TV shows).
Too often I see small business owners miss an opportunity for press when they don’t make the relevance of their story crystal clear. What may be blindingly obvious to you, because you’re immersed in your field every day, might be totally unknown to the producer who is going to make that booking decision.
Question 2: Why now?
Too many entrepreneurs and experts make the mistake of assuming that their product or service can make for an interesting story, just because it can be useful throughout the whole year. That’s not the case.
So much of our lives are on repeat. As much as 80 per cent of the stories a journalist will cover in a given year are related to those cyclical happenings — like the seasons, holidays, annual events and awareness days. Do a producer a favour and pitch them a fresh, curiosity-inspiring way to tell a tired story. That will allow them to tie into the cyclical news cycle, but now with a breath of fresh air.
Here are some questions they’ll need answers to:
- Why is this story of interest right now?
- Why is it newsworthy?
- Is it based on an emerging trend?
- Does it speak to a breaking news story?
- Is there a celebrity whose actions call this expertise to the fore?
- Is there an awareness day or Hallmark holiday around this theme right now?
Here’s an example.
A breaking story is revealed about a celebrity couple getting a high profile divorce. Mass media covers the story and it’s the talk around the water cooler. This opens the door to for a dating coach or marriage counselor to step forward and share tips on how to avoid the same disaster at home.
Similarly, Miriam Pearl followed this strategy for her Quebec-based business. As founder of Delicious Without Gluten, Miriam pitched the topic of “How to make easy gluten-free cake pops” to coincide with Valentine’s Day. That pitch landed herself her own column on the local morning TV show.
The idea is to go where an audience’s attention already is. Folks will already be talking about breaking news stories or the upcoming holidays around the water cooler and kitchen table, so it’s less of an obstacle to capture their interest. Producers are under pressure to find fresh and interesting ways to join these conversations, and by hooking your message to an existing “why now,” you’ve answered their most pressing issue.
This is exactly the strategy that body language expert Patricia Townsend used to generate a huge amount of press for her company during the 2016 Trump-Clinton election. She successfully pitched the topic of “How to know what your candidate is really thinking,” and did segment after segment on TV programs, decoding their gestures, posture and facial expressions for the public at home.
Question 3. Why me?
Now (and only now) that the media professional you’ve pitched has fallen in love with your story idea, he or she will want to know what makes you a credible source. Now, here’s where too many wannabe media magnets drop the ball and blurt out their entire school, university and employment history.
You’ll want to keep your bio short, human and if possible, humorous. Your bio is a chance for you to reveal your signature style — in addition to the rest of your pitch, of course. So, make sure it does just that, and that it touches on these main areas:
- Your aspirations and goals as a human being
- Your experience, education and credentials
- Your unique quirks and the softer side of your personality
If you need help writing your bio, here’s a free template that will get you started.
By answering these three crucial questions the right way and in the right order, you’ve done much of the heavy lifting. Now, you’ll be able to stand out in a journalist’s crowded inbox and scale your exposure without having to build the audience from scratch.