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Susan Dickenson

Polish your press writing skills: The pitch and release

June 12, 2013

WHETHER YOU'RE A RETAILER announcing a store opening or a vendor announcing a market event, knowing the difference between a press release and a pitch, when to use them, and how to write them increases your chances for publication and media coverage.

My news-writing experience dates back to the 1970s when I was editor in chief of my junior high and high school newspapers. That's where I learned to write in a "who-what-where-when-how" inverted pyramid format, with the Inverted Pyramid, Wikipediamost important stuff written in the first couple of sentences and the less important at the end. In those days, we waxed the backs of the typeset columns of text to make it easier to place and move them into position on the dummy pages. If a column or article was too long, you'd take your Exacto knife and trim it from the bottom up, since those final sentences weren't expected to be as key to the story.

It's a format that still works because it makes it easy on deadline-driven editors. In the weeks leading up to the major markets, our small staff receives a huge amount of press releases and announcements about new exhibitors, showroom expansions, new product collections and market events and promotions. We need and welcome those announcements as they guide our market coverage and make up the bulk of the text in our dailies. However, some require a lot more editing than others. And when it gets close to deadline and we're trying to squeeze in a dozen more stories, I can tell you that those that don't need as much editing will get picked up before (and trimmed less) than those that do.

THE PRESS RELEASE

So, when it comes to writing a press release, here are a few tips:

-Follow the layout shown here: samplepressrelease.info/sampleformat.htm. The grammar isn't great, but it's a good template.

-Make sure you have a solid news angle. A release that does nothing but talk in general terms about your store, business or design talent is not news. A release that talks about your store or business having a fund-raiser for Habitat for Humanity, or celebrating 25 years of operation, or hosting a trunk show/party with the designer, or launching the biggest collection of rugs you've ever launched is news.

-Give us the most important details (who, what, where, when, how) first. Assume space is tight and that your press release might have to be Exacto-knifed from the bottom up. Put the less important info in the final paragraphs.

-Optimize your headline for SEO. Use good target keywords and company names and write the headline in the present tense, like this: "Acme Home Goods announces Habitat for Humanity fundraiser."

-Flattery will get you nowhere, unless it is included in a quote from a relevant source. Here's a tip - instead of: "Acme Lighting is introducing the most beautiful collection of ceramic lamps that the world has ever known at the country's most influential market," try: "Acme Lighting is introducing 55 new ceramic lamps this market. ‘I think this may be our most beautiful collection to date,' said Wile E. Coyote, Acme's president and CEO."

-Make sure the text of the press release is an attachment that can be copied and pasted. I'm always surprised when we receive beautiful press releases that are formatted as a jpg or in some unbreakable block of text that requires a complete retyping.

-Include a photo or two. If it's included in the email with the release or a link is provided to a downloadable image, we'll try to fit it in somewhere. If we have to write back or call someone to request an image, we probably won't.

THE PITCH

A pitch does not a press release make, and here's why. A press release is formatted and written so that it can be picked up and dropped right into a news medium with little editing. A pitch is more of an informal letter or email written directly to an editor to suggest a story idea or expert source. If the editor is interested, she'll write back immediately for more information or save the letter for future reference and follow-up.

TarynTaryn Scher Scher is an example of a great pitcher. Scher is president of TK PR, a boutique lifestyle public relations firm whose clients have been seen on The Today Show, Fox and Friends, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and in several national consumer magazines. 

Taryn pitched her services as a good PR source to me at about the same time I was writing this column, and she accepted my invitation to share some of her tips:

-Know who you are pitching. The best thing you can do is familiarize yourself with the publications or TV programs you are trying to pitch. As a basic rule of thumb, they're only going to cover topics that are relevant to their content. Don't waste your time reaching out to publications that are too much of a stretch. Go for the obvious choices.

-Position yourself as an expert in your industry. You are an expert in everything design and décor. You want to be the go-to interviewee when your area of expertise is on the discussion board. Contact your local TV stations and newspapers and send them your bio/areas of expertise.

-Don't try to sell the media. You aren't trying to get them to buy your product or service, you simply want to inform them about why it's better or different than what's already out thtsere. Avoid flashy buzz words and stick to the facts. If your product or service is exceptional, they'll see that.

-Pay attention to the news. Leading up to William and Kate's wedding, everything British was hot and topics from what Kate wore, to what she might purchase for the new palace digs, to "possible honeymoon destinations for royalty" were opportunities to pitch the media.

-Make something newsworthy. Did you know April is National Decorating Month? Start planning now for ways you can work with your local television stations on creative home design segments for next April.

-Keep it concise. If you can't sum up what you're trying to say in three or four sentences, you are going to lose the reporter's interest. If they're interested or see a possible future fit, they'll follow up.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

For more of Scher's advice, visit her website at tkpublicrelations.com.

If you'd like to explore writing for the press in depth, visit PR Newswire's site for small businesses at smallbusinesspr.com.

To build or expand your list of media organizations, usnpl.com and newslink.org provide quick links to regional newspapers, television and radio stations.