National Capital Chapter

‘They chew gum, don’t they?’

To get the word out with media relations pieces, Think Like a Reporter

By Ann Wylie, president, Wylie Communications

Famous story about a PR pitch gone bad: A PR pro at Warner-Lambert Company calls an editor at Inc. magazine. When, she asks, is Inc. going to run that story she pitched on W-L’s new flavor of Trident gum?

The editor explains that Inc. is a magazine for entrepreneurs and that every story the magazine runs is designed to help its readers build their businesses. Given that, the editor asks the PR pro, why would our readers be interested in a story about Trident?

The PR pro replies: “They chew gum, don’t they?”

With pitches like these, it’s no wonder journalists’ biggest pet peeves are releases that aren’t relevant to the audiences they serve, according to a survey by Greentarget.

So how can we write relevant releases?

1. Write about the reader.

A few years ago, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did a study to learn who or what was most important to readers.

Get the word out with media relations
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“Their answer was in some ways surprising. Many did not say their families, children or God,” writes Dick Weiss, former writer and editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Instead, their answer was: ‘Me.’”

If that’s what reporters’ readers care about, that’s what reporters care about too.

“What I really like about a [release],” a trade journal editor told Public Relations Tactics, “is when it scratches my reader’s itch and not your client’s itch.”

So write about the reader. Not about “us and our stuff.”

Learn more about writing for the reader.

2. Offer value-added service stories.

More than half of business-to-business editors surveyed seek more feature releases, according to a study by Thomas Rankin Associates. Those include value-added stories like case studies and how-to stories.

Greentarget learned the same thing in its study: Journalists find releases that contain thought leadership — surveys, tipsheets, case studies, etc. — most valuable.

As Bruce Upbin, senior editor at Forbes, counsels: “Present the key element … that explains how your story can benefit Forbes readers.”

Learn more about writing tipsheets.

That’s write about the reader.

And yet, PR pros persist in writing about themselves.

“I recently got a message from a reporter working at a small local paper who received 80 press releases in one day,” writes digital communications strategist Jeremy Porter, “of which only two were relevant to the information his paper covers.”

Keep doing this, and we’ll be as successful as Warner-Lambert with its Inc. pitch.

Even if they do chew gum.

About the Author
Ann Wylie works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. Learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services. Get more writing tips when you subscribe to Ann’s free ezine.