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Tell Your Story Like You Speak, Keep Pitching, and Earn Media Coverage

July 24 2018

PR success is really pretty simple. I did not say “easy”… because most people don’t commit to the discipline. Below we quickly cover these elements which lead to PR success:

  • Make your news a story
  • Tell your story simply and naturally
  • Keep trying, learning each time
  • Accept that media coverage is most likely to come when you’ve earned it

“Telling Your Story” Is the Real Trick to Small Business PR

How many times have you clicked the “About” page on a website, only to read the few short paragraphs there and then promptly forget them? Most small business descriptions include information like who the founders were, when and where the business started, and perhaps a few sentences about the company’s mission and vision. Yawn. The real trick to small business public relations is to tell your business story just like well… a story. Here’s how:

1.   Narrow it Down – You work in your business day to day, so chances are you don’t always see the forest for the trees. But take some time to look for that forest. What is the “theme” of your business story? Try to narrow it down to one sentence and then extrapolate from there.

2.   Plot it Out – A paragraph detailing our business history has no plot, but a small business story does. Determine the chronology of your business story before writing it. Did your business start when you got laid off? Or maybe it really started when you opened that first lemonade stand at age six.

3.   Use Tried and True Storytelling Techniques – Establish a clear beginning middle and end, use details to “show” your story and not “tell” it, and build suspense to keep the reader scrolling down or flipping pages. You want your business story to be an actual narrative, not just a list of dry facts.

4.   Be the Protagonist – The best stories are built on conflict. Identify the challenges you had to overcome (i.e. the antagonists in your business story) and make sure the audience sees how you overcame those challenges.

5.   Be Personable – Remember sitting on grandma’s knee listening to a story? You didn’t want her to sound like an encyclopedia, so don’t fall into the formality trap when telling your business story. Instead, communicate your story as if you were telling it to close friends.

6.   Know Your Audience – But which close friends? This is why it helps to know your target audience. The language, idioms, and examples you use in your business story will likely vary depending on whether you’re writing for million dollar home buyers or Kindergarten teachers.

7.   Add Images, Audio and Video – How many times have you read a story and wondered, “Hmm… I wonder what she looks like?” Satisfy your readers’ curiosity by adding images, audio, video or any other relevant multimedia to your business story.

Don’t throw a list of facts at your target customers. Instead, engage their imaginations with your small business story.

Simple Advice: Write Like You Speak, Reporters Will Listen

The average person doesn’t speak in sound bites. The average person doesn’t use annoying jargon like “over the wall”, “out of pocket”, and “synergize.” And the average person doesn’t constantly pepper in superlatives like “leading”, “best of breed”, “top of its class.”

Yet, these are all things we see in well over 90% of all press releases. It’s like the people writing the press releases suddenly forgot how to speak plain English, and instead decided to write a legal document so confusing nobody can understand it.

Relax!

Press releases don’t have to be complicated. Yes, they need to be well-written, but well-written does not mean complicated and wordy. To me, a well-written press release (or anything else for that matter) is one that clearly communicates the message in a way the intended audience can easily understand. It’s all about making a connection with the reader. It’s that simple.

So why do people insist on making press releases so complicated?

My best guess is they think that adding jargon and unnecessary words makes their news sound more important. Let me just stop you right there. IT DOESN’T. In fact, it makes your story worse. It obscures and confuses your main message, and it makes your press release blend in with all the other garbage reporters are being bombarded with all day long. And what’s worse, it prevents you from making a good connection with the reader.

Remember, the average news story is written at about an 8th grade level. And since you’re pitching news, doesn’t it make sense to follow the pattern set by the publications you’re targeting?

What’s the solution? It’s pretty easy really. Just write like you speak. Pretend you’re talking to the reporter (or whoever the intended audience is) at a bar. Use everyday words and phrases, and focus on telling a story. That’s what regular people do. They tell stories. They don’t speak in this absurd language that’s so prevalent in today’s press releases.

Here’s a good exercise. Read your press release aloud or have someone else do it for you. Pay attention to words and phrases that just don’t sound natural. Focus on creating a press release that flows and has almost a conversational feel to it. There’s nothing wrong with having personality and a distinct voice in your press releases. I promise you a press release that sounds like an actual human being will get better results than one that reads like the fine print on your home loan papers.

As a general rule, you can easily eliminate 1/3 of the words in the typical press release. Start with the jargon, move on to the superlatives, and end with anything that just sounds unnatural. I bet that when you’re done you’ll have a clearer, tighter press release that sounds the way you speak.

Every Pitch is a Learning Experience

With today’s journalist shouldering more responsibility than ever before, it’s essential that you master the art of pitching stories. Your pitches must immediately grab the attention of the targeted journalist if you want to get noticed and get coverage.

You will make mistakes,learn from themOf course, not every pitch is going to be successful. Truth is that a lot of your pitches are going to be met with radio silence. And that’s okay. It’s inevitable. However, that doesn’t mean you wasted your time crafting what you hoped was the perfect pitch. Even if you don’t get any bites, it’s important to remember that every pitch should be a learning experience.

Here’s what I mean. Over time, you’re going to be pitching dozens and dozens of stories to just as many reporters and bloggers. Some of those pitches will get responses; some won’t. The key is to analyze every pitch to try to identify what’s working and what’s not.

For example, if you send out a pitch and it gets a good response, take note of all the different characteristics of your pitch to try to pinpoint why it worked. For example:

  • What channel did you use to pitch the reporter? Email? Social media? Phone?
  • If you emailed the reporter, what was your subject line? What was it about your subject line that made it attention-grabbing and click-worthy? Find ways to incorporate those elements into the subject lines of future pitches.
  • When did you send the pitch? Sometimes, it’s all a matter of good timing. Remember, reporters are often up against tight deadlines. Getting your pitch in at the right time could make all the difference.
  • What type of story did you pitch? There are so many different kinds of stories you could pitch. From company milestones to results of a sponsored study to human interest stories, there are countless angles to pursue. The key is to take note of which stories get you coverage and which don’t attract attention.

Simply put, there are many different elements involved in every pitch. Over time, it should start to become clear what works and what doesn’t work. Study your pitches carefully so you can get better with every one you send.

Earning Media Coverage Always Beats Wanting Media Coverage

The big difference between people who get media coverage and those who don’t is that those who do have something to say that others (their target audience) are interested in. There is a very common tendency – we all suffer from it – to assume that if we’re interested and excited about what we have to say, others will certainly be too. Well, sometimes they’re not.

Man Reading NewspaperFor business people, consultants and entrepreneurs it can be very difficult to step outside what you have to offer, and know so well, to critically consider whether anybody else is likely to be interested. The key is to take an “outside in” perspective. If you were just Chris Consumer would you think what you have to say is interesting?

A couple quick – and common – examples may help illustrate:

  • The company that receives an award and wants to get media coverage. The award may be very important to the company (inside out thinking), but is highly unlikely to interest anyone not involved with the company unless there’s something in it for them. And usually there’s not. You may be able to interest your local media in a brief mention, but you’re not likely to land a feature story and you’re certainly not going to see your name in the Wall Street Journal.
  • The company that is introducing a new product. Again, obviously very important to you (hopefully important to some specific target market you serve), but often not likely to be that interesting to the masses.

As always, there are some exceptions and those exceptions can be important and fruitful for you. Suppose the award you received comes with a large grant of some sort that is going to allow you to add jobs to stimulate the local economy – or cut costs and consequently pricing for your product or service. Or, suppose that your new product really is the equivalent of a better mousetrap – something that will have a significant and widespread positive impact on the masses.

Having an outside, third-party perspective to help you critically consider whether you really have a newsworthy message, or just a self-serving advertisement, can be helpful.

But, you can take an outside in perspective yourself by simply being brutally honest and obsessively skeptical about the likelihood that anyone will be interested. You will be basically playing devil’s advocate with yourself and then trying to convince yourself why what you have to say is valuable from the outside in.

And then, putting yourself in the position of the audience you hope to interest/reach (not the reporter or the journalists, but the media consumer), keep asking and answering the question:

“Why should I care?”

As you go through this internal monologue, jot down the responses that seem most likely to resonate with “the outsiders.”

But, if you find this outside in approach simply too difficult to do (you are, after all, an insider), give us a call. We can help.

Tell me about your experiences with telling stories in you pitches in the comments!

This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (https://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. Download a free copy of the PR Checklist – a 24 point list of Press Release Dos and Don’ts here: https://www.ereleases.com/free-offer/pr-checklist/

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