Small Business PR – pitching stories to journalists

Small businesses and startups are often in the best position to pitch their PR stories to the media. But it’s important to really understand what makes journalists tick. The following seven tips will help you do just that.

28th December 2008 at 12:37 pm

If you’re going to do your own PR, and as a startup you’re often best placed to, you’ll need to understand that wily beast, the journalist.

Here are seven tips that should help you take the first steps in building a positive relationship with the ladies and gentlemen of the media.

  1. It may seem obvious, but identify which journalists are going to be interested in your business news or stories.  Like any communication press releases are far more effective, if they’re tailored to an individual.  Mass mailing journalists is only going to add to their bulging inboxes and potentially have a good story written off, rather than written about.
  2. If you don’t know the name of the journalist you should be contacting, then you’ve probably not read, listened to or watched  any of their work.  If you haven’t, why not?  You wouldn’t approach a customer without dong your research.  If you know what types of stories interest a journalist, you’re much more likely to be in a position to pitch yours successfully.
  3. As for pitching, it’s a pre-requisite for any startup and the same skills are required when you call a journalist.  Once you’ve done your research and honed your story, it’s often a good idea to call a journalist and run the story past them.  Often you’ll have little more than a minute to capture their imagination.  So brush up your elevator pitch.  Do seek feedback, you may pick up some tips on how to shape future stories.
  4. Find out what deadlines the journalist you are approaching is working to.  News journalists in particular are not going to appreciate a call from you, if they’re on deadline.
  5. If you do establish a rapport with a journalist and they are interested in your business or stories, do remember that there is no ‘off the record’ and that some journalists may use flattery, flirtation and friendliness as a ruse to extract more information than you were perhaps expecting to give.
  6. Remember, if you can make a journalist’s job easier, or give them an angle on a story that their fellow hacks haven’t got, you could well benefit.  Journalists are very stressed, very competitive, often underpaid and are fewer in number as media business models struggle.  Keep this in mind and always try to give ‘good quote’.
  7. Don’t take success or failure in pitching personally.  Ultimately if you’ve developed a good relationship with a journalist, you may get heard ahead of others, but their critical judgment on a story is likely to remain beyond influence.

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Alex is the founder and editor of SmallBizPod and BizPod Media Ltd. He is passionate about startups, small businesses and their inspiring stories. He's also a firm believer in the power of SMEs and entrepreneurs to change the world.

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  1. Indeed…lesson being don’t add to blogs, no matter how interesting the subject, late at night!

  2. SmallBizPod says:

    Spot on Louise, albeit cut off in your prime!

  3. Great advice – I couldn’t agree more with your comment re quality over quantity.

    It is really vital that small businesses master the art of PR and really get the key media (mainstream or bloggers) onside. The media’s reach and influence is huge. If small businesses saw their key media targets as an extension of their normal networking groups, and gave them as much care and attention they would achieve staggering results.

    This isn’t difficult to do – they just need to recognise what the media needs (strong interesting stories, delivered in a timely way, with reader appeal) and provide it.

    Smaller companies are well placed to do this. They are often far more interesting than their larger competitors, the media likes smaller companies and smaller players are more likely to ‘shoot from the lip’ and provide the media with comments, views and news that it can use. SMEs just need to master the basic skills and go for it.

    need to see the media in all its guises as an extension of

  4. SmallBizPod says:

    Hi Caroline

    Thanks for the comment.

    My question would be, what kind of relationship do you have with 400 bloggers? Do they cover the same subject matter in the same way?

    Sending what I’d call ‘broadcast’ press releases is common both to bloggers and to mainstream media. I still don’t think it’s the right way to go about securing positive coverage in the long run.

    My advice would be to go for quality over quantity. Get to know the people you’re pitching to. Tailor your pitch and where appropriate your press release.



  5. I know your points all make sense … but …

    some of my blog mailing lists are +400 now. I do my own press, I don’t have time to craft 400 indiv emails. The list is going to grow as I find more relevant blogs. Any tips and ideas for managing these kind of media relationships?

  6. […] Small Biz Pod An article on small business’s pitching PR stories and also an interesting […]

  7. SmallBizPod says:

    I agree 😉 But seriously you make some good points. Trust and authority online, however, are pretty much built like trust and authority in any other area of life. I think people are a lot more discerning than you give them credit!

  8. Darcy says:

    Hey SmallBizPod,

    I agree. In today’s day and age it is forward thinking people that are embracing this new collaborative model. I know many in traditional media are shaking in their boots trying to figure out a way to monetize this new model. It can be done. I guess top down communication is on the way out, perhaps replaced by horizontal communication? Yet the same things arise, pyramids of knowledge are created, thought leaders rise to the top. Rather than having a centrally planned and deployed communications campaign, they are having to get to the smart ones with enticing proposals or the ability to be early adopters or have a window into something else know one has seen. Of course people will flock to their sites… So, I don’t see things changing that much. Of course there will always be 10-15% of users that are aware of mainstream sites be they affiliated with Gawker, News Corp, Google… Any organized consortium that is motivated by a financial end will expose its position in time. What i’m really trying to get at here though is LCD: Lowest Common Denominator. Although information is being democratized and blah blah everything is so transparent, people care not to look for it, have no discernment within them, care not, acquiesce, and , for what its worth, are more than happy to be that way. The fundamental nature of man/woman is no longer self preservationist or curious, but in a sedentary pseudo sedated state, bewildered by the incredible misinformation they are delivered daily…


  9. […] the media arena focuses more on more on the voices of a limited number of editorial experts, as succinctly pointed out on the excellent Smallbizpod site from Alex Bellinger, it is going to be more important […]

  10. SmallBizPod says:

    Thanks for the comments Darcy. I think you’re spot on re fundamentals. I don’t see a major difference between social media campaigns and good (and I stress good) traditional PR campaigns.

    Both rely on developing relationships and creating a story that creates a buzz.

    Interestingly, I think the combination of blogging, social media and the swinging cuts in the numbers of journalists working in the media, mean that individuals, rather than the media brands they work for are becoming more powerful.

  11. Darcy says:

    Good stuff Alex. I find these comments particularly pertinent in today’s changing information economy. No one really is an expert anymore, because the rules of the game have changed. Albeit so, the fundamentals remain the same. Know your audience, know your target, and deliver accordingly. Some of the more prominent journalists, of which there are more simply because the pool has gotten smaller due to the obvious, are becoming wittier by the day as they grow more accustomed to PR people trying to skip the effort of engaging in a lengthy social media campaign, and trying to pin their message on writers already established, accredited thought leaders.

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