Pitching

Christmassy PR ideas it's not too late to pitch

Got a story idea with a Christmassy theme? If you’re looking for PR coverage in monthly titles, which generally work several months ahead, you’ve probably missed your chance. You may also be too late for some weeklies. But if you act now, there’s still plenty of time to place festive stories (including post-Christmas stories for January) in some publications/programmes.

Here’s a few ideas to get you started.

1.Piggybacking

Look out for Christmassy themed news stories you can ‘piggyback’ onto.

There are many ways of going about this, but the most common approach is to offer yourself (or your client) as an expert voice on the topic.

The great thing about piggybacking is that it isn’t just reactive i.e. responding to current news stories. You can also anticipate stories that will be covered by the media e.g. Christmas adverts, Christmas films/TV shows, Black Friday and so on and start working on ideas days - or even weeks - ahead.

Inspiration

What happened to the Christmas hit single?

Annoyed mother admits she was unmoved by the John Lewis advert

Christmas adverts show big brands are ignoring LGBT

How headphones have become the must-have accessory this Christmas

2.Do/say something interesting

Journalists aren't interested in your business or brand - but they might be interested in what you do or what you say.

So launch a campaign, hold an unusual event or offer an interesting opinion (something we haven’t heard a million times before).

Inspiration 

People are now covering their beards in glitter for the Ultimate Christmas Look (this genius trend was started by The Gay Beards, who made a video about it, posted pics on Instagram...and the rest is, erm, glistory)...

Children sing carols to local council to raise awareness of housing crisis

Christmas tree supplier to the stars forecasts best season ever

Boy who asked santa for a toothbrush inspired Christmas campaign

Could your choice of Christmas gift affect your child’s confidence?

Why I’ve gone cold turkey on Christmas consumerism

3.Do some research

Journalists love data, so doing some research around a topical Christmas theme e.g. loneliness, overspending, squabbles with relatives can be very effective. It doesn’t have to be costly either (both in terms of time and money).

You can put together a survey in a couple of hours (or less) using free tools like Survey Monkey or Wufoo. Just remember you need a decent sized sample (1000 is generally cited as the minimum, but if it’s a niche area, you might be able to get away with 5-600) and a fresh or surprising take on a topical theme.

Remember, too, that it’s all about the questions you ask; no one is going to be surprised to hear people spend more or row with their loved ones at Christmas. So what questions could you ask that would get new, more surprising insights...?

Inspiration

Take That tops poll of Christmas cracker jokes

A quarter of couples see Christmas as ‘make or break’ time

The typical man buys just three Christmas presents

Many expect to spend Christmas alone

4 in 10 people will fake joy at Christmas gifts

4.Teach something

Most editors – particularly on online publications – are increasingly hungry for content they don’t have to pay for. And they’re particularly keen to commission thought leadership (opinion) and ‘how to’ articles. Why this isn’t good news for freelance writers for me, it’s great if you’re looking to get coverage for your business or brand.

So how could you use your expertise to ‘teach’ people to deal with Christmas (or the aftermath?).

And, by the way, you can also do this on your own blog/website, as online gym owner Julia Buckley has done here. As well as being great content for your own audience/potential clients, if you can offer good quality video content to go with your copy, editors will be delighted.

Inspiration

‘Tis the season to be ruthless: Christmas decluttering

How to teach...Christmas carols and festive song

Christmas Cookies that no one will guess are actually healthy

How entrepreneurs can beat the holiday blues

I got the PM fit - now I’ll do the same for you

5.Share something personal

Sharing personal stories can be great way to get media coverage, as if people feel they can identify with you, they’ll naturally want to know more about your business or brand.

The trick is look at the areas of your life which intersect with your business/work and see what experiences you’ve had that other people will (a) care about (b) want to share with other people (c) will have an opinion on.

Examples might include: your first Christmas without a loved one, experiencing mental/physical illness at Christmas, having no money/being in debt at Christmas, working over Christmas, getting married/divorced at Christmas, having/losing a baby at Christmas and so on…

If you think this all sounds too negative, turn it on its head: your first illness-free Christmas, your first ‘employed’ Christmas (after being out of work), your first Christmas as adoptive parents and so on. The key thing, though, is that it’s a unique story (or at least a unique take on a situation) that people will care about.

Inspiration

Why this Christmas will be different for us? Four people, four life-changing events

The Christmas I put my horror festive periods behind me

Dealing with the death of a child at Christmas time

My first Christmas without my children

Life after steel: school children discuss Christmas in Redcar

An unusual Christmas present saved my life

Good luck with getting some Christmassy PR coverage for your business or brand. I'd love to hear how you get on, so do drop me a line  or leave a comment in the box below with your news.

How to get journalists to write about your business

If you’re reading this post, I’m guessing you’re keen to get media coverage for your business or brand.

  • Perhaps you’ve tried pitching a few ideas to journalists but they've been rejected or ignored
  • It could be that you’ve had a few successes, but would love to get more consistent media coverage
  • Or maybe you’re so darn confused about how it all works (do you need to write a press release, how do you find the right journalist to pitch your idea to, should you call or email etc etc?)... you haven’t tried at all

Whatever your circumstances, what you’re doing isn’t working.

And not only do you want to know why - you’d also love some easy-to-follow guidance that will help you get media coverage.

Does this sound like you? Read on...

1.Stop talking about your business

You may not like the sound of this, but if you want more media coverage for your business, the first thing you need to do is: STOP TALKING ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS.

I realise this might sound counterintuitive, but stick with me.

There's no way of putting this nicely, but journalists aren’t interested in your business.

It’s nothing personal.

It’s just that it isn’t their responsibility to help you promote your product, service or brand.

Their job is creating content that is a perfect fit for their audience.

So anything that looks like advertising (unless it’s paid for and clearly labelled as such) is unethical. In fact, it could land them in trouble.

This is not to say you can’t get media coverage for your business - you absolutely can.

But you have to accept that content comes first. Which leads nicely onto my next point...

mineyourlife

2. Show don’t tell

Instead of trying to get journalists to write articles about your business, you need to pitch story ideas that allow you to show what it’s about. Take this story I wrote for the Guardian on why I was fed up with being asked to work for free.

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Not only did I see a HUGE spike in sign ups for my free press release writing course (which is brilliant at generating leads for my business), ticket sales for my live events went up too.

In fact, at an event I was speaking at recently, there was a lady sat in the front row who had found my website and signed up to my email list as a result of reading that article.

Effective PR in action.

Instead of pitching stories about their business, I encourage students on my Soulful PR programme to look around the edges of their business for stories - in the areas of their life that intersect with their business.

Take this example from expat blogger and relocation expert MelanieHaving tried, unsuccessfully, to pitch stories into the national media about her relocation business, she has recently placed two pieces, which show her knowledge and expertise, in the Guardian and Huffington Post.

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Both were commissioned pretty much by return and led to her being contacted by journalists from the Sunday Times and Daily Mail about further stories.

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Claudia was frustrated that journalists didn’t seem interested in writing about her business and work as a cognitive behavioural therapist - not even her local newspaper. But when she pitched an article to the Daily Mail about her struggles with breastfeeding (following the publication of some new research on the topic), the editor said ‘yes’ pretty much by return. The following day, her local newspaper got in touch wanting to interview her. While the articles weren't specifically about her business, she talks about her work in both.

I was recently featured in the Metro’s property section talking about the ‘chic shed’ where I work:

shedscreenshot

This is one of my quotes from the piece:“I love it because it’s nothing like a conventional office, is full of my personality and just has a lovely, relaxed, homely feel about it. I’ve recently started using it to deliver training courses and I love that it isn’t all formal and corporate, so it appeals to the kinds of people I love working with – entrepreneurs and creative business owners. It also gives me some privacy and feels more professional than working around my kitchen table.”

Even though the article isn't about my business, it gave me the opportunity to talk about the values that drive it. People are always asking about my 'she shed' - both via social media and at in-person events - so it's another great example of PR in action.

In fact, my 'she shed' has become such an integral part of my brand it's now featured in many of my publicity photos (including the one at the top of this post).

What these three examples show is that when you stop talking about your business and start talking about the areas of your life that intersect with your business , you’ll have far more luck getting media coverage.

This can be achieved by pitching opinion articles (like Melanie’s piece on why no one had heard of Denmark until recently), 'first person' experiences (like my article on why we need to talk about miscarriage) or ‘how to’ articles (like this piece on how to write press releases - part of a series I wrote for the Guardian, that has driven lots of traffic to my website).

mineyourlife

3. Do your homework

Imagine turning up to a job interview without researching the company, stalking your interviewer(s) on LinkedIn or thinking about the questions you might be asked (and preparing your answers).

It’s pretty unlikely you’d get the job, isn’t it?

Yet this is, essentially, what people do to journalists, every day of the week.

They send the same pitch or press release to dozens of journalists, on different publications/programmes, with little consideration of the kind of content they're looking for - or the needs of their audience.

The message is this: “I want you to help ME, by giving me column inches or airtime, but I’m not prepared to put in the time to understand what YOU need.”

No wonder journalists can be grumpy.

If you want to give yourself the best possible chance of getting coverage in a magazine or newspaper (or on radio or TV), you MUST invest time researching the publications/programmes you’re pitching to so you can get a sense of the kind of content they typically run.

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Investing time researching previous content helped me pitch and place this article in the Huffington Post and get signed up as a regular blogger. Again, it's not specifically  about my business, but I do talk about it in the article - which I think makes it feel more authentic.

You’ll also need to tweak your pitch slightly to suit different publications/programmes. While it’s tempting to take to take the easiest-sounding option (writing a press releasefiring it off to a list of journalists and crossing your fingers someone will pick it up) but this is a pretty ineffective way of doing PR.

Writing tailored email pitches can seem like a lot of effort upfront, but will save you time and money in the long run.

mineyourlife

4. Don’t rely on press releases (or don’t bother writing them at all)

Being able to write press releases is a great skill to have (which is why I offer a free online course on how to do it).

But having a great story idea is far more important than a perfectly written press release. In fact, some of the best stories I’ve covered over the years came from a hurried email pitch (complete with typos) or a direct message on Twitter (like this one).

So before you even think about writing a press release, ask yourself if anyone would actually care about your story. 

While you might be excited about appointing a new financial director, launching your new product line or snazzy new website, will the audience of the newspaper or magazine (or radio or TV programme) you’re pitching to be interested?  

Be honest; if you weren't directly involved, would YOU be interested in your story?

And just to be clear: a press release is not a story. It's an information document that helps a journalist decide whether or not to run your story.

So it doesn't matter how beautifully written your press release is, how many journalists you send it to - or how many times you ring/email to follow it up - if your story isn't interesting, journalists won't cover it.

If you've got a great story idea, a concise email pitch - that clearly sets out your story idea in the email subject header and gets to the point quickly - is just as good (if not better) than a press release).

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5. Find exactly the right journalist to pitch your idea to

If you want to increase your chances of getting media coverage, you need to find out the name and contact details of the exact person who can make a decision about whether to run your story

Many publications list contact details for journalists and email addresses are sometimes included. If they’re not, you can usually work out the email format by looking at addresses that are  listed (advertising sales contacts usually are).

Radio and TV producers/researchers can be harder to track down, but social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn can be useful.

Steer clear of generic email addresses (e.g. [email protected] or [email protected]) as, in many cases, these are not checked regularly. And don’t be fobbed off by people who say they will forward your press release or email to the journalist or editor concerned. Make it your mission to get the name and email address of the person who will make the decision about whether to use your story or not.
If in doubt, just pick up the phone.

If it doubt, just ring up and ask. Don’t take it personally if people are bit short on the phone, as newsrooms are busy places. Ask nicely and you should get the information you need.

 

This article I wrote got 10,000 shares: here's what I learned

Earlier this month, I wrote this article for the Guardian about miscarriage - specifically on whether we need to talk more about it at work.

I knew it would do well online; it was Baby Loss Awareness week and miscarriage is a subject close to many peoples’ hearts.

But even I was surprised how popular it was.

In just over a week it had over 10,000 social shares - making it the most shared article I have ever  written.

I received dozens of personal tweets, emails and private messages thanking me for writing the article. The following day, I got a call from a researcher at BBC Radio Scotland who asked me to take part in a debate on the topic.

And, even though the article was not about my business (I make just a brief mention of what I do in the piece), I saw big spike in my website traffic, social media followers and engagement.

I share this because it’s powerful lesson on what makes a great media story (and what doesn’t).

Last night, I was fortunate enough to have Harriet Minter, the editor of the Guardian’s Women in Leadership section (where my article appeared) as a guest at a Soulful PR session (you can grab a ticket for the next one here).

This is how Harriet explained it:

"When someone pitches me an idea, I ask myself three questions:

  1. Is it ‘newsy’?
  2. Is it personal?
  3. Does it surprise me?

A good story should have all three."

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 09.32.09

So let’s break my article down according to those guidelines.

Is it ‘newsy’? Yes - it was ‘hooked’ onto baby loss awareness week (although you do need to exercise caution with awareness weeks, as I explain here)

Is it personal? Yes - I wrote about my own experience of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy

Does it surprise? Yes - I share some surprising stories from friends/colleagues who have also experienced miscarriage

You may be wondering how this can help you with your PR. After all, it’s not every day you have the opportunity to pitch a story about such an emotive subject.

This is true, but I believe you can apply those principles to any story you pitch to the media - because it's simply about giving editors the kind of content their audience wants. 

Take this piece by Alexia who is campaigning for the popular UK TV series One Born Every Minute (which features women’s birth experiences) to be banned. Love or hate the sentiment behind this story - and it’s certainly divisive - it ticks all the boxes when it come to what makes a great media story.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 09.34.47

It’s ‘newsy’ because Alexia has just launched a campaign, personal because she is sharing her experience of a fear free birth and surprising because campaigning against a much-loved TV programme is quite a controversial thing to do.

But you don’t have to be controversial. Take this recent Huffington Post article on how to bring Danish Hygge (rough translation: ‘cosy’) into your home this winter.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 09.37.40

It’s ‘newsy’ simply because winter is coming, personal because Melanie is sharing her experience as an expat living in Denmark and it’s surprising in the sense there’s something new to learn for the reader.

Or this one by Karen Laing, which argues that it’s stress - not our desire to drop a dress size - is what really motivates us to keep exercising.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 09.38.46

It’s ‘newsy’ because it references new research, personal because Karen is sharing her own experiences of using exercise to tackle stress and surprising because she's challenging commonly held beliefs. 

It’s worth pointing out here that what editors regard as ‘newsy’ will vary according to the publication or programme (which is why you need to do your homework before you pitch).

But it is a reminder of the most important thing you need to know about PR: if you want to get media coverage for your business or brand, you need to stop talking about it. And here's more tips on how to get journalists to write about your business.

When you stop trying to persuade journalists to write about your business and start creating story ideas that allow you to show what you know or the mission and values behind your business or brand, magical things start to happen (if you don't believe me, try it for yourself). 

Not does this approach make it far easier to get a ‘yes’ from a journalist, as my miscarriage story shows, it also means the PR you get works harder for your business - helping you attract more social media followers, driving traffic to your website and/or sign ups to your email list.

Feel the fear....and pitch it anyway

I recently made a list of all the stories I wish I’d pitched into the media but didn’t.

Here’s a selection:

My experience of Scombroid (tuna fish) poisoning. Another journalist wrote about it here.

Having an only child. Another journalist wrote about it here  and  here.

My struggles with breastfeeding. Claudia - one of the participants in my Soulful PR programme  - wrote about that here. 

So why didn’t I pitch these ideas? Well, despite having made a career out of helping people to spot opportunities - and turn them into media coverage - I have to ‘fess up that I still sometimes get fearful about pitching.

In these cases I was afraid my experiences weren’t interesting enough.

Who would be interested in reading about being poisoned by a tuna fish, having an only child or struggling with breastfeeding?

Quite a lot of people, it turned out.

I share this because I know how much fear can hold you back when it comes to getting media coverage.

Fear can stop you hitting ‘send’ on a perfectly good email pitch, picking up the phone to talk to a journalist - or even meeting a journalist in person.

In fact, if you’re reading this article, fear may have stopped you trying to get media coverage at all.

So what are you really afraid of?

Fear can be a good thing; if you’re holding back from pitching an idea to a journalist, it can be your intuition telling you something - that you haven’t quite nailed your 'top line' or found a compelling ‘hook’ for your story, for example.

But more often than not, it’s simply down to fear of rejection. You’re afraid journalists won’t like your idea - or that they’ll ignore it completely - and that will make you feel humiliated.

Dig a bit deeper and there’s usually something else going on: fear that people don’t like you, think you’re stupid or that you’re not very good at your job, for example.

Gabrielle Bernstein suggests we deal with fear by ‘laughing at the ego’s tiny mad ideas’ and I think she has a point.

Naming your fears - and hearing how silly some of them they sound - can often be enough to get you back on track. If a journalist says ‘no’ to your idea, does that make you unloveable? Course not. Does one bad story idea mean you’re stupid? Nope. Are you really going to lose your credibility - or even your job - over one unsuccessful pitch? Unlikely.

Believing in fear is a choice that you make.  So choose something different.

Stop telling yourself stories

Do you ever feel intimidated by editors?

I used to.

To me, they were God-like figures and if I felt ‘small’ or stupid around them (which I often did), that was perfectly ok. After all, to get to that position, they must be far cleverer and more knowledgeable than me.

I saw pitching as a kind of battle of wills between me and editors. Their job was to defend their publication or programme from people like me and mine was to get an idea past them.

Things changed, when I started working as a commissioning editor myself. I quickly realised that editors were just normal people trying to do a job (creating great content for their audience). And if they sounded a bit grumpy/harassed from time to time, it was probably because they were generally (a) working to tight deadlines (b) wading through tons of awful pitches every day in the hope of finding a decent one (c) panicking about what the hell they were going to fill their pages/airtime with.

It can be helpful to remind yourself that journalists are fearful too: of looking stupid in front of their colleagues, getting into trouble with their boss or not being able to fill their pages/airtime.

And when you stop telling yourself stories about journalists being 'difficult' and start thinking about how you can help them, everything changes.

Starting with the question: ‘how can I help this person create great content?’ creates a completely different energy to ‘how can I get this journalist to look at my pitch/run my story?’

And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you which is more effective.

You are not a pest

If I could give you just one tip to help with your fears around pitching, it would be this: YOU ARE NOT A PEST.

Just reminding yourself that by pitching an idea to a journalist you’re potentially solving a problem for them (i.e. helping them create content that is perfect for their audience) can create a big mindshift which can help you sound much more confident when you’re pitching.

And when you focusing on creating great content (rather than getting a ‘plug’ for your business or brand) your ideas will naturally be much more interesting to journalists.

Find this helpful? You might like five easy ways to get press coverage and beware of awareness days. 

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Beware of awareness days

There's now an awareness day/week/campaign for everything you can possibly think of - from 'World Cancer Day' to 'Jazz Appreciation Week' (yes, really!).

Great hook for a media story, right? Wrong. There are now SO many awareness days that some journalists are wary of commissioning stories around them. I've even spoken to journalists/editors who flat out refuse to cover stories hooked on awareness days.

Does these mean you can't use awareness days - or create one of your own - to get press coverage? Not at all.

But you do need to be aware that unless it’s *really* unusual or controversial (like National Orgasm Day, for example), an awareness day is not a story.

What you’re doing to mark the day (or week or month) might be.

With that in mind, here’s some ideas on how to use awareness days to get media coverage for your business or brand:

Publish some research (or analyse some existing data) like the walking charity Living Streets did to promote their awareness month last year.

Say something interesting in an opinion piece, first person article or round-up piece.

Host an unusual event - like the organisers of Baby Loss Awareness Week who ask people to light a candle and leave it burning for an hour every year on October 15.

Launch a campaign - these men did.

Share something useful - like six creative ways to inspire girls in Science or things you didn’t know about animals.

Do something unusual - like lighting up the Eiffel Tower for breast cancer or turning buildings blue for autism.

Your key takeaway point? While awareness days are not a media story, they can  provide a excellent 'hook' for one. And the more creative you can be in your approach, the better.

Find this useful? You might also enjoy this little piggy got some press coverage and five easy ways to get press coverage.

How to get media coverage for your event or workshop

If you’re running an event or workshop, getting featured in magazines, newspapers and on radio or TV can be a great way to get people to come along.

But if you don’t have any experience of the media, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Here’s some practical tips to get you going.

1.Start before you plan your event

There's no nice way of saying this, so I'll just blurt: if your event is boring, journalists won’t want to cover it.

That’s why the best time to think about PR is before you start choosing venues, booking speakers or organising catering. And the more unusual your event is, the more likely you are to get media coverage.

This is why I had no trouble getting media coverage for the group ultramarathon fundraiser I organised last year. (Have you ever heard of a ‘group ultramarathon?’ Exactly).

The first women’s marathon in the UK  got great media coverage for exactly the same reasons - it was both new and a ‘first.’

So the question you need to ask yourself is: ‘What could we do at our event that’s never been done before?’

It could be hosting it in an unusual venue (holding a heavy metal concert in a church for example), at an unusual time (8am rave anyone?) or in an unusual way (like this silent disco).

As these examples show, contrasts and collisions (i.e. putting two unlikely things together) naturally attract media interest - which will make it much easier for you to get PR.

N.B. If you’re reading this and you’ve already started planning your event...don’t  panic. Just ask yourself what you could do (or even say) at your event that is new or unusual.

2.Begin with why

Press coverage may be free, but your time isn’t, so you need to get clear about your objectives.

Do you just want bums on seats or do you want to attract a particular kind of person to your event? If so, who?

Getting clear on this is crucial as if you don’t get clear on why you want press coverage, you could waste time targeting the wrong publications and programmes.

3.Identify the ‘who’

Once you’re clear on your objectives, think about who you want to reach and find out what they read, watch and listen to.

The more specific you are about your target audience (you might find you have several) e.g. ‘working mums with jobs in the financial sector’ or ‘women who run online businesses’, you’ll find it much easier to decide which publications or programmes you should be targeting.

And if you’re wondering how to find out what the people you want to reach read, watch and listen to...just ask. Creating an online survey or questionnaire using a tool like Survey Monkey or Wufoo can take minutes and a small sample (between 10 and 50 is ideal) can give you enough information to create a shortlist of target publications.

4.Ditch the ego

You may like the idea of coverage in a national newspaper, but if your ideal client reads some obscure industry title, you could be wasting your time.

And don’t assume national coverage is better than being featured in the regional or trade press. If you’re looking to target people in a specific area or industry, placing a story in a local newspaper or industry title can be far more effective than a double page spread in a national.

5.Don’t pitch stories about your event (unless it really is unusual)

Instead, think of content you can offer that will help you get a mention for your event. 

(If you’re confused about how/why this works read: Want more press coverage? Stop talking about your business).

Here are some ideas:

Pitch an opinion article on a topic that relates to your business/event, as in this example.

Pitch a ‘first person’ article that tells the story of your business/event. That’s how Alison Nightingale got PR for her wine tasting tours and Gillian Logan for her toy design business.

Pitch a ‘how to’ article that relates to your event/campaign, as John Paul Flintoff did in this piece on how to silence negative thinking.

Pitch stories to journalists about the things your speakers will say at your event: as in this example.

Commission some research (this can be a simple as sending out a questionnaire in Survey Monkey) and launch it around the time of your event.

Launch a campaign like personal trainer and fitness business owner Jacqueline Hooton, whose #AWomansWord campaign landed her coverage on the BBC.

N.B. Read this if you need practical tips and ideas on how to pitch your ideas to journalists.

Whatever you decide, just bear in my mind that (unless there is something reaaaaally unusual about it (think 'silent choir recital' or 'beer festival for teetotallers'), the fact you are holding an event is not a story. But something you're doing - or something someone is saying there - might be.

Good luck!