There is no right way to pitch a story to the news media, but some ways work far better than others. One of the weakest media relations tools is the venerable press release.
For starters, reporters, editors and producers don't like them. They smack, in their view, of attempts to spoon feed the press. As a result, press releases – despite all the energy to wordsmith every last sentence – gets wadded up and tossed in the newsroom.
Press releases have their places, which we will get to later. But a better approach to pitching a story is the news advisory.
News advisories focus on the main story hook. In a sentence or two, an effective news advisory provides the reason a reporter, editor or producer should care abut your story and its critical details. Most important, the news advisory contains links or visual assets that allow the reporter, editor or producer to scout out the story on their own.
One of the links can be to a press release that you've posted on your organization's online newsroom, so the press release is used as back-up material, not the wedge to sell the story.
The self-discovery strategy has another key quality – it leads to quicker interaction between the PR pro and the reporter. If the story hook perks interest, the reporter may want to ask quickly about other resources or contacts. Story development becomes more of a collaborative endeavor – and more likely to produce something you will feel good about.
Maybe the underlying value of news advisories is the need to zero in on the story hook – what makes whatever you are pitching news, at least in the eyes of the reporters, editors and producers you are pitching. They may like your hook or see a promising variation. Either way, you are ahead of the game.
In certain circumstances, a news advisory can prompt an invitation to write a "story" or an op-ed. This offers a chance to find out what the reporter, editor or producer wants before you start writing. You can customize the story to fit what the media wants while still incorporating your "news" message. This is way to give one media outlet something exclusive, instead of the same press release that has been sprayed around to other media.
This advice applies to online influencers. Bloggers, many of whom are former journalists, aren't more prone to wade through a pile of press releases. News advisories appeal to them for all the same reasons. You give them a chance to work with you on a story one-on-one.
Another convenience to news advisories – they can fit into the 140-character channel of Twitter. Pitching stories on Twitter has become commonplace, especially for people who take the time to sharpen their story hook and share it cleverly.
News advisories aren't revolutionary. People and organizations that get their stories out have always used more personalized outreach strategies. The digital age just allows you to be personal with more people at the same time.
The next time the boss says to write a press release with dubious news value, suggest a news advisory that you send after spending time on the story hook, not the quote that never will see the light of day.