Wonder why your pitches and press releases aren’t getting any action? Why is it that your agency never seems to generate any type of measurable media buzz? Many, if not most of the pitches fall prey to these same mistakes time and time again. Jeff Crilley, a former news anchor in Minneapolis and Dallas, cultivated these mistakes. I felt they were spot on and worthy of a review. After all, we all want to be in the press.
“These are among the top ten reasons your story pitch to a reporter or producer fails,” explains Crilley, the author of Free Publicity: A TV Reporter Shares the Secrets for Getting Covered on the News. “If you don’t find them funny, chances are you’re guilty of one or more of these PR blunders.”
10. You begin your phone conversation with a reporter by saying, “Now, are you the guy who is on the camera, or are you behind the scenes?” “We reporters have egos,” admits Crilley. “TV reporters like to believe you tape their stories and show them to the kids. Newspaper reporters like to believe you cut out their articles and hang them on the fridge.”
His advice: Make them believe it. Don’t pick up the phone until you know whom you’re going to be talking to.
9. The headline on your news release reads, “Media Advisory.” “I don’t know what PR books people are reading, but they certainly aren’t written by people who have ever worked in a newsroom,” Crilley believes. “Far too often the only phrase in big, bold letters is ‘Press Release.’ We know it’s a press release – you sent it to a newsroom! That’s like going to the grocery store, looking for toilet paper and seeing on the package ‘Toilet Paper’ instead of ‘Charmin.’” His advice: Since most folks in the newsroom are only going to read your headline and the first sentence of your news release, don’t waste the space by emphasizing something that’s already obvious.
8. You begin a pitch with the phrase, “We’d like you to give us some publicity.” “We’re not interested in giving publicity to people. We’re interested in good news stories,” says Crilley. “If that story happens to cast positive publicity on an organization or company, so be it. But reporters bristle when they hear that and think, ‘My job is to find news, not do your PR!’”
7. A reporter calls you for a story and you say, “Can I call you back next Tuesday?” “When someone says that to me, I say to myself, ‘Next Tuesday? I won’t even remember your name next Tuesday.’ News moves so fast these days that opportunities don’t knock,” he says. “They just wave at you as they are passing by.”
6. You send your news release to some one who hasn’t worked in the newsroom since Carter was president. Don’t laugh, Crilley warns. “You’d be surprised at how many groups and organizations never update their mailing list. We routinely get mail for people who are long gone. And in many newsrooms that’s an excuse to make another three-point attempt at the trash-can with your crumpled-up press release,” he says.
5. You send a news release on your ribbon-cutting the day after war breaks out. “If there is a major news story going on, postpone your event,” advises Crilley. “It amazed me that in the days after the start of the war how many PR firms continued to send us news releases on stuff that had nothing to do with the war. When it’s ‘All war all the time,’ it’s senseless to try to compete.
4. You call a TV reporter minutes before airtime and ask if she has time to talk. “Most of us would hang up on our own mother if she called just before airtime,” according to Crilley. “Nuff said?”
3. You oversell a story. “Don’t tell us there are going to be 300 people in attendance when you know you’ll be lucky to get 30,” Crilley advises. “Working with reporters for the first time is like setting up a blind date,” he explains. “You wouldn’t tell your best friend that the person you’re setting them up with looks like Tom Cruise when you know he looks like Tom Arnold, would you?”
2. You say the two ugliest words ever uttered to a reporter: “No comment.” “Most people think that when a negative news story is happening, the words ‘no comment’ will kill the story,” says Crilley. “The truth is, the story just goes on without you,” he warns. “Trust me. It’s better with your input than without.
1. You lie to, or mislead, the media. “The truth always comes out,” Crilley concludes. “Just ask Bill Clinton. He spent two years dodging the Monica Lewinsky scandal and then finally had to admit that he actually did have sexual relations with ‘that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.’ If you mess up, fess up,” he advises. “Tell the truth and get it over with.”
So, are you guilty?