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How to Make the Perfect Pitch for Free Press

There’s nothing like free press.  Whether it’s print, TV, radio or even online—when you are in the media spotlight, you’re a star.  Your friends scratch their heads wondering how you got the celebrity spotlight on local TV or a guest column in the newspaper.

There are secrets to getting free press. And it begins with a basic premise: Your job is to make the reporter’s job easier.  You are not pitching the reporter, but offering help. Offer help before you ask for something.  If you do that, you’ll get all the press you want.

Cultivate a relationship with journalists—don’t just find and use them. Give a lot more than you take. You are helping the reporter do their job.  Think of reporters as human beings that you want to help. You’re not asking for anything—you’re only offering help by making a connection to other experts, e.g., “Here’s someone who might help you.”    

Step #1: Do Your Homework

What does this reporter like? Learn what the reporter likes and reference their past articles. Read at least 5 of the reporter’s past stories.  Find 3 things the reporter has covered in the past and find issues they already know. Use Google Alert to get alerts when the reporter posts new content to the web.  You can never read too much.

“95% of media outreach is dead long before it even reaches its target.”

--Peter Shankman, Founder of HARO

How can you write a pitch that meshes with what the reporter covers? Have they covered this in the past?  What is the last date of similar coverage? Shot-gun approaches suck. Many reporters have written books--mention that you read their book, e.g., legal reporter John Caher wrote a fantastic book “The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel”.

Step #2: Get Right to the Point

In 3 paragraphs tell a real interesting story and leave the reporter asking for more. You will help the reporter craft a great story.  Make the pitch about a bigger story—not about you. Reporters will not read more than 3 paragraphs.

Step #3: Create a Media List

Who is writing about your area of law?  What outlets cover your industry? New York Law Journal, Trial Magazine, etc.  Research media outlets. Save articles that are interesting on Google Keep. For a little coin, buy a media database on Cision.com (remember, the media list won’t build relationships with reporters).

Create different lists for TV, print and online. Do a hashtag search by topic and follow the reporters on Twitter.  Google, “lawyer magazines”, e.g., “The American Lawyer” and “Trial” Magazine. Find podcasts in your niche and reach out to the hosts, e.g., “I’d love to be on your show.”  Have lunch with a blogger who covers your practice area.

Most media outlets use the same email format for their reporters.  

  • New York Times: first initial of first name, last name, @nytimes.com;
  • Wall Street Journal: First name, dot, last name, @WSJ.com.

Google “digital contacts, NBC News” to get the email addresses for the editors and TV anchors/reporters at NBC News.  If a reporter’s email is not listed on-line, send the reporter a Tweet and ask for their email address.

The Perfect Pitch to get the Media Spotlight

If you do the prep for your pitch, that’s 95% of your job.  Shotgun pitches simply don’t work. Your pitch should be tailored and personalized.

The Introduction

Dear [reporter’s name]. Use “Jim” if that is how the reporter likes to be known, e.g., “James” v. “Jim”.

1st Paragraph:  Lure the Reporter with a Killer Story

What can you give a reporter that’s interesting and exciting? A trend ties the reporter’s past story to current news and grabs the reporter’s curiosity.

“I have something interesting for you.”

“I have a story for you that will fit with what you cover, interest your audience and offer some new information.  I noticed you wrote a story about [wrote, produced, edited] on [exact date]. I loved that story! Because of that story, I think you’ll find this [trend] interesting.”

“You’re the first journalist to whom I’ve reach out to with this story.”  This line will give you more call backs than anything else.

2nd Paragraph:  Blow Them Away with an Amazing Statistic

What can you give the reporter that’s exciting and interesting? Use one line that blows them away or one amazing statistic—something the reporter has not seen before, e.g., stats about the number of deaths every year caused by preventable medical errors. Use quotes and anything that will let them know you have valuable information.  

“I’ve seen a trend for [what is the trend that will give the journalist a good story]. An interesting new trend [one line that blows them away] has been happening in medical malpractice trials.  If you need more expert information, I can put you in touch with [name of expert].”

Give as much bait as possible to lure them in.  Have 4 stories to tell. If one story fails, turn to the next.

3rd Paragraph:  Promise Exclusive Access to the Story

Make the story exclusive for the reporter.

“I’d be happy to offer you exclusive access to [source of information] or I’d be happy to speak with you personally as well as connect you with [competitor] to help you flesh out the bigger picture.  I’m not pitching this around. If you want it, it’s yours. I’m offering it only to you.”

“I’m available anytime at your convenience, either by cell, 518-265-9131, or via email, jfisher@fishermalpracticelaw.com.  As I wrote, you’re the first journalist to whom I’m reaching out with this story. As far as I’m aware, it’s yet to be covered.”

Do 1 Follow Up at Most

Wait 3-4 business days before following up.  Send a follow up email: “Thought this might be up your alley. If not, I won’t bother you. Feel free to reach out.  Here’s my cell.” If you follow up too much, the reporter won’t listen to future pitches.

How to Use a Press Kit

Do not send a press kit in your first email to the reporter. If you get a response from the reporter, you can send the press kit or a link to the press kit. Be funny in the subject line and follow up with, “I’m sending you the press kit we talked about.”

Use the cloud for the press kit, e.g., post a link to Dropbox or Google Drive.  Copy and post a link to the press kit. Dropbox and Google Drive can synch; make sure you have at least 2 backups.  With Airdrop, share the press kit on an iPhone. Swipe up from the bottom of the phone and share the press kit in a flash.

The Nuts and Bolts of a Press Kit

#1:  Backgrounder:  Less than one-page overview of you or your law firm. Shorter is better.  Include things that give you extra credibility—not a resume, e.g., author of several books, awards, etc.  Check out the “Bio” of Ann Handley at AnnHandley.com/about for the short and long versions of a backgrounder.

Add a photograph and links to articles. Have a short and long version, and a booking page.  Add your cell # at the top, a link to your website and an icon for sharing. Every single page of the media kit should have your contact information at the bottom.  

#2:  Fast Fact Sheet:    What’s your one key call point? One sentence that is funny and intriguing.  What is the one thing the media will call you for? Why do you matter? Is your story different? Is your story worth caring about?  What’s so great about you?

  • Who is John Fisher?
  • What do we offer the world?
  • What do we stand for?

If you have good video, give a link to it.  Use an updated photograph that is 300 dots per inch (dpi) or better. Journalists need a high-resolution photograph and cannot improve the quality of the photo.  The cloud is your friend. Journalists don’t want attached files—use links only. 99% of attachments will be blocked.

When All Else Fails….

Call a legal magazine and ask their editor what topics want to cover.  The editor will tell you, “We could use an article about professional liability insurance coverage.”  No problem, my friend. Research, write and submit the article.

Throw a party for journalists.  A party is a great way to bond. Take a reporter out for lunch, e.g., “Are there any days you’re not head down writing?  Tell me when they are and let’s meet.”

And when you get free press, share it on social media.  Our articles hang from framed pictures in our lobby and conference room.  Let the world know you’re a celebrity with the media and before long, you might be the legal celebrity expert for CNN.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Leave a comment below telling me what surprised, inspired or taught you the most (I personally respond to every comment). And if you disagree with my take on running a personal injury law firm, or have a specific, actionable tip, I’d love to hear from you.