Why Think Like a Reporter?

‘They chew gum, don’t they?’

A PR pro at Warner-Lambert Company calls an editor at Inc. magazine. When, she asks, is Inc. going to run that story she pitched on W-L’s new flavor of Trident gum?

Why Think Like a Reporter?

Don’t let irrelevant releases blow up in your face Journalists’ biggest pet peeve is releases that aren’t relevant to their audiences. Image by Karina Miranda

The editor explains that Inc. is a magazine for entrepreneurs and that every story the magazine runs is designed to help its readers build their businesses. Given that, the editor asks the PR pro, why would our readers be interested in a story about Trident?

The PR pro replies: “They chew gum, don’t they?”

With pitches like these, it’s no wonder journalists’ biggest pet peeves are releases that aren’t relevant to the audiences they serve, according to a survey by Greentarget.

So how can we write relevant releases?

1. Write about the reader.

A few years ago, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did a study to learn who or what was most important to readers.

“What I really like about a [release] is when it scratches my reader’s itch and not your client’s itch.”
— Trade journal editor quoted in Public Relations Tactics

“Their answer was in some ways surprising. Many did not say their families, children or God,” writes Dick Weiss, former writer and editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Instead, their answer was: ‘Me.’”

If that’s what reporters’ readers care about, that’s what reporters care about too.

“What I really like about a [release],” says a trade journal editor quoted in Public Relations Tactics says, “is when it scratches my reader’s itch and not your client’s itch.”

So write about the reader. Not about “us and our stuff.”

2. Offer value-added service stories.

More than half of business-to-business editors surveyed seek more feature releases, according to a study by Thomas Rankin Associates. Those include value-added stories like case studies and how-to stories.

“Present the key element … that explains how your story can benefit Forbes readers.”
— Bruce Upbin, senior editor at Forbes

Greentarget learned the same thing in its study: Journalists find releases that contain thought leadership — surveys, tipsheets, case studies, etc. — most valuable.

As Bruce Upbin, senior editor at Forbes, counsels: “Present the key element … that explains how your story can benefit Forbes readers.”

That’s write about the reader.

And yet, PR pros persist in writing about themselves.

“Organizations write press releases for themselves, not for readers.”
— A frustrated PR pro

“I recently got a message from a reporter working at a small local paper who received 80 press releases in one day,” writes digital communications strategist Jeremy Porter, “of which only two were relevant to the information his paper covers.”

Keep doing this, and we’ll be as successful as Warner-Lambert with its Inc. pitch.

Even if they do chew gum.

How do you make your releases relevant to reporters and their readers?
Please share your success secrets in the comments section below.

“Organizations write press releases for themselves, not for readers.”
— A frustrated PR pro

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