Getting media coverage is still the fastest way to grow your vegan brand. It puts you in front of hundreds, thousands or even millions of potential buyers and is an effective way to snap up a bunch of leads for your product or service, writes Katrina Fox. So, when you contact a journalist – don’t blow it!
It’s one of the most-pressed buttons on my keyboard as I go through my emails. And it’s the one button you don’t want a journalist to click on when they receive your pitch for a story.
After nearly 20 years as a journalist, I’ve received thousands of pitches (emails pitching me a story). I still get them today as I host a weekly podcast. To be honest, many of them make me cringe. They’re mostly from business owners, entrepreneurs, authors and non-profit organisations, but some are even from PR agencies!
There are several things that are guaranteed to raise a reporter’s or producer’s hackles and condemn your email to the trash folder.
Here are my top 10 things never to say to a journalist if you want free publicity for your vegan brand:
1. “I’d like some publicity for my [insert widget].”
Yes, we know that’s your endgame and you want publicity for your product or service. But journalists are not publicists. We want stories: stories that inform, entertain or inspire our audiences.
Instead of asking or demanding something from us, come from a place of offering us something that makes our job easier.
Show us that you understand our needs and want to help and you’ll get publicity. Just don’t ask for it.
2. “Dear Editor/Producer”
How do you feel when you get a generic ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ email or letter? Special? Unique? Cared for? No, me neither. These kind of ‘spray and pray’ approaches to media are rarely effective. It tells me straight away that if you haven’t bothered to find out my name, you’re unlikely to have researched my outlet or my audience’s needs.
Take the time to find out the relevant journalist’s name (and make sure you spell it correctly too).
3. “Which section/segment do you think this would be suitable for?”
Following on from number 2, this again demonstrates that you haven’t done your homework and familiarized yourself with a journalist’s publication or program.
It’s far better for you to tailor your pitch and suggest to us which section of our magazine or newspaper, or which radio, podcast or TV segment or program your story would be a good fit for.
4. “Are you interested in running my press release?”
Even if some media outlets do engage in ‘churnalism’ (publishing press releases word for word) occasionally due to tight deadlines and pressures, the journalists won’t thank you for assuming they’re there solely to give you publicity (see point number 1).
5. “I’ve placed an ad. What editorial is included in the price?”
If you’re placing an ad, talk to the ads department. If you want editorial coverage, pitch great stories that the particular audience will find valuable.
Yes, the lines between advertising and editorial have become blurred over the years, with ‘advertorials’ morphing into ‘sponsored content’ and the rise of ‘native advertising’, but even the most commercially-minded journalists and editors will bristle if you ask them this question.
6. “I want to come on your show and talk about [X]”
Starting any sentence to a journalist with ‘I want’ is not going to endear you to them. As per point 1, don’t tell a journalist what you want, figure out what they want and need and give it to them.
Also, don’t offer to talk about a subject that’s obviously not covered by a particular show or outlet. I recently had a business owner pitch to be a guest on my podcast Vegan Business Talk, saying he ‘wanted’ to come on the show and talk about gluten-free diets. We never cover this kind of thing on the show, so it was a totally irrelevant pitch and all it did was demonstrate that this person wasn’t interested in providing valuable content to my audience, but was simply pitching vegan podcasts to promote and sell his own stuff. Not a good look.
7. “This is something you should/must cover.”
You’re passionate about your product or service. I get it. You may have developed the next Great Vegan Cheese or have a game-changing book that will take society one step closer to vegan world domination … But, don’t let that passion turn you into a dictatorial asshat.
The only people who get to tell reporters, writers and producers they should or must cover a story are their bosses.
Your job, as per point 1, is to find the stories in your brand, product or service – on a regular basis – and pitch them to the right media outlet at the right time in the right way.
8. “Please do a story on [X]. People need to know about [my vegan brand] because animals will die if they don’t.”
Pleading with a sprinkle of blackmail is unlikely to get you anywhere with a journalist – even if they themselves are vegan and an animal rights advocate. Not only will this approach squash any chance you had of getting a particular story featured, it will also damage your relationship with the journalist in the long term, making it harder for you to get any future pitches accepted.
9. “I’d like to approve what you write before it’s published.”
Journalists are on constant deadlines, with continuous pressure to get even more stories than ever out, fast. We’re likely to be interviewing several different people for several different stories at one time, so waiting for interviewees to approve copy is neither practical nor appropriate. It also implies you don’t trust the journalist to do their job properly.
What you can do instead, particularly if it’s a complex or technical article, is offer to take a look at your quotes only (in context) when the piece is written. Journalists may take you up on this, or not, but position it as an offer, not a demand.
It’s also a good idea at the end of an interview to let the journalist know you are happy for them to contact you to answer any follow-up questions that may come up as they’re writing the story, or to clarify any details. This helps the journalist save face if they are confused about anything after interviewing you, knowing they have an open invitation to get clarification.
10. “Please include a link to my website in your story.”
Yes, it’s nice to get a backlink to your website, but it’s not always possible. If you’re being quoted as an expert in a story, you should expect to have your name and expert designation (eg ‘psychologist’ or ‘cheese maker’) mentioned in the piece, along with your speciality and the name of your business if relevant.
It’s unlikely you’ll get a hotlink to your site unless it’s pertinent to the story. Tip: If appropriate (and it won’t be to every story so you must be discerning), offer the audience of the media outlet a free gift of some kind (making it a downloadable item is the easiest) that they can claim by going to your website. The media outlet will be happy to offer their audience a freebie and you get a link to your site and a chance to snap up some leads into your own email list.
Avoiding the above bloopers will increase the likelihood of journalists hitting the ‘reply’ button, rather than ‘delete’.
Would you like to get FREE PUBLICITY and learn how to GET YOUR VEGAN BRAND IN THE LIMELIGHT – on a regular basis (without paying thousands of dollars to a publicist or PR firm)? Sign up for my 12-week online PR course for vegan business owners and entrepreneurs (starts 5 June, 2017). Check out the details here.