Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pitching in the digital age

Information overload? Journalists get it, too. As resources at news outlets decline, the pressure is on for people who work in media to produce—round the clock—even as they are getting bombarded with pitches.

Those interested in building relationships with journalists need to focus on the basics:

Know a reporter’s beat. These can change, but do your homework.
Give something substantive. Provide information or a perspective not found elsewhere. Point out deficiencies in conventional wisdom—or your competitors.
Use a fact sheet.
Include the peg. Every story has an arc. Hitch a local story to a national trend.
Personalize the e-mail. Here’s a great post about a broadcast service and why creating your own lists can be more effective. The same blog, Bad Pitch Blog, had an example of a good pitch.

Hear what Chris Brogan author of Trust Agents had to say about pitches.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Last week I attended Anne Wylie’s workshop on how to sharpen your writing. Below are some of the helpful points she made.

1. Start with the message in mind.
Think like your reader. What do you want that person to remember about your press release, blog post, or feature story? Back in the day, we were taught how to get our messages out. Today the challenge is how to get our messages in. The way to do that is to start with the benefit.

Think about your own life. How do you decide what to spend time on? (Reading means spending time even if it is only 10 seconds.) How do you decide what to read? Simple: when what you hope to gain is of greater value than the amount of time or effort it takes. Here is the formula:

Expectation of reward / effort required

2. Try starting with “you.”

When writing a press release, skip the traditional format of leading with “Who, what, where, when.” Focus on your readers and the benefit to them. One way to do this is to start with “you.” For example, “You will save money…,” “You will get to work faster…,” “You will be more secure thanks to XYZ’s innovative product.”

3. Use short paragraphs, short sentences.

Keep paragraphs short: 42 words is a good target length. The job of the first paragraph is to get the reader to the second paragraph. It can be 2 to 25 words. According to recent research, the rate of comprehension goes below 90% when sentences are longer than 14 words. If you find you are writing long sentences, break them into two or start using bullets.

4. Use a summary sentence after the headline.

Often called a deck, the one or two sentences after a headline summary the article. This is especially important when writing for the Web. Visitors to your site will use this information to decide to click through or not. Here is a recent example.

The deck lets you know if you want to read the article.

5. Review and cut.

Good writing takes time. Go through your drafts keeping the reader in mind. Where can you trim the excess? Here’s a fun quote Ann mentioned by Peter DeVries:

When I see a paragraph shrinking under my eyes like a strip of bacon in a skillet, I know I’m on the right track.

You can get more tips at Anne Wylie’s service for writers.