While I consider myself an effective communicator, I recently recalled a bad habit I used to have when writing and speaking. The problem was, I would often “bury the lead,” the important points I was trying to make would be lost in other less crucial details I was passing along.
Doing this can be tremendously frustrating to a person pressed for time. This is not only the case in the busy world of business, when it comes to public relations (PR), it’s important to remember that editors, analysts and other influencers you’re targeting are inundated with similar messages and on deadline.
Standing out is imperative and brevity removes clutter.
Get to the point
Those of us in this line of work are story tellers. So it stands to reason we would communicate in the same manner; establish a premise or angle, support it with facts and other secondary details, then make a conclusion. However, not everyone has time to read down to the bottom of a lengthy email to learn the ultimate point. One place where that is particularly evident is when pitching the media.
Today, news rooms are understaffed, leaving reporters to crank out articles at a rapid pace. Gone are the days when they’d review a well laid out, lengthy pitch. So, when reaching out to media, keep pitches short and be sure to put the ultimate ask right up top – such as scheduling an executive interview on breaking news – without overwhelming the recipient with details.
This allows reporters to triage what’s in front of them. If they’re working on a story and realize you have a resource that can fill a hole, they’ll quickly see it. If you bring up a new angle they should consider, tease it and they’ll read further and possibly set up an interview.
The word to keep in mind is “relations;” reporters remember the PR people who understand what they need and can help them get their job done easier. By reaching out with relevant information, and making your points quickly, you’ll build relationships that ensure you’ll be considered.
It’s that first hurdle that’s the toughest to clear. Just remember, make sure your information has a strong connection to what the reporter is covering or their beat (the topic area they focus upon). Reporters have been known to call out those on Twitter who waste their time with pitches that are entirely unrelated to anything they would work on.
Form a new habit
For most people in business and the media, email remains the most common form of direct contact. So, those messages are a good place to focus upon and form the right habits.
If you’re wondering how to be succinct in media outreach, a basic email should be three or four short paragraphs. Be sure your ask, and a brief payoff as to why the recipient of the message should care, is made within the first three sentences. Next, follow with a paragraph or two with supporting information that adds flesh to your claims.
This can include relevant market stats, company leadership, work in a specific area or executive bio details to highlight credibility and knowledge. To generate excitement, tease successful results in overcoming a problem, maybe present a provocative viewpoint or story angle not being considered.
Basically, you want to show you’ll add depth to their piece.
Apply it everywhere
The goal of not burying the lead also applies when speaking with clients and colleagues from whom you want to get “buy in” - such as an executive you hope to enlist as a media spokesperson. I used to provide a long lead up to justify what I was proposing. While this seems sensible in our personal lives, it’s not the best approach when a deadline is looming or the business clock is ticking.
That said, when speaking, employ the same approach as when writing – lead with the ask.
Don’t forget the subject
Finally, one of the most overlooked areas of the email isn’t even in the body text – it’s the subject line.
This is a bit more complex because with a very few number of words, you’re looking to convey that you have something a recipient can use – and sometimes there’s urgency. With a reporter, there are so many different pitching scenarios that it’s tough to offer a rule of thumb other than to be as direct as possible.
That, and remember you’re not trying to trick them into opening an email; nothing exasperates a reporter more than finding there’s no substance to consider.
Getting to the point faster increases the odds you’ll get attention and a response from the other person – whether it’s a reporter or a colleague. Lead with what’s important or it’s your ideas that’ll be buried.
Now that you know how to communicate more effectively, check out these tips for producing more compelling stories!
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How I’m learning to become a chameleon in my work relationships