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The Art Of The Pitch: Five Tips To Generate Mainstream Media Interest In Your Stories

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com. Please find it here.

Writing a great press release is just the first step. The ultimate goal is getting a widely read and respected media outlet to share the information — ideally with a clever spin or some journalistic commentary, making it a unique article. But as you’ve noticed, there is no shortage of stories in today’s 24-hour news cycle. The era of taking advantage of “slow” news days is over. And more often than not, clickbait-style, sensationalistic headlines dominate top coverage.
Therefore, pitching has become an art, and pitching highly technical stories requires even more attention and finesse. So, how do you convince a journalist who is bombarded with story ideas that yours is worthy of a response? Here are our top five approaches that can work with diligence, persistence and strategy.

1. Simplify complex topics.

In industries like tech and telecom, it’s easy for insiders to get bogged down in the minutiae. We live and breathe this highly technical content, so it’s easy to forget that most people don’t. To the average person, as long as their smartphone works, they don’t care exactly how it operates. That goes for the average mainstream journalist as well.

It’s important to keep your pitches very top-level for highly technical subjects and convey that the concept you’re pitching affects a wide audience. As PR professionals, it’s up to us to explain this succinctly and artfully in our pitches. People don’t know what they don’t know, and we have an opportunity to enlighten them.

2. Peg news to pop culture.

Whenever possible, use pop culture to tell your story. What’s trending on Twitter, and the stories that are buzzing around the watercooler, serve as great hooks to break into mainstream media.

For example, one client that we represent, NJFX, has a great story to tell, but because of its highly technical and complicated nature, it’s often hard to concisely convey it to the mainstream media. The company owns a unique property where subsea cables that cross the Atlantic Ocean land and then connect to terrestrial networks. In a sense, the internet “lives” at NJFX before traversing across the rest of North America. But how could we tell its story without coming across as too technical or boring? Well, when the movie Ralph Breaks the Internet ranked as the box office’s No. 1 on its opening weekend, we were handed the relatable pop culture hook to make our client’s story a lot more intriguing for mainstream audiences.

Our media outreach posed the question: “Can the Internet Really Break?!” and resulted in an on-camera interview by a local television news program that used sound bites from NJFX on the importance subsea cables have on making the internet work. Most people don’t know that 99% of global internet traffic travels by subsea cable and the coverage from that news piece was an aha! moment for many viewers.

3. Keep your pulse on mainstream stories.

This is often difficult to do when you’re immersed in the industry you represent day in and day out, but it’s important to step back and look at it as an outsider. At JSA, we often use this barometer: How would I explain the tech and telecom news to a friend who has no idea what it is?

I might start by explaining that everything you do online or through your mobile device touches our industry in some way, shape or form. And since rare is the person who doesn’t use the internet, telecom infrastructure layered with their technical components affects just about everyone. The key is making the journalist realize that enough to envision the story and want to write it.

Just recently the internet turned 30, and this milestone birthday served as an ideal opportunity to bring attention to how far we’ve come as a society. One that went, in a mere three decades, from just learning about the internet’s existence to relying on it daily. 5G, another example, is a big conversation-starter right now and another way to elevate tech and telecom clients and bring attention to their work and innovation.

Gripping, must-watch events like the World Cup, Super Bowl and The Olympics also provide opportunities to talk about the bandwidth needed to support the spike in data usage generated by such occasions.

4. Capitalize on milestones and historic events.

A great way to pitch a non-mainstream story is by highlighting a milestone or connecting it to a celebration. The 30th birthday of the internet, mentioned above, is just one example. Other questions to ask yourself are: Was the first one of something invented this year? What was unique about it? Did it set or break a record or have historical significance?

Examples range from the release of the first mobile phone or the very first computer to the anniversary of the world’s oldest subsea cable. I suggest keeping a calendar of events that tie into your industry (have you heard of IoT Day?) and capitalize on milestones to flesh out topical pitches.

5. Weigh the ‘scare factor.’

One thing I learned back while working in 24-hour cable news is that no producer will shy away from using fear to attract an audience. The simple reality is that scary headlines get the clicks. But that doesn’t mean your pitches have to contain gratuitous fear tactics.

Data security, hacking scandals and bank breaches exist, and it’s important to highlight solutions for how consumers can protect themselves. Never forget that your client’s brand comes first though, and always weigh the potential risk before associating their commentary to fear-driven stories that could inadvertently shed negative light onto their brand.

As a final note, never stop asking yourself what defines meaningful media mentions. Would you rather have a syndicated version of your client’s press release published, or have them quoted as a subject matter expert for a mainstream audience? It’s a no-brainer. Pitching journalists artfully and strategically greatly increases the chances of getting and keeping your clients in the spotlight.

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