Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to get business press

To hit a home run with the business press, you need to answer this question: "Who will make money from it?"

If you merely describe your product, its benefits and the problem it solves, you're going to strike out. If you offer an industry analyst's forecast about the size of the market in the coming year, you're still out. If you add a happy customer, you're still out.

Pick up a Fortune magazine and thumb through it. Look for an article that doesn't answer the magical question. You won't find one.

Tech PR newbies don't know this. They generally have more success with trade press, who ask, "How does it work?" Technology clients happily provide that info, so it's an easy pitch. [Mainstream press answer the question "What's in it for the reader" and look for quirkiness.]

PR veterans always do a competitive analysis before putting together a business pitch. In particular, they look for a new or changing answer to the magical question. If they're really on top of their game, they pull out the unconventional wisdom, counter-intuitive lesson, or otherwise unexpected tidbit, and lead with that.

Your pitch doesn't have to be an explicit answer to the magical question. But the answer needs to be an underlying element within the larger body of info.
  • Should you mention competitors in your pitch? Yes.
  • Should you mention peripherally involved industries? Yes.
  • Do you have to include data and dollars? Not always, but that adds credibility, and helps nail down in specifics a trend that may be vaguely felt but not clearly understood.
  • Do you need a crystal ball? No. In fact, uncertainty of outcome increases your chance of success. Think of a suspenseful book or novel. Not knowing how it ends is a plus. That's what makes people lean in and begin listening for more info.
What if you don't have "news"? No problem.

Journalists define news differently than most clients do. Most clients mistake an announcement as news. The announcement may be a new product, an industry award or survey results. But none of those are news in the mind of a journalist. Why? Because those are expected outcomes. Companies make products, win awards and publicize data -- that's business as usual.

Journalists look for:
  • Info readers need for decision-making about their own lives or businesses
  • A break in the normal flow of events, an interruption in the expected
So anything that makes a moderately informed person say, "Huh, no kidding!" is news.

I recommend doing a competitive analysis with your head first, then scanning it with your gut second. Any mild sense of surprise will do; pluck that detail up and make it the first line.

If one pitch needs to work for all three genres of press -- business, trade and mainstream -- then make sure you have implied answers to all three questions:
  1. Who will make money from it?
  2. How does it work?
  3. What's in if for the reader?