It Snowed in Phoenix! And How to Pitch Magazine Editors

What’s that about global warming again? Oh, right … it freakin’ snowed IN THE DESERT yesterday!

I live in Phoenix, Ariz., and it actually snowed here. Seriously. I borrowed some Facebook images from our local news stations to prove it:

Snow photo_93.3 KDKB
[Source: 93.3 KDKB Facebook page]
Snow photo_KBAQ
[Source: KBAQ Facebook page]
And because I have nothing else to say, I’m re-publishing a VERY old blog post, before anyone even knew I existed (on the social Web). I used to write about professional stuff … really!

So, if you’re a writer, or PR person, maybe these tips will offer something useful. Imagine that!

Enticing Magazine Editors and Media–Successfully Pitch Your Story!

Whether you’re a PR professional selling your company’s story, or a freelancer enticing a magazine editor, understanding how to pitch well is vital.

I’ve enjoyed success as a journalist and media relations professional for a reason:

1. Keep your pitches to five sentences or less.  

As a freelancer trying to get published in a magazine, I received my best advice from a senior editor at TIME Magazine. Here it is:

Keep your initial pitch to one paragraph (I suggest five sentences, tops). 

  • If you’re a freelancer, follow-up with a brief description about your experience (places you’ve been published, years of experience), as well as why YOU should write this story.
  • Cut and paste any additional material, such as a news release, into the email body after your pitch. As a backup, attach the document.

I’ll never forget the editor’s words from TIME, “We are too busy to open any attachments. If it’s not in the email body, we won’t see it.”

2. Forget sounding fancy. Cut to the chase: the five W’s.

As a newspaper reporter, the best way to entice me to DELETE your email, was by developing a fancy first sentence. I only cared about the WHAT of your story—so I could decide immediately if it was newsworthy.

  • My number one tip from my last post on writing engaging content was to keep your article lead less than 30 words. Apply that rule to any story pitch.
  • You will lose the reporter’s/editor’s/producer’s attention if don’t tell them upfront the Who, What, When, Where and Why.

3. Make it relevant!

Is your story timely? Localized? Who’s the audience? TIME Magazine would rather publish a national trends article, whereas Phoenix Magazine (from Arizona) would seek a feature on a high school coach who’s changed the school’s morale.

Regardless of whether you’re a freelancer or PR professional, do your research.

  • If you live in California, but are pitching in Connecticut, run a Google Maps and get an idea of the geography.
  • Read through your target publication to understand its style before pitching (hint hint: you can work that style and relevance into your pitch).

4. Follow up via phone in two to three days–not the same day.

Most editors will get hundreds of emails a day, maybe more. IF they read your pitch, it won’t be the same day you sent it, so give them time. When you call a few days later, start with this:

“Hi ____, my name is _______ and I’m a freelance reporter from ______ following up on a story I emailed you a day or two ago.”  Then immediately launch into your story idea. Most likely, if they haven’t seen your email, now they’ll open it.

Above all else, never forget the WIIFM: What’s In It For Me? Always put yourself in the editor’s shoes and ask, “Why would I publish this story?”

Whatever the answer is … that will be your news hook.

5 Lessons I’ve Learned from Reporter to PR

I used to hate PR (public relations) people when I worked on the newspaper. And really, I still kinda cringe when someone calls me a PR professional.

“I’m in media relations,” I always correct them.

I don’t spin. I don’t twist. I just educate the public the best I can for a company. Would I love to pound the pavement again as a journalist seeking the truth, living the edgy life? Yea, I dream about it. I’m not gonna lie.

BUT … I will say that I’ve learned several lessons on my road from reporter to “media relations.” And if I ever make it back, I’ll definitely apply them!

So, here are my top five takeaways I’d like to share—whether you’re a writer, reporter, or PR hack:

1) Not all journalists are honest, or accurate.

Trust me, this was a HUGE surprise to me. And quite honestly … a blow. My job on the newspaper was my first out of college, and I truly believed that every journalist was ethical—like me. But after working on the PR side, I realized that some reporters don’t care about the truth; they only care about their angle. Whether from laziness or an agenda, I’ve witnessed journalists report blatantly false information. Lesson? Don’t believe everything you read, always research the facts yourself, and treat ethical journalists like royalty.  

2) Understanding media strategy or content marketing can HELP writers or reporters, not hurt them.

Not to brag, but I believe I’m the perfect example of this. As a reporter, I’d slap you if you mentioned the word “blog” to me. However, after entering the world of media strategy, I started this blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Now, I have a readership … and I haven’t even published a book yet! Lesson? Any reporter who can build an ENGAGED following will more efficiently distribute the news … so don’t run from the concept of content marketing.

3) Multi-media and diverse writing is now a requirement, for anything.

I left journalism right as the newspapers began to collapse in December 2007. I began my new job in PR at the start of 2008, allowing me to witness the media world’s transition from the outside. I used this time to develop my skills in writing for the Web, social media, blogs, magazines, newspapers, e-newsletters, business, and to persuade. No longer can I find a writing job that merely asks for experience in print. Lesson? The more you understand multi-media–as well as writing for different audiences—the better chance you have of landing a job!

4) Learning to pitch well isn’t only for PR people. Freelance journalists need it for editors, and writers need it for literary agents.

I’ve been able to help creative writer friends perfect their query letters to literary agents. And I’ve advised journalists on pitching a solid story to a magazine editor (and landed freelance gigs myself). Why? Because I’ve become an expert in pitching. Understanding “the tease” has become a vital skill in anything media-related today. Lesson? Don’t think of pitching as selling out; instead, embrace what you can learn, and use it to your advantage!

5) The basics ALWAYS apply.

Bottom line, I still attribute information to its sources, even when writing for a company. My leads are always 30 words or less. And I always keep my readers in mind; the goal is still to inform them, regardless of the outlet. Lesson? The basics are taught for a reason. THEY WORK. So … never forget them.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? Do you agree with my observations? Have you witnessed something contrary, or additional? Discuss …

Write for a Cause! ‘Writers for the Red Cross’ Launching

(Used with permission)

Calling all writers who want to make a difference! The Red Cross needs you.

My local chapter of the Red Cross, knowing of my writing reputation, pinged me on Twitter with information on a new national Red Cross campaign that combines writers and their communities. That’s right . . . as a writer, YOU can make a difference in your community–using nothing more than your talents (as a side note, I have no self-motivated interest in publicizing this; I simply think it’s a great idea and want to inform my fellow writers of the opportunity).

The campaign is called “Writers for the Red Cross,” and it’s launching mid-February. According to the Red Cross on its campaign website:

What is Writers for the Red Cross? This online event is intended to raise funds and awareness for the Red Cross and its work in communities across the country. We’ll be auctioning off publishing-related items and services donated by authors, publicists, agents, and editors. We’ll also have daily guest posts from authors about “What the Red Cross Means to Me” and a daily countdown of “31 Things You Didn’t Know About the Red Cross” on the official event website. All donors who give over $25 will also be able to select one free book from a range of books donated and shipped by publishers for the event.”

Why Writers? Writers share our commitment to community by bringing people together through their stories. And these communities continue to be strengthened as readers come together with writers in their local bookstores, in book clubs, online through social media…and through partnerships with national organizations with a similar mission of community: national organizations like the American Red Cross.”

Interested?

You better hurry. Although the campaign launches in mid-February, the campaign’s website says fundraising ends March 31. A Red Cross representative told me they especially need donations of 15+ copies of books to use for donor incentives. If you’re an author with a new book, great opportunity for you!

Visit the campaign’s website for more details on the event, as well as how YOU can get involved: http://www.writersfortheredcross.org/

Make your writing count. Share this with your contacts, and write for a cause!

3 Social Marketing Lessons from a Bananagram

Plastic letters in a banana. Was I hallucinating? No, but after one simple email, I switched from a skeptic to an advocate for this unique “game.”

I’m talking about the new age of social media marketing. About a week ago, I wrote a humorous, yet cynical blog post entitled, “Bananagrams: The New Age of American Consumerism.”

A Bananagram.

The next day, when I checked my inbox, I found a surprise. There, filling my subject line, all in caps, was one word: “BANANAGRAMS.”

Turns out the email author was the PR representative for Bananagrams. “Morning Shari,” it read. “I just saw your post.  You have to play it!  It’s so much more than Scrabble in a banana. I attached a few articles on the founder and the creation of the game as an FYI.”

The three articles were from the New York Times, TIME Magazine, and the Boston Globe. Within the hour, I was all hers. How? Well, besides introducing me to the very endearing story behind the Bananagram, she did three very key things:

# 1. She found me.

I wrote my blog without knowing a single thing about Bananagrams. All I observed were five oversized fabric bananas hanging off an aisle at Walgreens. I had no intention of researching these contraptions further.

Yet, the PR rep for Bananagrams searched cyberspace that day for her brand’s name, and miraculously found my blog. She read it and saw an opportunity to educate a potentially influential “advocate.”

#2. She researched me, I’m guessing.

I can’t say for sure, but from the way she approached me, I imagine the Bananagrams PR rep poked around my blog and saw I really am a serious journalist (I say this because the same day I received her email, I had several views of my resume and professional clips).

I have plenty of information on my blog about me: where I’ve worked, the Associated Press awards I’ve won, and clips from the various magazines for which I’ve written.

#3. She educated me, the right way.

After getting a feel for me, she didn’t try and push her brand onto me. Instead, understanding my journalistic values (again, I’m guessing), she attached three articles from three very reputable publications and let the objective stories speak for themselves. Additionally, she didn’t threaten me or ask me to take down my blog post—nor did she request I write a positive follow-up (that’s right, this post was MY idea).

Roundup

This should be a lesson for EVERY company or service out there. You can no longer rely on your potential consumers to contact you. Instead, you need to find them—where they live—whether on Facebook, Twitter, or the blogosphere.

But before you do, spend one minute (literally) reading my first post about the Bananagrams. And see for yourself the difference one email can make. You’ll be amazed.