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From Typewriters to Twitter: How the Internet Changed Publicity

by Shonali Burke on February 18, 2010

It used to be that phone and mail were it.

Publicists used to plunk out cover letters on their typewriters, and then mail editors their pitch. Well, things are definitely different today, but the game is still played the same. It seems now that we have less people doing more work on both — the media’s and the publicist’s — ends of the spectrum.

But whether it’s from a typewriter or from Twitter, what prevails is the relationship.

And you can’t build a relationship with the media if you don’t connect with them.

With the advent of the Internet, finding the media has never been easier, especially with sites like USNPL and ProfNet, as well as crowd-sourcing sites like Reporter Connection and Help A Reporter Out.

The downside, though, is that more people than ever are trying to connect with the media, so you really have to make yourself stand out from the crowd. It’s important to keep in mind that the first thing media folks read — your subject line and the first part of your pitch — will determine whether or not you make a connection.

Here’s how to get yourself started on making that connection:

Subject Lines

Some news producers get 1,500 emails in three hours. They are not going to even think about opening your email if it has no subject line or if the subject line looks like spam. Media flooded with hundreds of emails each day will often use search terms to go through their in-boxes and find email that relates to major stories they are working on.

Tip: put these key words in parentheses in your subject line so that they stand out.

Your Pitch

If your subject line gets your foot in the door (and the reporter, producer or editor opens your email), then the first sentence of your pitch has to get immediately to the point of what you can offer them that they can’t get elsewhere. If your pitch is tied to breaking news, you must say immediately how you can help the journalist advance the story. For example:

  • One way to do this is to list topics that you can discuss that will shed new light on the news;
  • Another is to give the journalist a sampling of key tips or advice that you can offer their audience. These should be short, concise, single sentences;
  • Finally, make sure to include a phone number or email where the reporter can contact you at any time and reply to emails immediately.

Remember, they are on deadline and will call someone else if you don’t respond promptly. In fact, they were almost certainly trying to reach other sources when they returned your call or email!

Same wine, new bottle

With all the channels we now have to reach out to the media, it can definitely be overwhelming. But think of it this way: essentially, you still have the same message, just a different way of delivering it. So if you think of the Internet as your media megaphone, you’re bound to score results.

A few last words

If email isn’t producing results, post a video on YouTube, connect with the media on their Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter. If you get to know the media it’s much easier to build a relationship with them.

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~Image: meddygarnet’s Flickrstream, Creative Commons

Michelle Tennant is co-founder of the public relations firm Wasabi Publicity, the free media connection service PitchRate.com, the DIY PR site PublicityResults.com and the online media kit service PressKit 24/7. Michelle specializes in getting her clients publicity around breaking news. She has been called a five-star publicist by “Good Morning America” producer Mable Chan and, in 2009, placed a new client on “Dr. Phil” within eight hours of signing a contract with her firm.

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