We’re happy to welcome Mark Macias, author of  “Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media” as a guest poster today.  Mark Macias is a television journalist living and working in New York City.

You will never be the first person to call a reporter or producer with a story idea. Every day, viewers and readers bombard the media with poorly written emails and long drawn-out voicemails requesting coverage for events that are usually not news worthy. Sadly, this dilutes the credibility for everyone else trying to pitch a legitimate news idea. People frequently complain the media is unresponsive to their calls and emails, but there’s a reason for this discourse.

It’s not that reporters and producers don’t want to listen to the public; it’s impossible to field calls from every person, especially when one rambling caller can quickly eat up 20-minutes of time. Making matters worse, it’s easier for a reporter to hit delete on your email or voicemail than to review your entire message. Unfortunately, you can never shape or influence the media’s coverage without getting over this initial hurdle of making contact.

Every journalist is constantly measuring the value of a story during that first interaction with you or your business. Most experienced journalists believe they can tell within seconds of listening to a pitch whether it is a story or not, and they are usually right. Their attention span is limited over the phone, which is why you must be concise, comprehensive and coherent with every pitch. The quickest way to lose credibility with a reporter or producer is to ramble on for several minutes before explaining what your story is about.

There are no written rules for that first encounter with a reporter or producer, but just like life, there are unwritten rules to making sense of random chaos. There are ways to navigate this media maze so your emails and phone calls don’t get lost in the shuffle. There are also better hours and days to pitch reporters when their time is less pressing and their attention is more focused. But before you even make that initial contact, you must first learn how to effectively identify, pitch and communicate a news worthy idea.

Newspaper and television reporters should not be approached the same way when it comes to writing email press releases. The two mediums face different time constraints with their stories, and that will dictate how long or short you should make your pitch.

Let’s begin with television where white is always good. The more white space on the email news release the better. No one wants to open an email and see eight, long, single-spaced paragraphs. Your initial pitch should never have more than four paragraphs. This is a stereotype but television moves so quickly that no desk assistant, reporter, producer or news manager will take the time to read a release that resembles a novel. They might make it to the second or third paragraph, but they are not going to read three pages of single-spaced sentences.

Here is a formula that seems to work with my peers and me. Try to think of a catchy headline to put at the top of the release, then follow-up your pitch with one paragraph explaining the story. The second paragraph should tell the reporter why viewers would be interested in your idea. This might seem like a challenging task for the rookie publicist, but by applying the five W’s you will be able to narrow down the focus of the story. The third paragraph should be devoted to explaining what you bring to the table or why you are the person to tell this story. If you have more statistics, articles or research for the reporter, tell him in the email you can provide it upon request.

Why not give the reporter all of the research at once or send it as an attachment? It can be intimidating for any reporter to open an email and see several attachments because he won’t know which one to open. When time is of the essence, no one wants to waste time opening useless attachments. However, if a reporter asks for a specific request, you will know which attachment to send.

Many publicists make the mistake of trying to cram everything into one press release. The purpose of a release is to get the reporter or producer interested in the story. You are only trying to make them aware of the idea, and pique their interest. Don’t worry if the release doesn’t answer all of the questions. If it is a good story, the reporter will give you a chance to answer those questions later.

Your approach should change when pitching newspapers but you should still start with the same principles cited for pitching television: begin with a catchy headline, apply the five W’s to narrow the focus of the story, and explain why you are the person to tell the story. Your email release should be more in-depth, depending on the topic and news outlet you are pitching, but it should not exceed one page. You can add credibility to your idea by attaching recent journals or studies that support your idea, along with a paragraph that explains what knowledge the attachments will provide.

If you aren’t getting responses from your pitches, you might want to reconsider your entire approach. Perhaps your story idea isn’t focused or you are pitching to the wrong reporters. Maybe you haven’t properly identified why your story is newsworthy. Take the time to re-evaluate your press release to see if you are communicating the essence of your story. Remember, public relations is not advertising, but there is a home for every story. It’s just a matter of finding the proper niche and tailoring the pitch directly for that niche.

You can learn more about Mark and get more great advice by going to: www.BeatthePressBook.com

AvatarMark Macias

Mark Macias is a crisis communications consultant. He runs a PR company that has consulted restaurants, retailers, lounges and Congressional candidates, including one challenger who beat an incumbent. Macias also wrote the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media.