Play Ball! When pitching to the media avoid these rookie mistakes

BY PAULINE BARTEL

Baseball pitchers lob knuckleballs, sinkers, changeups and curveballs to catchers at home plate. Similarly, companies hoping to score free publicity lob story and news pitches to newspapers, radio and television reporters.

Unfortunately, the story and news pitches thrown by beginners frequently miss the mark. Reporters unable to “catch” your pitches won’t reward you with media coverage. Solution? Playing ball with reporters requires you to know and avoid these rookie-pitcher mistakes.

Knucklehead Pitch: In baseball, a knuckleball or knuckler is thrown so it moves erratically toward the plate, making it difficult to catch. The media relations version is called the knucklehead. Thrown impulsively, this pitch is impossible to catch. The knucklehead pitch involves contacting the media and requesting that the reporter simply “write a story about my company.” This pitch is guaranteed to get you thrown out of the game. If you want the media to spotlight your company, you must provide a story idea. Story ideas with the most reporter appeal blend company news with human interest. For example, say your company has manufactured its millionth widget. If you combine this news with a human-interest angle – the millionth widget was made by the grandson of the first widget maker – you have an irresistible story idea.

Stinker Pitch: In baseball, a sinker is thrown so it moves horizontally and then downward toward the plate. The media relations version is called the stinker. The stinker pitch involves sending a media release containing no newsworthy content. Your media release headline proclaims “Our Company Bought New Office Furniture.” The reporter’s reaction is “So what?” Reporters need news – information that media readers, listeners and viewers will find interesting. Buying new office furniture may be interesting to your company, but the general public couldn’t care less. To avoid the stinker pitch, shift your perspective from that of your company to that of a media consumer and ask: “Would the reader, listener or viewer find this interesting?”  If the answer is “No,” resist the urge to throw the stinker pitch.

Thumbs-Down Pitch: In baseball, a changeup is thrown so it looks like a fastball but takes its time arriving at the plate. The media relations version is called the thumbs-down. The thumbs-down pitch involves sending an event-announcement media release less than two weeks before the event. If you do, you can forget about seeing your event included in business or community calendars. Why?  It’s a matter of competition. Media outlets have only limited free space available for business and community-event announcements. This space fills quickly on a first-come-first-served basis. Submitting event announcements with plenty of lead-time means your company gets first dibs. Submitting event news late in the game means your company gets shut out. To avoid this, send the event-announcement media release at least four to six weeks before the event.

Swerve Pitch:  In baseball, a curveball is thrown so its spin causes the ball to dive, or break, toward or away from plate. The media relations version is called the swerve. The swerve pitch involves sending a story idea or a media release with incorrect information. To avoid errors, double-check every detail. Are names spelled correctly? Are addresses and dates accurate? Are telephone numbers and Web site addresses exact? In case a reporter needs to follow-up, be certain to include your name and telephone number as a company contact. However, if you, the starting pitcher, will be in meetings, on the road or off for vacation, include the name and contact number of someone from the bullpen. Be sure to confirm this relief pitcher’s aptitude and availability to field questions.

When baseball pitchers take the mound, they know the score. Now you do, too. When trying to score free publicity, avoid the wild rookie pitches that reporters will be unable to “catch.”  Pitch well so that, by the bottom of the ninth, your perfect game will be added to the record books.

Pauline Bartel is the president and chief creative officer of Bartel Communications, Inc., an award-winning corporate communications firm based in Waterford. The firm provides clients with persuasive tools for winning new customers. Request a free marketing/public relations appraisal by emailing [email protected] or by visiting the website (www.paulinebartel.com).

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