Occasionally, I’m asked to participate in seminars for publicists who want to learn how to get their stories told on TV. They all know how to write press releases. They want to take the next step, and actually get people like me to read them.
I typically find an excuse to sidestep such invitations, mostly because I can’t give them a good, positive answer. My best answer shouldn’t require a seminar: Don’t pitch bullshit. If the story is interesting, we’ll use it. “The News” is constantly starving for information that actually keeps people interested.
In good conscience, I can’t endorse some of the tricks used by some people to get their stories under our noses — even though they may work. Let’s use the press release shown in the below image as an example.
The writer of the piece below apparently hand-delivered it to the lobby of WXIA-TV. Presumably, the writer asked to see me. If I got such a call from the receptionist, I wasn’t around to answer it. The material ended up in my mailbox. Some reporters check their mailboxes every day. Our mailroom is just far enough out of the way that I overlook its contents for days. No, make that weeks. I don’t know how long this item sat in my mailbox.
This delay reveals a shortcoming on my part more than that of the writer. Hand-delivery gets the recipient’s attention. But it’s also risky. Had I answered the receptionist’s call, I might have been forced to spend time, on deadline, entertaining this writer in the lobby. I was probably busy. Whatever the message, it may have simply irritated me, undermining the writer’s intent. In this case, the message may have done more than that.
Here’s where the writer really botched this one: The envelope contained twenty pages of densely-worded material. Some of it was typed. Much of it was hand-written. There was ample redundancy. To the writer’s credit, the handwriting is legible– almost spookily so.
Hot tip: Don’t write too much. Grab my attention with something brief and well-written. (This is the extent of my positive advice at PR seminars. Once I get past that, I don’t have much else to say.) Also, keep the margins clean.
Here’s a trick I can’t endorse. Want to get a newsroom’s attention? Bring food. Cupcakes and whatnot show up periodically in newsrooms. While devouring them, the denizens of the newsroom will occasionally ask how they got there. The provider’s name gets mentioned, though his message may get lost in the schrapnel of flying crumbs and smeared frosting.
With this bit of insider knowledge, the hand-deliverer of the above “possible whistleblower” missive would have known to bring dessert.
And maybe some Kool-Aid.