How to make the perfect pitch

Tailor messages to specific editors

Although there are many different ways to present information to reporters and editors to obtain media coverage, the key to each of them is to know your audience, according to experts interviewed by Hospice Management Advisor.

The results of a survey of local reporters and editors gave Stephanie Smith, director of communications for Hosparus in Louisville, KY, valuable information about what story ideas caught their attention. "Know what different reporters cover and what they might be working on at the moment," she explains. For example, if a reporter writes a column on special events in the community, only send information on events to that reporter, she says.

Be sure your press release is concise and complete, as well as well written, says Smith. "Get an AP [Associated Press] Stylebook and use it for guidance," she suggests. "Proofread the release and have three other sets of eyes review it to make sure you've included all of the facts and that conveys the message you want," she adds.

Finding out what reporters are covering can be accomplished by watching television news, reading local newspapers and magazines, and asking them what interests them, suggests Smith. Another good way to increase the chances that a newspaper will pick up a story is to make it personal, she suggests. "Put a face on the story and be sure you appeal to the audience most likely to respond to the idea," she says.

When the hospice newsletter featured an article about a patient who was a WWII veteran, Smith was able to expand the audience for the article by contacting the newspaper that covered the county in which the patient had lived. "Smaller, community papers want stories about people who live in the community," she explains.

Press conferences should only be used for significant announcements, suggests Smith. "We held a press conference to announce a series of events that occurred throughout the week, but the key attraction was a collection of Princess Diana's dresses on display for one of the events," she says. "I created a media packet with fact sheets and information about the events to distribute to those who attended the press conference as well as reporters who could not attend."

When inviting reporters to cover an event, offer something special, such as an opportunity to enter before the public so the reporter can conduct a private interview or photographers can get visuals, suggests Merrily Orsini, MSSW, managing director of Corecubed, an integrated marketing, design, and public relations company based in Louisville, KY. "Also, be prepared with family members, board members, physicians, or other people who are prepared to give interviews."

Also, be sure you have people at the event to greet reporters and help them get what they need for their story, says Smith. "At our Hike for Hosparus we have between 400 and 500 people so I make sure the reporters have my cell phone number and I make sure hospice employees know how to reach me to let me know a reporter is present," she says.

After the event, remember your manners, says Smith. "After we've received coverage in any media outlet, I send a handwritten thank you note," she says. Even though covering the event and writing the story may be part of the reporter's job, she says the note of appreciation strengthens the relationship between the reporter and Hosparus.

Finally, don't be discouraged when you don't receive the amount of coverage you believe you should, says Smith. "It's not about you or your organization, it's about limited resources on a news staff, other breaking, more newsworthy events, or no room left in the broadcast or publication. Just keep trying and build good relationships."