What You Can Learn About Publicity from Manti Te’o

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And How It Can Get Your Story in Print

By all accounts, traditional print publications such as newspapers and magazines are on their way out.

You could have fooled me! As the recent story about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o illustrates, they’re powerful!

As far as I can tell, the news that Te’o led his team to victory within hours of learning of the deaths of his girlfriend and grandmother was first published in Sports Illustrated magazine and the South Bend Tribune newspaper.

The brave and dedicated athlete and his tragic tale became THE story in the run-up to the BCS championship game earlier this month. All the media picked it up – TV, radio, blogs.

And then it got even bigger.

Last Wednesday, the online news outlet Deadspin reported that the girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, never existed.

That got everyone, not just football fans, talking about Manti and Lennay.  What’s even more surprising is it had the general public talking about the role mass media played in perpetuating a national hoax.  How unusual is that?

Imagine harnessing that power of print for something positive!

As the Manti Te’o story illustrates, media follows media. Countless publications, TV stations, etc. picked up the girlfriend story (and its unverified “facts”) and ran with it. The same can happen for you.  If you get some good print publicity, you may see a domino effect as other media discover you. It starts with pitching print media with newsworthy story ideas.

Last week, I promised to help you get 2013 off to a great start by getting back to publicity basics. (Click here for the general tips I shared.)  Today, I’ll focus on print media and the fundamentals to remember as you pitch them your ideas,

  • Familiarize yourself with the publication.  If it’s local, pick up a copy and see what types of articles it runs. (If it’s not local, look for it online or at a newsstand.) Notice the articles’ subject matter, length and tone. Our creative director, Penny Carnathan, was the recipient of many pitches during her years as an editor at The Tampa Tribune. She says it was helpful to get story ideas or content from people who obviously knew exactly which types of articles her newspaper ran. On the flip side, pitches for irrelevant content were a waste of time. Most newspapers want a local angle, which is not a problem if the publication is in your hometown. If you’re pitching publications in other locales, do some research to find a local angle.
  • Check deadlines. Newspapers are usually daily or weekly, while magazines may publish weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually. Both plan their feature content ahead of time. For papers that may be from a few days to two or three weeks ahead of publication. Magazines may be working on their May issue in February. Either way, working in advance is vital. If your story idea coincides with a holiday or special event, consider when you’d like to see it published and work backward from that date. Search the publication’s website for deadline information and policies regarding unsolicited material.
  • Grab them with your email’s subject line. It’s the first thing anyone will see and if it doesn’t catch their interest, or it looks like a sales pitch, they won’t open it. Think about the emails from strangers that you open – what do the subject lines say? Keep your subject line limited to five to eight words or about 40 characters. Avoid the symbols and words that may send your email straight to Junk Mail, such as “free,” “% off,” words in all caps, exclamation points, multiple punctuation marks (???), and dollar signs.
  • Then hook them with your headline.  The headline on your pitch should be concise, active, and it should convey your message in an attention-grabbing way. What’s new about what you have to offer? What problem can you solve for the publication’s readers? What credentials do you have? These are all things to consider.

Be sure your email is friendly and professional. Respect the recipient’s time by being direct about what you have to offer – most editors won’t wade through a long narrative to get to the meat of your message.

Finally, direct your email to the appropriate editor or reporter, and triple-check that you’ve spelled his or her name correctly.

See you in print!

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