Journalism is changing. Traditional newsrooms are shrinking, readers are distracted, and given the 24/7 news cycle, new news becomes old news in 30 seconds. So how can wine marketers keep a story pitch out of the virtual trash can?
At the inaugural Women of the Vine Global Symposium in Napa during March 2015, a roomful of wine industry professionals (yes, there were men, too) gathered to hear journalists and new media experts say what it takes to get a story pitch read, an article written, and a brand’s message in front of readers.
The session, titled Pitch Perfect: Why Your PR is Turning Off Editors and Writers…Tips on What Gets Our Attention, was moderated by Mary Orlin, a certified sommelier and staff wine writer at Bay Area News Group.
The panelists were Monique Soltani, Wine Oh TV founder and host; Deborah Parker Wong, Northern California editor for The Tasting Panel; Alder Yarrow, founder and editor of Vinography and author of The Essence of Wine; Cyril Penn, editor in chief of Wine Business Monthly; and Deborah Grossman, freelance wine writer for Wine Enthusiast and iSante.
Here are the panelists’ top ten tips—from the receiving end of the pitch:
- Journalists are people: Get to know key writers and their interests, and cultivate professional relationships with each of them. When writers aren’t on deadline, figure out what stories makes them tick and how they like to work, advised Grossman.
- Make it personal. You don’t want to read mass emails, and journalists don’t either. Tailor each pitch. Show each journalist that you know and value his or her work. Not all wine writers write about the same material, advised Parker Wong. Highlight why your story matters to a writer and the writer’s publication. Bonus tip: Pick up the phone. Phone pitches are a lost art but allow for brainstorming and collaboration. But if you do call, you must know your stuff. This tactic really separates the pros from the amateurs.
- You are a storyteller. That means you have to know your own story. Give your brand a personality and a back-story. Help a writer make an emotional connection that she can share with her readers.
- News is new. Journalists are looking for what’s new: Who is the new hot winemaker? What’s the next big wine consumer trend? How is your brand innovating? In short, how is your story industry-changing news, asked Penn. If you can arm writers with information, they can then sell to their editors—and audiences.
- Don’t pitch an ad, pitch a story. Ads are for to the sales team. And don’t send a marketing brochure, either. Instead, offer information that puts your news into context for the writer. And do avoid jargon and technical terms that aren’t widely understood.
- Short and sweet. When constructing the actual pitch, ask first, What does a writer most need to know? Put those key points in the first sentence. Everything else should serve as supporting material and back-up facts. Plus, flow it all into a single email. We all receive more e-mail than we can get through each day, said Soltani. Don’t double-down.
- Make your pitch rich. Short, yes, but rich, too. Does your pitch, product, or story educate, change, or entertain readers? Providing valuable additional information in an engaging format (infographic, video clips, imagery, and quotes) gives journalists and readers materials that they can use and share.
- The best photo wins. With more people getting news through pictures, providing a good visual that brings your story to life be the deciding factor that lands your product in the article. Bonus tip: Put quality, high-res photos on a website in your press section (you do have a press section, right?) so journalists can access these directly without waiting for your reply e-mail. Send high-res images and photo credits together.
- Don’t send junk. Follow marketing best practices by operating only on an opt-in basis. And don’t ship unsolicited wine. Yarrow posted a photo on his Twitter feed showing how one short business trip had yielded a flurry of missed delivery notices—all for unwanted packages. Also, silly tchotchkes and swag do more harm than good, he said. Send quality, on-brand, and audience-appropriate swag only (or not at all).
- Deadlines are real. You could fumble an opportunity in 30 minutes or less. Lose no time in returning a journalist’s emails or calls—respond immediately. “You’d be amazed at how often brands miss out just because they don’t return e-mails or phone calls,” said Orlin. Bonus tip: Under promise and over deliver. If you can’t offer good visuals, don’t say you can. If spokespeople or samples aren’t available, be honest about it. If a journalist feels she’s been “baited and switched,” she’ll never want to work with you again, advised Soltani.
While these tips seem like common sense, the bottom line is this: A little more time invested at the outset can reap big rewards in the end.