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Wanna Get Publicity for your Online Venture - Forget the Press Release

By Bill Stoller
Posted Thursday, August 5, 2004

At its core, publicity is simply one person persuading another. You, the publicity seeker, must persuade a journalist or ezine editor that your story is worth receiving attention.

If you've ever sat with an insurance salesman who droned on and on, you know that simpler is better when it comes to
persuasion. A few choice words, a brief, well-reasoned argument and a strong close can make the sale.

When pitching a journalist or online editor, the same rule applies. Keep your pitch short and to the point -- and the
results will come.

Unfortunately, many publicity seekers forget this advice. They overwhelm journalists with bloated press releases and
lengthy backgrounders. If they avoid the trash bin, these snoozers will only bury your main argument in a blizzard of verbiage.

That's why I love pitch letters.

They're brief business letters that can accompany a press release or stand on their own. They serve one purpose -- to pique the journalist's interest in your story. They are "teasers" for the meat of your story angle. If you've hooked the journalist with your pitch letter, you have a real chance of getting the rest of your press materials read -- and your story placed.

Pitch letters can be sent by snail mail but they're also the perfect tool for e-mail contact. Too many publicity seekers send entire press releases by e-mail when a few brief paragraphs would serve their cause far better.

Here's how to put together a strong pitch letter, step-by-step:

* Start off with your best shot

In the first sentence, get the reporter to say either "Gee, I never knew that" or "That's interesting". Or better yet, try to
get him to say both things! Don't mess around with formalities, and don't bury your angle in hype. Here's an example of a pitch letter we used to promote "the world's largest game of Pictionary":

Dear Mr. Smith:

On November 19, during halftime of the California-Stanford game, 80,000 people will make history.

They'll establish a World Record by participating in the largest game in history -- a monumental round of Pictionary, led by the Stanford Marching Band.

Here's another example, promoting the winner of a contest sponsored by one of our clients:

Dear Mr. Smith:

A miracle has bloomed and is now being harvested in the heart of the South Bronx.

What used to be a trash-filled vacant lot covered with used hypodermic needles and crack vials is now a spectacular 2 1/2-acre working farm. Every day, dozens of neighborhood youngsters come to tend their garden plots, sing songs, hear poetry and learn about nature.

* Target your pitch

Even if you have only one version of a press release, you can still target your pitch by crafting multiple pitch letters.

Here's a letter we wrote to The Paul Harvey Show. It resulted in an on-air piece -- one of the biggest publicity hits you can get.

Notice that it's written in a structure and style similar to what you might hear on The Paul Harvey Show. We also played up the "senior" status of the Games Gang members, as senior citizens make up a significant portion of their listenership.

Dear Mr. Jones,

In June, 1986, a group of veteran toy sales people (average age: 60) were told there was no more room for them at the company they'd served for more than 30 years.

They didn't slip quietly into retirement, however. Instead, they set out to prove the toy industry wrong -- to show that experience and commonsense are the keys to success.

They've done it.

The company they formed, The Games Gang, has taken the games industry by storm. They've beaten the odds by
creating one of the most successful games in American history -- Pictionary. Today, 10 million games later, the "Over
The Hill Gang" is at the top of the game heap, having surpassed their larger -- and younger -- rivals.

We think your listeners and readers, especially those who feel as if their best days are behind them, will find the
story of The Games Gang a real inspiration.

* Show how your story relates to the reporter's audience

Go back an re-read that last paragraph. That's the line that put the story over the top. We took a corporate story and
demonstrated that it could have meaning to a wide group of listeners -- even those who don't play board games or care about entrepreneurs.

Try to find a bigger theme in your story, especially one that fits with the mission of the media outlet you're pitching.

Pitch letters are wonderful and often underused tools. Just keep them short, get to the point, try to show how your story can appeal to a wide audience and, where appropriate, have a little fun, and you'll be pitching like a pro!

About The Author:
Bill Stoller, the "Publicity Insider", has spent two decades as one of America's top publicists. Now, through his website, eZine and subscription newsletter, Free Publicity: The Newsletter for PR-Hungry Businesses (, he's sharing -- for the very first time -- his secrets of scoring big publicity. For free articles, killer publicity tips and much, much more, visit Bill's exclusive new site: (


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