How to craft compelling press releases & pitches

By Damon Carson

megaphoneThe starting process to getting your invention in the news is writing a press release or a story pitch intended for the eyes of editors, producers and reporters.

In the pitch, you don’t want to write the whole story. This job is for the reporter. You simply want to give them a few highlights in under one page. As for format and style of a press release, I’ve taken different directions. I have written a formal press release in the proper Associated Press-style and I’ve been just as successful with the media when sending a personal e-mail.

While I think the style and format is relative to each journalist, what is always crucial is that the pitch tells a great story. Pitches are mostly sent over e-mail today. Writing a great headline typically becomes your subject line for the e-mail. While pitching has everything to do with writing, it is also about selling a story idea to an editor or producer.

The first step is you have to convince the recipient to open your email. It can be the greatest pitch in the world, but if it never gets opened and read – who cares. I always try to write provocative headlines. For our kiddie rides, I use descriptors like “iconic,” “nostalgic,” “vintage” and “Americana” when speaking about our rides. Below are a few of the subject lines I have sent with e-mail pitches:

Subject: Iconic Toy Gets New Life

Subject: Restoring a Piece of Americana

Subject: Nostalgic Coin-Op Rides Bring Smiles Once Again

The goal of the subject line is to simply grab the editor’s attention. You have to remember that many of these media folks get 100+ pitches each day in their inboxes. You have to write something catchy in the subject line or you will simply get deleted.

In your e-mail pitch, you have just a couple of sentences to either sell your story idea or lose their attention. I usually hit the editor first with a catchy “sizzle” paragraph and then follow it up with an informative “steak” paragraph.

The following are a few e-mail pitch openings I’ve used:

If you’re looking for something to WOW the kids this year, or appeal to the nostalgic – “kid in all of us” – adult, then our product – a kiddie ride – might be the ticket.

Sometimes a classic piece of Americana – in our case, the kiddie ride – can get new life as a creative marketing tool.  Savvy marketers are using our rides to thrill kids, and these excited kids will subsequently exert “kidfluence” on their parents decisions for high ticket purchases – ie: cars, homes, etc.

Miami entreprenuer Karim Sabet and his buddy, Ben Abrams, are locked in a game of “one-upsmanship” when it comes to buying each other birthday gifts.  This year Mr. Sabet trumped his “rival” with a unique, nostalgic gift – a kiddie ride.

The coin-operated horses in front of the ‘ole Five & Dime were where dreams came true for those young wannabe cowboys and cowgirls of yesteryear not lucky enough to have a horse of their own.  Now these old-time vending machines are being transformed into stylish pieces of equine home décor.

I then immediately follow this lead paragraph with my fact-based “steak” paragraph.

My company re-crafts these American icons.  My name is Damon Carson, and I own Kiddie Rides USA – www.kiddieridesusa.com – in Denver, CO.  Kiddie Rides USA is the last stand alone kiddie ride company left in America.  We sell these kiddie rides to very new and diverse customers – eg: doctor’s offices, homeowners, corporations for branding purposes, car dealerships, grandparents, collectors, etc.

I always put my Web site separated with hyphens so it stands out within this paragraph. In today’s world, you want the reporter to have instant access to more information that a great Web site will provide. Also, your Web site will be the first non-written touch with whatever you are promoting. If for no other reason, have a professional Web site to help sell your story.

In this paragraph, I also mention something that makes a company unique.  “Kiddie Rides is the last stand alone kiddie ride company left in America.” Spend some time here on this sentence. Come up with something unique and use catchy language.

Once you’ve hit the editor with your opening one-two punch then you just pile on more “sizzle.” My next paragraph is very descriptive.  I hope to create a visual in the head of the reporter with clever sound bites.

For over half a century, kiddie rides have captured pop culture in miniature.  There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of different kiddie rides molded into all shapes, sizes and cartoon characters over the years.  They are equal parts 60-second amusement ride for kids and nostalgic American icons for adults.

If you read some of the stories written about Kiddie Rides USA, you’ll see that some reporters have actually used the “for over half a century, kiddie rides have captured pop culture in miniature.”

Recently, I’ve included photos in some of my pitches. If a picture is truly “worth a thousand words,” and you have one that says what words cannot, use it. Great press release and pitch writing is all about cutting through the clutter of a journalist’s e-mail inbox and making your product a provocative story to tell.

Editor’s note: This article appears in the February 2010 print edition.

Damon Carson owns a business in Denver that sells kiddie rides – the coin-operated type you used to see outside grocery stores. He’s also a regular contributor to several publications on the topic of publicity. We’ve recently recruited him to be our resident expert on generating PR. We’re looking forward to seeing more of his work in these pages. He offers free resources for inventors at his Web site, www.publicityassociates.com/inventor