You may have noticed that the line between the common understanding of a press release and a media pitch has become rather blurred. This is understandable given today’s manic media landscape and fundamental shifts in the way PR pros interact with media contacts but some basic distinctions remain.
Some of the formerly sharp edges separating press releases and media pitches have melted and merged a bit, but we think a reminder of where one ends and the other begins is in order. A good understanding of their similarities and differences can be useful in fine tuning your own media strategy.
Before we take a closer look at how they’re different but complement each other, let’s start with a quick review of the different boxes that press releases and media pitches should tick.
What is a press release?
A press release is the written announcement of some newsworthy event in a company or organization. Typically, its purpose is to get interest from media that will rebroadcast and magnify the message to a large audience.
The clue is right there in the name—press release. That’s who it’s for and that’s who you want to get interest from. An effective press release is not only well written, but it provides all the context and information needed for a journalist to create informed, useful content for readers.
By “well-written”, we’re not just talking about spelling & grammar here, although it goes without saying that both need to be perfect. We also mean that some careful thought and strategy have to go into a press release’s content and construction. An effective press release will:
- Quickly and clearly communicate its primary message at a glance. No journalist is going to spend time reading through an introduction or long history. The point of whatever you’re announcing should be obvious right from the start. The who-what-when-where mentality applies here so stick with the basics.
- Place the announcement in the context of a narrative. Ok, so your company has a cool new product but so what? Oh, wait, sales in this field are up by how much this year? And your market share has increased by what? And what famous names are endorsing your new product release? Now your announcement is much more interesting. Tell the story around your news that readers will find compelling. Make it easy for journalists to see why they should get more interested in what you have to share.
- Include links to other materials, quotes, stats and complete contact information. So what if you do spark interest in a journalist? What are they supposed to do? To keep them focused on you and your message, include access to the kinds of background information that can help to provide context and flesh out the significance of your message with their readers. Keeping them on your press release means keeping them thinking about the story they can write about you.
Press Release Example
To illustrate the limited focus and purpose of a press release, let’s say that Company X is soon introducing Product Y, which is so amazing that the world needs to know about it. Their press release might start like this:
Company X to release new Product Y
Company X, an innovative market leader in the design and production of amazing things, announced today that their new Product Y will be available on January 1 at stores everywhere. Following the success of the previous version of Product Y, released a year ago, this year’s edition brings new features and an even higher level of amazing-ness.
You might not see a press release with this exact language but you get the idea. It would then go on to include a quote from someone in Company X, along with things like a detailed explanation of what makes Product Y so amazing, what its marketing campaign might look like, what reviewers are saying, etc.
The press release would probably use bullet points to make it more quicky readable and highlight the most important aspects of the launch. It would conclude with a “If you’d like to learn more…” invitation along with contact information for their PR people.
The point is that the press release is focused on the event that Company X believes is worthy of media coverage.
Here’s a real example of a new product press release from Cadbury that was made using Prowly:
What is a media pitch?
A media pitch is an outreach to journalists with the goal of getting them to use your press release as the basis for media coverage.
Whereas press releases explain what happened, media pitches explain why it’s important and deserving of attention.
An effective media pitch will:
- Be concise and direct. Just like the press release you’re sharing, your pitch can waste no time in getting to the point. Again, this is done for the benefit of journalists by simplifying the message you’re sharing and quickly explaining why it’s relevant to them. Remember—before you can share deeper, more detailed information you have to pass the “Should I spend my time on this?” test.
- Personalize the content. We’re talking about more than just using names here, although that’s certainly an expected standard that effective tools will offer. One-size-fits-all doesn’t fit anyone these days, so don’t expect to impress with the same cookie-cutter message sent to everyone on your contacts list.
- Use email to reach recipients. Survey after survey confirms that, by a huge margin, journalists prefer email as a communication channel for press releases. Sure, social media can come into play under certain circumstances but all conversations should start in an email inbox.
- Place extra importance on the subject line of emails and messages. You’ve got a tiny window of opportunity to make your case and convince recipients to open your message. Writing a great subject line is key to taking full advantage to whatever time you’re given. The importance of subject lines is often overlooked so take the time construct the best one you can—it doesn’t matter how great your press release is if no one opens your mail.
- Reach a targeted audience. This may sound like an obvious point, but any journalist will tell you about how they constantly get “spray and pray” press releases that they learn to automatically ignore. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a press release seen by every journalist on the planet will get great results. Being able to select relevant contacts as you construct your pitch in your PR app saves time while boosting open rates and engagement.
Media Pitch Example
Let’s stay with the same fictional Company X and their amazing Product Y from before. Now, in their media pitch, the focus is on directing journalists to their press release. Their email to journalists will look something like this:
You can see that some points are borrowed from the press release to give a flavor of what the big news is all about but the media pitch has a fundamentally different purpose than the press release.
The point of the media pitch is to engage journalists at their points of contact, usually email, and get them interested in the full version of your message, which is detailed in a press release.
What is the difference between them?
Strictly speaking, a press release is what you’re asking someone to take a look at in your media pitch. One directs to the other. The press release is the message, the pitch is an attempt at persuading someone that the message is something they and their readers will be interested in.
The confusion between them arises because there is some crossover and some elements can be present in both a press release and a media pitch.
Your pitch will refer to information in your press release. The underlying theme of a press release is that whoever issued it thinks it’s a good topic for press coverage, which is the same message as your pitch. They’re two parts of the same overall effort to get media coverage and that’s why they often perceived as being the same thing.
It’s hard to describe one without referring to the other.
If it helps to think of media pitches and press releases as two halves of a whole, that’s fine. Just remember that while there may be similarities where one takes over from the other, they still have different purposes, constructions, and strategies.
And speaking of press releases vs media pitches…
While we’re on the subject, let us finish with a few words on a topic related to using press releases and media pitches. It’s a question that’s often asked by those who don’t recognize much of a difference between them:
Should your media pitch include your press release?
It depends on what you mean by “include”. If you mean as an attachment to your pitch email, the answer is absolutely not. There are a few reasons for this:
- It’s challenging enough to get journalists to open your mail—asking them to then download something is doubling your chances of rejection.
- Downloading is not only an extra step, it comes with concerns about viruses and computer safety.
- Using attachments on a media pitch email can trigger spam filters that keep a careful eye on messages that already have a “salesy” tone or subject line. The presence of an attachment can be enough to direct your mail away from inboxes and into spam folders, where it will never see the light of day.
It’s true that you could paste the content of your press release into your media pitch, effectively merging them into the same message, but this presents its own problems:
- Different email service providers offer varying degrees of support for certain graphic elements and will render the content of the press release in different ways. Unless you’ve got a team of pro coders dedicated to satisfying the demands of a long list of email clients, the press release will not display in the same way to everyone.
- Pasting the content of the press release into the mail will significantly increase the email’s “weight” as measured in megabytes. This in turn is a red flag for the spam filters mentioned above and increases your chances of being redirected away from inboxes.
- By simply including your press release inside your pitch email, you’re diluting the power of both of them. Your pitch becomes weaker because it’s just reduced to “read everything below”. Covering the highlights of the press release seems odd when the full version is just further down the page. Your press release is probably shorter than it could be in order to satisfy attention spans and the technical limitations described above.
But there’s a better way. It is now easy to include your press release in a media pitch email in the form of a link to your press release located on a fully branded online newsroom.
Using this option for sharing your press releases has a few advantages:
- It just looks more professional. The difference between “just click here” and “download file” is the difference between today and fifteen years ago.
- Directing journalists to an online version of your press release allows you to make additions and corrections (yes, it happens) after you send your original mail.
- Having a press release online supports your SEO strategy and can help in page positioning in search results.