The Inverted Triangle for Public Relations Professionals
We all know that people have too little time and too many emails these days, meaning most of those emails will only get skimmed for important information. That’s especially true for today’s dwindling number of journalists, writers and editors who get inundated daily with emails from a disproportionately growing community of public relations professionals. The result is that those PR professionals have to work harder and smarter to get their story pitches read, let alone picked up for an article.
There are a lot of systems, formulas and training out there touting the secret to the perfect PR pitch, but just like in everything we do, the most important thing is to know your audience. If you’re pitching a journalist, you need to not only think like a journalist but write like one too. That means two things – staying concise and learning the inverted triangle (or sometimes the inverted pyramid) to discover how to write a PR pitch that gets read.
THE INVERTED TRIANGLE FOR JOURNALISTS
The inverted triangle model of writing can be simple to learn and still take years to master. The basic principle is that you put the most important information at the very top of the story and then add additional layers/details based on what’s second most important, third, etc. Its valuable for readers trying to digest the most information quickly and even more valuable to broadcasters who may have to cut a story short to save time. If a story is properly written in this model, they can basically stop at the end of any sentence and the story still seems intact. The viewer/listener still feels like they heard everything they needed. The model works much the same way for public relations professionals, but with a few twists.
THE INVERTED TRIANGLE FOR PUBLIC RELATIONS PROFESSIONALS
When PR professionals make a pitch, they’re not just telling a story. They’re telling a story with the goal of getting another storyteller interested in picking it up and filling in all the blanks. To do that, we alter the model of the inverted triangle for public relations professionals.
Instead of putting the most important information at the very top, consider what is the most interesting or intriguing. This is your hook. What will pique a journalist’s attention immediately and keep them either reading or skipping down to the REPLY button to get in touch before anyone else does? Maybe it’s not the “most important” detail, but it is what shakes them out of their email hypnosis.
Next introduce a compelling character or personality. Most journalists will not just write a story out of the ether. They need interviews, personalities and other informed voices to give their story depth and validation. How is your character unique? How does their viewpoint, perspective or experience set them apart from everyone else?
Then introduce the twist. Have you ever heard an infomercial salesman say “but that’s not all?” Quickly introduce the complication or challenge that really gives another layer of substance to the story. Two dimensional stories can be great, but three dimensional stories with that extra layer stand apart, not just in a publication but for journalists looking for a good story to tell.
In the typical inverted triangle writing model, we would now move onto secondary details to fill the story out, but there isn’t room for that in a PR pitch. If you haven’t gotten the journalist’s attention yet, they’ve already deleted your email. If they’re still reading, it’s time to make the sell and drive them to some call to action. Ask if they would like to connect with you, or better yet the character/personality you introduced above, to learn more. This is where the public relations professional fulfills their role as facilitator and shows how they can make it easy for a journalist to tell this story and make it their own.
STAYING CONCISE, AKA KEEP IT SHORT
It’s not enough to write a beautiful, carefully worded pitch if it takes too long to get the journalist where they need to go. You don’t want them to just read your email. You want them to take action so you need to get their attention, pique their interest and get them to respond with as few words and as little effort as possible. That means keeping your pitch concise, focusing on what’s necessary and leaving the rest for later. If you can accomplish all that in 100 words or less (about as long as this paragraph), you should be golden.
Remember, though, that writing is a craft and like any craft, it needs to be practiced and honed. Pitching is no different. Some pitches offer more challenges, particularly when you must include some technical or background info as a foundation for the story. Then again, if that’s the case you may not be pitching to the right journalist. Many public relations professionals will tell you some of their favorite pitches of all time amounted to a single sentence that earned massive coverage. Are you up for the single sentence story pitch challenge?