Do you have a secret or maybe not-so-secret desire to add one of those “as seen in Forbes, The New York Times, Entrepreneur” icons to your website? These are lofty public relations goals, to be sure. In a time where social media channels dominate, you’re smart to recognize the value of this type of marketing. But you’re probably wondering how to pitch stories journalists will want to write, especially in these prestigious publications. Well, it comes down to relationships and pitching.
Now, writing this post lights me up because I pitched on behalf of consumer and luxury goods brands for over 15 years, including for some pretty major designers. So, I know a little about how to pitch stories to secure high-level media coverage. It might sound intimidating; most of us dread asking for things. But, if done right, the journalist will appreciate having a good story to write, and you’ll benefit from the press.
In this post, I’m going to break it all down for you. You’ll learn how to pitch profile stories to writers to realize your goal of seeing your brand in print. By the end of this post, I promise you’ll know if you have a profile-worthy story, how to choose which publication to pitch, the journalist to approach and the creative assets you’ll need. No fancy PR team needed!
Here we go!
What is a Profile Story
Before we get into the details about how to pitch profile stories, let’s clarify what they are.
A profile story is a long-form article about a person. Think of it as a written portrait that is narrated or described by the writer. It’s a fact-based article, written by researching and interviewing the subject and/or their inner circle.
Good profile stories go beyond what is generally known about the individual, revealing what makes them different, polarizing, interesting or successful.
Depending on the publication or website, the angle of the story will differ. For example, a business publication might interview a CEO about their leadership qualities, sales approaches, or expansion plans. Suppose that the same subject was sitting for a lifestyle publication. In that case, they might discuss how they balance work and personal life, where they holiday, what their day looks like, etc.
When approaching a journalist about writing a story, it’s crucial to identify and communicate its hook or newsworthiness.
Identify the Hook
When you flip through a magazine or click on a story link, you want to either be entertained or learn something, right? Subsequently, this is what journalists and editors look for in potential stories.
When deciding on the hook to pitch, make sure it aligns with your PR goals. There should always be a larger objective behind every marketing strategy. One way to nail down story ideas that align with your marketing and business goals is to lay out a quarterly plan of your desired media placements around business launches and initiatives.
For example, if you’re launching a philanthropic campaign in six months, consider which publication covers CSR in a meaningful way and would give you the most favourable coverage. What type of real estate do they have to devote to a feature story? Have they covered stories like yours in the past?
Some ideas for hooks might be:
- Milestones – a revenue target or anniversary you’ve reached (accomplishments signal to the journalist that you’re selling something people want.)
- A Local Angle – publications tend to celebrate or focus on people with a local connection. For example, Canadian fashion publications love to feature successful Canadian designers, models or personalities.
- Philanthropic Initiatives – a profile piece might announce a significant CSR initiative you’re launching or a local charity you’re helping.
- Regional Events – if business takes you to a new city for a store opening, client event or speaking engagement, try to pitch a feature story to the local press. Most cities have magazines that publish profile pieces.
- Riveting Personal /Company Stories – so many businesses and brands were born out of/in spite of trying circumstances. Personal stories make for great profile pieces, especially ones with triumphant endings.
- Offer up something new or unknown – what can you tell them that no one else knows yet (an “exclusive”)? New collaboration with a public personality? New category launch? Launching an e-commerce site or opening a new flagship store in another country?
- Timeliness – are you doing something impactful that relates to a season, social or political issue? Capitalize on the timing and offer yourself up.
These are just a few examples of hooks that might pique the interest of the writer. There are many others, but these should get your wheels turning!
Takeaway #1 – When you pitch profile stories, you need a hook. When coming up with it, ask yourself: Why would someone care about this? And what can I do to make it more interesting for that specific audience?
The audience is the lifeblood of the (shrinking) publishing world, so when it comes time to consider which magazine or site to pitch, it’s equally important to take stock of their readership.
Identify the Publication or Website
Before we get into which title to approach, it’s essential to note that it only makes sense that you follow the mags/sites you want to be featured in. It’s the only way you’ll know whether they cover topics relative to your business, or if they publish feature stories at all.
My advice is to read them consistently, and flag sections or writers you think would be most receptive to your pitch. This research will serve you well, I promise!
When choosing a target, some things to consider are:
- Their readership/subscriber base – do you share a target audience, or is this an audience you want to capture?
- Their content – do they feature profile pieces every issue, what topics do they cover, and are there column opportunities? One column example is “24 Hours With …”, in which the magazine profiles the personality with a look at their day. Another is “What’s On Your Desk?” This style of feature presents subjects with the opportunity to highlight business initiatives and their personality.
- Their values and mission– does your news or hook fit into one of their significant topics or categories? For example, Health, Fashion, Beauty, Business, Leadership, Inspiration, Wellness.
These are some of the critical things to consider when selecting a magazine to pitch profile stories.
Takeaway #2 – Choose a publication or site with a readership that would be interested in your story or your news. Research where your profile would fit into the title and ensure it aligns with your goals.
Identify the Journalist or Editor
The crime most often committed by PR people and non-PRs alike is not knowing who they’re pitching. When I was a freelance lifestyle writer, I received countless pitches (with my name spelled wrong) for stories that I couldn’t even cover if I wanted to.
It’s beneficial to develop relationships with the journalists in your industry, and it’s easier than ever in the age of social media. Commenting on stories, or dropping them a simple email to compliment them on their recent work goes a very long way.
By keeping up with their work, you’ll learn their professional focus and personal interests, which you can leverage in your conversations. Relationship-building is the precursor to pitching.
That said, there are a few ways profile pieces happen. One way is by pitching a section or features editor who then gives the story to a writer. The second is by pitching the writer directly.
Both are acceptable ways to approach it, but relationships usually lead to more feedback so, contact the person you feel most comfortable with.
If you’re pitching the journalist, the same rules apply as above. Know their work inside and out. Be as familiar as you can with their writing style, interview approach and the pieces they’ve written to date.
If an editor assigns a writer, you won’t have much choice, but if you pitch a writer directly, chances are they’ll be the one to write it.
Takeaway #3 – do thorough research on the writer to ensure you approach them with something worthy of their time. If you’re pitching an editor, know their section inside and out, and tailor your pitch to their audience.
Line Up Your Assets
While the journalist will want to interview you, they’ll need assets to round out the story. Assets are high-res images, video, and any other visuals (lookbooks, mood boards, access to platforms or courses, etc.) that relate to the specific initiative or subject.
For example, for a larger profile piece I organized for Michael Kors, we gave the editor access to:
- runway samples archive
- never-before-seen portraits of him
- backstage photos of him with some top models
- photos of him receiving an award for his philanthropic efforts
The overarching theme of the story was his brand’s 30th anniversary and the contributions Mk’s made to the world of fashion and philanthropy. Because I could offer access to MK, and a host of compelling visuals, the story ran six full pages.
Takeaway #4 – you’ll get a better story, a more complimentary story, if you invest in substantial assets to provide the writer. High-quality, original photography, well-edited video or exclusive materials work best.
Be Flexible with the Angle
By this point, I’m sure you’re getting excited about the profile piece you see in your future. Scoring press coverage of this nature can be a turning point for many entrepreneurs! Providing all the information you want to see in your story is key, but it’s also important to be flexible with the process.
When you pitch profiles stories to journalists, they might come back with a slightly or entirely different take on what they’d like to write. This is OK if you can figure out how to incorporate the key messaging about your company. The value of being mentioned is worth your time.
The writer might also decline, or not even reply at all. Don’t take it personally! It is par for the course, for a million reasons. The key is to keep following them, amending your pitch, or move on to the next outlet on your list if it’s time-sensitive.
Takeaway #5 – when you pitch your profile story, remember the writer or editor is not on your payroll. You need to appeal to them and be flexible about how they want to approach your feature. Respond to them in a timely manner and do whatever you can to accommodate their needs. The story will reflect your professionalism.
If giving up control scares you, there is the option to hire a freelance writer to author a brand story, also referred to as an advertorial. I write them for my clients, and they run as articles in publications. The client pays to place them there, and many times, readers can’t even tell it’s advertising.
How To Pitch Profile Stories – A Summary
Can you see that glossy, beautifully designed profile on you and your brand in your near future? I can, and “it’s fabulous,” as Samantha Jones would say.
All kidding aside, though, profile pieces are the top of the summit when it comes to PR. They announce you’re worthy of the spotlight, and more importantly, introduce you to a new audience who may not have discovered you on social media.
If you take the strategic approach I’ve outlined above, you will realize that story. With time, you’ll start to recognize what is newsworthy or exciting/impressive/inspiring enough about you to warrant an article.