Updated: Jul 13, 2022
"Hey, I just got a press release on this cool topic/product/news. Want me to cover it for you?"
If you're a freelance writer or content writer making pitches like this to editors and content clients—stop!
The Press Release Problem
You may get press releases from organizations, universities, businesses, and government offices, or perhaps you subscribe to news services like Eurekalert (for science news) or PRNewsWire (for business news).
Scanning through media releases is a fast and efficient way to find content ideas, but if you pitch them as-is, you'll come off as lazy and uncreative. (Unless you're writing for a client's actual news department, meaning they want just the raw facts.)
Everyone in your industry is getting those same press releases, so if your clients want someone to just cover that exact same news, they can do it in-house. You want to add a little something to the idea so it becomes something the client hasn’t already thought of, and something only you can do.
Remember, your clients and editors aren't short on ideas...they're short on good ideas.
How to Pitch a Press Release
Here are some ways to turn the news everyone knows into an irresistible pitch.
Use Press Releases as Seeds
Instead of considering the press release your full-fledged pitch, use it as a kicking-off point for brainstorming new content ideas. As out example, let's use this release from Eurekalert:
"Fungi-based meat alternatives to help save Earth’s forests"
You don't want to pitch "Fungi-based meat alternatives to help save Earth’s forests"—but this is an amazing starting point for fresh, new ideas. Such as:
For an environmental brand: Three new ways the food industry can reduce its carbon footprint.
For a food blog: Foods that will save the earth...if you can bear to eat them.
For a general interest publication: Will all these meat alternatives really make a difference? (This could be divided into three sections: "In the environment?" "In health?" "In animal welfare?")
For a food industry or farming trade magazine: How the newest meat alternatives might impact your business...and what to do about it.
See what I mean? These content ideas are all based off of that press release, and you'll be able to include this fungi-based meat as part of the pitch and final piece of content—but they're all something a client or editor may not have thought of on their own.
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Pitch Press Release Ideas to Unexpected Outlets
As you saw above, the ideas derived from the fungi-based meat release aren't being pitched to the obvious audience (science brands). Instead, we angled them for food blogs, farming trades, and even general interest publications (think Reader's Digest magazine or The Atlantic website).
This takes the idea one step further away from its origins, and makes it more likely that your content idea will be fresh and interesting to the person you're pitching.
Related to this: If you're building a content calendar for a brand, look at media release sites that have nothing to do with your industry to help brainstorm unique ideas!
Some topic areas are always of interest—for example, sex, money, career, relationships, health, pets. Can you combine the press release subject with one of these areas?
Here's my stream-of-consciousness style of brainstorming around several of these areas of interest. I'm writing these in real-time...will one of these brainstorms result in a salable/pitchable content idea?
Plant-based meats right now are awfully expensive, up to $12 per pound. is there a way to get them cheaper? Is there any way to make your own reasonable facsimile at home less expensively? I know some people "cut" real meat with fillers like oatmeal and chopped vegetables to make it go further for less money. Can you do something like that with plant-based meat? This could be a fun round-up article on unusual/surprising ways to save money on healthy foods.
On a completely different angle, how about sneaky ways restaurants and food companies pass off cheap foods as premium ones? That could be fun for a general-interest consumer publication, or maybe the blog of an actual premium food brand. It could be either a wake-up call for consumers, or a piece of content about how you can use the same techniques to make fancy-feeling meals with cheap foods.
How can you handle it if you and your important people in your life have totally different eating styles? For example, if you are a vegan and your partner is Paleo? Plant-based meat can be one of the answers that helps bridge that particular gap. However, a quick search tells me this has already been done.
Maybe something on hacks for cooking for people with different diets without spending too much time? So you're not trying to compromise or blend the two diets, but cook for two completely different eating styles/dietary needs.
Are plant-based meats really good for you? Are they at least healthier than regular meat? Or are they just unhealthy in different ways? Whenever I run across a food product that taste like meat but isn’t, I wonder what sort of chemicals and other ingredients they had to use to make it taste like meat. I could do a bit of research to see if there has been anything done that shows that these products might not be the healthiest for everyone.
Hmm, maybe content on foods we think are healthy that really aren't so much? This could also be broken out into several ideas for different types of audiences: people with diabetes, people with heart disease, people trying to lose weight, etc.
With the rise in plant-based meats and vegetarianism/veganism in general, are more people trying to feed their pets vegetarian? Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they have to have meat to survive. Can these plant-based meats replace real meat for felines? Are there any pet food companies already creating foods from plant-based meats?
As you can see, the brainstorming process can get way off the topic of the press release, but that's OK. Remember, we're looking at these releases to kick-start the idea-generation process. Unless you're under some sort of contract to cover these exact ideas, you don't need to sorry about it.
There are so many ways to turn a media release into a unique content idea that there's really no excuse for the whole "let me write up this press release news for you" approach. Use releases as starting points for your brainstorming and you'll have no shortage of ideas to pitch, sell, or write.