How to Pitch Your Family’s CMV Story to Media

How to Pitch Your Family’s CMV Story to Media

Author: Becky Ericson
There’s nothing better than a good story to spread a message. Stories are emotional, filled with context, and how we make sense of the world. Information nested in a story is up to 20 times more memorable than without it. And stories, incidentally, are the lifeblood of journalism.
 
But for everyday people not working in media, reaching out to reporters pitching them on your personal experience or your kiddo’s story can be downright intimidating. How can you start from square one and break through the clutter?
 
Take heart. You have everything you need close at hand. And by using some of the tips and advice here, you’ll be ready and successful in helping spread the word about congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV).
 

Setting Your Objective

Before you start drafting a pitch email to a reporter and sharing your family’s story, take a moment to set an objective. Start with why. Consider why you are sharing your experience and what’s the bigger picture point you want to drive home. For many families who have personally experienced a congenital CMV infection, common story objectives include:

Raising awareness: 91% of people don’t know about CMV.

Advocating for prevention: CMV is common, serious, and easily preventable.

Endorsing newborn screening: More than 30,000 newborns are born each year with CMV. Universal screening can help identify, monitor, and support better outcomes for thousands of children a year.

Highlighting advancements: Investment in research and medical advancements is essential to support the best therapeutic outcomes and development of a vaccine for CMV.  


Crafting Your Story

Once you’ve selected the key point for your pitch, pull together aspects of your personal story that reinforce that message. Here are some common themes you might consider:
  • Are you a mom or dad who didn’t know about CMV before pregnancy?
  • If you could go back, how would you limit your exposure?
  • What’s your advice to future parents?
  • How would universal screening have changed your child’s journey?
  • How has your family benefited from medical advancements? What’s your hope for the future?
  • What does vaccine development mean to you? Why is it so important?

Pitching Media in 30 Minutes or Less

Connecting with local media can be easier than you might expect, and it should take less than 30 minutes to identify the right contacts and hit send.
 
Identifying your outlets. Focus your search on reporters and editors/producers at your local newspaper, TV affiliate, and online parenting groups/blogs.
 
Finding the right contacts. Use Google search and review the outlet’s website to find the right contacts. Outside of their bosses - the editor or producer - almost all reporters focus on a specific reporting topic, a beat. For your story, you’ll likely want to connect with a reporter who focuses on human interest and community or medical advancements.
 
Check out what they’ve published lately. When you find a reporter that looks like the right fit, do a quick scan of their recent stories to confirm your story will fit their focus. (It’s also a great way to start off that first email to them, “Last month/year you wrote a story about ____, and it really resonated with me because_____.”)
 
Don’t stop at one reporter - find several. If possible, plan to identify a handful of local journalists you can reach out to at the same time - it helps make your chance of success greater. Alternatively, if there’s one reporter you really want to cover your story, offer them “an exclusive” in your message. This means no one else gets to tell your story until they have.
 
Craft that pitch email! Now it’s time to email them! Reporters and newsrooms are under lots of pressure these days and it can be hard to get their attention. Make sure your email subject line and first paragraph hit home with the big “so what” message.
 
In journalism, it’s called the inverted pyramid - we never hold the juicy part of the story until the bottom, we hit readers hard up top. While your email to media should be conversational and not read like a press release, our recent press release on universal newborn screening is a great example of this inverted pyramid style. If you read nothing other than the headline and first paragraph, you get 90% of the news. Make your email to media stand out by bringing key facts and emotions up top.
 
Make some news. For every story they publish, reporters are under pressure to make sure it’s newsworthy. If you’re part of a local fundraiser or community event to support CMV awareness, this is an excellent hook to gain media attention. Use it.
 
Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask. Most reporters appreciate directness and transparency. It’s very appropriate to start or end your pitch with a, “Will you cover our story?” or a “Will you help spread awareness for this debilitating virus?,” etc.
 
Never pitch on a Monday. Time matters when you pitch media. Reporters are always slammed on Mondays. Never email them on a Monday. Also avoid weekends and mornings in general. Midweek afternoons are the best times to reach out. Statistically it gives your email the greatest chance of being seen.
 
Follow up! Finally, it’s not uncommon to get zero response. It’s typically not commentary on the quality of your story, but more an indication of the reporter’s full plate. If it’s been a few days and you haven’t heard back, plan to do a quick follow-up. Week after that, follow up again or put in a call, if appropriate. If there’s still radio silence, it’s time to find another reporter to pitch.
 

Amplifying Your Story With Social Media

Sharing your story doesn’t stop with traditional media. Social media and parenting blogs are excellent channels to get your story out. You can share the story you crafted directly on social media. You can use your new pitching skills to build some relationships with parenting blog editors and community managers. Consider what’s the best fit for you. The world is your oyster when it comes to social media promotion, and you have full control of the process. Here are a few tips for success:
 
Make your story pop. Always use photos, videos, and hashtags to bring your story to life. Not only is it more interesting for readers, but it helps you get picked up in the social media platform’s algorithm for more visibility.
 
Use video. Or skip the written word altogether and go straight to video! Facebook and Instagram are wonderful platforms for this. Video is fast to create and gets a ton of engagement. Here’s a recent example of my advocacy for our universal screening petition.

#tag it. Hashtags help your content flow instantly into the most relevant discussions online. These topic markers are instrumental in gaining visibility outside your immediate social media network. Some great hashtags include: #cmvawareness, #stopcmv, #cmvirus, #parenting, #healthypregnancy, #newbornscreening, #specialneeds, etc.
 
Make it public. On Facebook, be sure to mark your post as public so others can share it.
 
Post it more than once, but don’t spam. Things move fast on Twitter. Over the course of a month, plan to promote your story three or five times to capture folks who didn’t see it the first time.
 
Ask for shares! Be explicit, ask your friends and family to like and share your post. Help them understand you want as many eyes as you can get.
 
Post to groups. Post your story to parenting groups you’re a part of too. This can be a very powerful way to raise awareness directly with people who have likely never heard of CMV.
 
Share with us. Be sure to tag the National CMV Foundation. This does achieve two, important objectives. Firstly, it helps us see your content so we can help promote it. Secondly, it helps more people find the National CMV Foundation and follow the organization for news and updates.
 
Join our parent stories. Consider adding your story to our Parent Stories at the National CMV Foundation. Email stories@nationalcmv.org for consideration.
 
Post a blog. Finally, if you’ve spent all this time on a wonderful pitch for media but no one picked it up, transform that email into a blog and post it yourself.
 
There’s nothing more powerful in raising awareness about CMV than your personal experience. Still on the fence? Let this mom’s recent CMV story from Australia sway you.
 
 
❤️ Heart Note ❤️

When using your story to drive home a bigger message about CMV, it's very normal to feel vulnerable. For many, it’s that delicate balance of pushing for progress and in the same breath fiercely honoring your child’s journey, abilities, and spirit.
 
My advice is simple, and it’s founded in truths you already know. First, this advocacy in print and pitching media is the same as what you do on the daily spreading awareness about CMV and advocating for your child. Secondly, if your fingers freeze up when you sit down to type, take a breath and set them free. Don’t worry about the subject line or the first sentence. Write from the heart. Write that sentence first about your amazing kiddo and his or her perseverance, worthiness, and thrive. Or start with that key message point, “91% of people don’t know about congenital CMV. I do.” Give yourself permission to put your fingers to the keyboard and just go. Worry about grammar and logical flow later.
 
For now, just start. And don’t stop. Your advocacy can and will change lives for countless children living with (and without) symptoms from a congenital infection. You raise us all up, when you raise your voice.  


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Becky Ericson is the founder of
UpLevel Consulting, a digital public relations firm. She works with businesses and organizations to amplify their messages and advance their missions through communications planning, executive visibility, and social media strategy. Becky is also the mom of two boys, Henry and Jack. She emerged from a CMV-positive pregnancy in 2017 with a new mission to fundamentally change the map on CMV awareness and prevention. She’s been working with the National CMV Foundation since 2018 doing just that. Based in St. Louis, MO, Becky’s always up for a good chat about the intersection of personal brand and public relations - don’t hesitate to reach out!