Snagged: USA Today & the Winning Pitch that Got Palmetto Cheese In!


We love sharing small business press success via our new Snagged blog series, and as of late we've had so much member success that the series is backlogged (we're talking loads of new success stories to post), which is quite a good problem to have! 

This latest post, however, will be the first of its kind in the series as we're not only celebrating a major press moment in the life of a small business (USA Today feature: see HERE), but we're also sharing the winning pitch that the brand sent in to snag the story, and a few lessons we can learn from their submission.

Here's the background you need to know:  Tin Shingle is happy to have cultivated a great relationship with members of the press who know they can turn to us not only as experts in the world of small business but also a a source they can use to pull entrepreneurs, small businesses & their anecdotes for upcoming stories.  This is exactly what happened this month, when USA Today reached out and let us know they were doing a story on social media and its impact on company growth.  We immediately put out the call for companies to submit their own stories, and received a slew of responses, all of which we forwarded on to the reporter covering the story. 

Within minutes she asked to hear more details about a few of the submissions and also to be connected to one member in particular, and that was Palmetto Cheese, a pimento cheese company out of South Carolina, founded by husband and wife entrepreneurial team Sassy & Brian Henry.  They spoke a day later and the rest, as they say, is history.  Not only did the couple land a major mention in a USA Today feature, but their photo was also included in the story, a big moment for any small business!  We over at Tin Shingle were also happy to be featured in the story as well, but this post is now about us, it's about what you can learn from the Palmetto submission. 

We'll admit, when we saw their initial email come through to us, we had a strong feeling their submission regarding social media would make the final cut.  "Why?", you may ask?  Well don't just take our word for it, read it below, as we received the team's permission and have reprinted it here for you.  After you read it, we'll discuss why we think it helped them land the story, and what you can learn from it....

The winning USA Today Pitch (exactly as we received it):

From: Palmetto Cheese <>
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2012 12:45:12 -0500
To: Sabina Ptacin <>
Subject: Palmetto Cheese - USA Today story

In the beginning we used social media to give out recipes and serving tips for our product, Palmetto Cheese.  This was done to get people thinking about different uses for pimento cheese other than a sandwich.   We also posted images with our brand and the founders to introduce ourselves. While this was a great place to start, it didn't bring in a lot of followers because it wasn't creating a dialogue. There was nothing for customers to connect to.  Once we started truly interacting with our customers and created a community, we began to see an increase in interest and customers.  What did we do?

• We educated and empowered consumers on how to bring Palmetto Cheese to their grocery store.
• Social media was used as a platform for instant customer service.
• Giveaways for coupons and promotional materials got customers/fans interacting on a daily basis.
• Providing links and videos about new locations to purchase our product brought in new customers and fans.

Our growth:
• In 2009, when our social media started we sold 547,000 containers of Palmetto Cheese.
• In 2011 we increased to 2.1 million containers sold.
• As of 2012, we have over 21,000 Facebook fans.

Our social media education is ongoing and is purely trial and error. It's all about finding that niche that the customer is interested in. Social media changes continually, so we try to stay on top of the newest trends and give our customers the human connection they expect.

Contact name: Brian Henry
Contact number: 843-XXX-XXXX

Well there you have it, the winning pitch revealed!  Now let's dissect it a bit and I'll tell you why I think it worked so well:

  • For starters this pitch was direct, to the point, didn't trail on for paragraphs and gave succinct answers to what the reporter was asking.  Press people are busy, they don't have time to dig through a long winded email to get the information they want.  Sassy, Brian & Nathan (a Palmetto team member) delivered an easy to read paragraph explaining exactly what their social media strategy was.
  • They used bullets.  Eyeballs like bullets.  They like spaces between paragraphs.  I can promise you when I see pitches that are one giant page of writing, my eyes begin to blur before I even begin reading it and I'm less inclined to think the person writing it will be delivering the information I want.  Bullets helped Palmetto Cheese first point out exactly what strategies they used on Facebook and THEN bullets helped the reporter see the result of these strategies.
  • They showed the reporter exactly what she wanted: the social media strategies and the result they delivered WITH facts and numbers to back it up.
  • They included their contact information and links to every other relevant piece of info the reporter needed to decide whether or not she wanted to use them for the story: company contacts, link to website, names.
  • They were honest. They didn't exaggerate, they admitted what they did was often trial and error.  The reporter wants real stories in order to write a story that other small businesses can read and relate to, and if you misrepresent yourself or your business, or inflate numbers or try to talk yourself into the story instead of telling your story, it rarely works in your favor
  • They were a good fit for the story.  Sure, we all want to be featured in USA Today (and several other top media outlets), it's a huge deal.  It has nearly 2 million readers !!).  That said, the best press comes from the best fits.  Sassy & Brian were a great fit for their story because they could show (with anecdotes & numbers) that social media did, in fact, work for them.  It clearly is a major part of their brand as they have over 21,000 Facebook fans.  Those fans love Palmetto Cheese so much the article itself had 22 comments posted, of which nearly all were Palmetto fans.  Their Facebook fan page is covered in conversations and has signs of active engagement all over it.  They weren't simply trying to spin themselves into a story they didn't belong in, they were exactly what the reporter wanted.  Too often I see companies who want press so, so much that they pitch themselves (sometimes repeatedly) for stories they do not belong in.  This not only is a waste of your time, but it could have a negative effect on you and your relationships with the press.  On top of that, the more time ou waste pitching yourself to stories you don't belong in, the less time you have to spend pitching outlets/stories you do belong in...Time is money, entrepreneurs, use it wisely!

Well there you have it, the curtain was drawn back and you were able to see just what it took to get Palmetto Cheese into USA Today.  What surprises some people is that it wasn't a three page submission, it was much shorter than many other emails we received, less truly was more, and yet what they wrote was enough.  Use this as a guide to and lesson for your own responses to reporter queries, and stay tuned to some more Snagged posts in which we include the actual winning pitches that entrepreneurs like you used to tell their story.

Happy pitching!