Public relations practitioners have more methods than ever to deliver messages to their publics. Websites, blogs and an array of social media make it easier for PR pros to communicate directly with their chosen audiences.
While these tools are helpful in your communication toolbox, they are additions, not replacements. This means PR pros still must earn attention from traditional media outlets by pitching stories to journalists, editors and bloggers.
Pitching is proposing coverage of an event, issue or happening to media in an effort to garner free mass media coverage.
It can be nerve-wracking to approach a journalist with your story and be able to really “sell it.” Here are tips for how to pitch stories to journalists and make them want to provide coverage.
Recognize news value
Journalists will ignore a pitch without news value. There are many traits that make something newsworthy, including proximity, interest and novelty, but the first thing to consider is whether the item you are pitching is new. If it’s not new, it’s not news.
Understand their audience
The best way to convince journalists to cover something is to explain to them why it’s of interest to their audience. If journalists understand why the information is important to their readers or viewers, they typically will find a way to give it some level of coverage.
One way to make it apparent why the audience cares about the news is to have a member of their audience as a representative example of your issue. Putting a face on the story gives it human interest and makes it more appealing to the reporter and the audience.
You increase the likelihood of coverage by knowing who you’re pitching to. This means working regularly on media relations and knowing who each reporter is, what type of media they create, what they cover, and who their audience is. Use the Google machine and social media tools to research journalists if you are new to the market and uncertain of who to contact. Once you’ve identified your contacts, write your pitches directly to each individual journalist.
Be deadline aware
It doesn’t do any good to pitch something that can’t be covered because it’s too close to or too late for deadline. Be aware of the various media outlets’ deadline schedules.
News typically isn’t about the status quo. Explain to the journalist why the item you’re pitching is unique or unusual. Something different is new. Something new is news. Journalists cover news.
Practice a script
If you are pitching via telephone, practice what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. I encourage you to write out a short script and practice delivering it several times. Also, be prepared to answer questions immediately. The journalist may turn your phone pitch into an on-the-spot interview.
Many pitches are done via email. This means you have the chance to be considered or ignored as soon as your pitch arrives in the journalists’ inboxes. You must learn to write effective emails.
Your pitch should be no longer than necessary. You also should capture journalists’ attention through a concise, creative subject line. Don’t be afraid to write and rewrite the subject line until you get it right. Time spent here can be the difference between journalists opening your email or just pressing delete.
Check the format
Understand the file formats that various media outlets want you to use for text, photos, videos, and graphics. Always send your pitch and related information in those preferred formats. Making your news easy to cover makes it more likely that journalists will do so.
Use social wisely
You can pitch via social media, but there are some unwritten rules for how this is done.
Pitching via Twitter is fine, as long as you already are connected with the journalist. Build up your Twitter network and cultivate relationships with journalists, editors and bloggers who you may want to pitch to in the future. Remember not to tweet pitches to multiple reporters back-to-back. They can see your tweets. Also, do not tweet to remind a reporter to check email or tell them you sent them a pitch through some other medium.
Do not use Facebook for pitches. Facebook is about “friends.” Friends don’t pitch to friends.
Your pitch won’t always result in your story being at the top of the newscast or on the front page, but there are many coverage options that are valuable to your organization. Perhaps your item becomes a calendar listing, a photo opportunity or gets an anchor mention. While this may not be the exact coverage you hoped for, it still is coverage you received for nothing greater than a time investment.
When journalists call you as a result of your pitch, be sure to respond promptly and with all of the additional information they need. Failure to respond to journalists’ inquiries means your pitch is wasted.
When you receive coverage, no matter how large or small, be sure to show appreciation. Send a thank you card or email, telling the journalist how much you appreciate the coverage. Be as specific in your gratitude as possible.
Pitching stories to journalists is a necessary skill and duty for PR practitioners that can be stressful if you’re not sure how to do it. While these tips are not a comprehensive list for pitching well, they should help you know the basics necessary to become more comfortable with pitching.
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What did I forget? What’s your best advice for pitching stories to media?