Having worked with reporters and editors throughout the world during the course of my career—as well as being on the other side of journalism as a correspondent and editor—I’ve made and received my share of media pitches.
I’ve seen what works, what doesn’t work and what downright annoys reporters no matter where on the globe they reside. I’ve also experienced first-hand how publicity can help small- and mid-sized agencies and other businesses—even one-person operations—level the playing field with larger competitors.
The beauty of publicity is that it not only generates awareness and extends your agency’s reach at no cost, but it also gives you something no other marketing tool can replicate: credibility.
That’s because publicity allows a secondary source–the news media or bloggers–to tell your story to the people you most want to hear it.
However, before contacting a reporter with a story idea, it’s important to understand how the news media operate and what they want.
Here are eight publicity tips to consider before making a call or hitting the “send” button with your story idea:
#1: Define your media focus.
Limit your pitches to only those outlets that directly serve your target audience. The more you can demonstrate you understand the reporter’s audience and the better you can explain why your story idea would appeal to them, the greater your chances are of being considered. When I was on the editorial side of a healthcare magazine, I never ceased to be amazed at some of the obviously inappropriate pitches PR people sent my way. It was pretty easy to tell who had taken time to read our magazine and understand our audience and the types of stories we covered, and who had taken a shotgun approach in hopes of hitting something somewhere.
#2: Get to the right person at each media outlet.
Whether you’re dealing with your local paper or The Wall Street Journal, it’s important to take the time to find out which person covers the particular area you are interested in targeting. For example, don’t pitch a manufacturing story to a business reporter who covers healthcare or retail. It’s surprising how often this happens because people don’t take the time to do their homework.
#3: Research a reporter’s previous stories before making contact.
Now that you’ve found the right person to contact, learn all you can about what that reporter covers, his or her interests and reporting style. Media directories are very helpful resources for getting such information, as is the Internet. In addition to having reporters’ names and contact information, the more detailed directories have helpful contact notes such as:
- Works from home, but prefers all materials be sent to the paper.
- Prefers to be contacted by e-mail and hates follow up calls.
- She is interested in the ideas behind technology, not the products.
#4: Know what makes a good news story.
Reporters are busy people who work under constant pressure and deadlines. When pitching a story, get right to the point. The most important things you can tell a reporter about your story are who will care about it and why. Your pitch has to pass the “so-what” factor, as well as be timely and relevant to their audience. Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes and ask: “Would this story be interesting to my audience?” If you can’t honestly answer yes, you need to rethink your pitch.
#5: Respect their deadlines.
When contacting a reporter by phone, I suggest first asking if this is a good time to talk briefly. If not, ask when would be a convenient time to share a story idea. (Be prepared to be asked to send your idea in an email, though some reporters will give you a minute or two to hear your pitch if they’re not on deadline.) If you’re contacted by a reporter on deadline, do everything you can to respond within that timeframe; otherwise, you may miss out on a golden opportunity. Even worse, if you don’t respond promptly, the reporter may contact and quote a competitor.
#6: Think, write and speak like a reporter.
When the time comes to make your pitch, be sure you not only think like a reporter, but that you write and speak like one as well. For example, don’t advertise or editorialize your story idea (reporters are very sensitive to disguised advertising). Whether you write your pitch or give it verbally, be as objective as possible by emphasizing the news or human interest aspect, or your expertise to comment and provide insights.
#7: Make their jobs easier.
The more you can provide reporters with relevant, factual information that is meaningful and targeted to their audience, the more likely they are to take you seriously and provide coverage. Plus, if they know that you know their audience, area of coverage and deadlines, when they see a pitch from you in the future, they’ll realize you’re credible and will be more likely to give you serious consideration.
#8: Customize your pitch to fit their audience.
When I first started my agency, I had a female client who was launching a residential steel framing business, which was a new concept for our area. While the basic story was the same—the benefits of steel framing for residential homes—I segmented my pitches:
- To our local business journal, I emphasized the entrepreneurial side of her business.
- To our local daily paper, I got a front-page feature story that was part of a broader article about alternative materials in housing.
- To women’s publications, I focused on a female entering the construction business, which traditionally has been dominated by men.
- To her hometown paper (which ran a front-page story), I pitched a “local lady” angle and tied it to an award she had recently won.
One final thought: Consider giving the place you’d most like to receive coverage the first shot at a story whenever possible. Reporters like to be the first break a story, and not just report the same news that others have. This is a very competitive business and like any other profession, reporters enjoy getting recognition and praise for their stories, especially when they are the first to report them.