To successfully pitch the news media, you need to make it easy for editors and reporters to cover your story.
A hard–news story can rise to the front page or the beginning of a broadcast based on its urgency and news value, no matter how difficult it is to get that story. A story that comes out of an email pitch or news release, however, rarely rises to such urgency.
To have your pitch turn into a news story, you have to understand the needs, timing and methods of the news organization you’re pitching. That understanding should guide you in writing the pitch or news release, deciding who to send it to and how to follow up. As I explained in my previous post, pursuing media coverage takes thought, time and effort.
Who to pitch
Know the outlet’s target audience—and know the journalist.
Mass emailing press releases isn’t a public relations strategy—it’s spam. Instead, compose email pitches customized for each target outlet’s audience. In other words, research and get to know each outlet if you don’t already. Even better, start tracking outlets and specific journalists covering stories relevant to your business. Set up Google Alerts, follow journalists and outlets on Twitter and connect with journalists on LinkedIn. When pitching, demonstrate your knowledge of the outlet, audience and journalist. Doing your homework goes a long way.
Don’t ignore local media
According to the Pew Research Center, 9 in 10 people follow local news closely. Community newspapers, small radio stations and specialty bloggers may have smaller audiences, but they often can give your story better play and have more influence than you might expect.
Know your news
Editors love to localize national and international news. If you pitch an angle that is related to ongoing and breaking news, you may have the hook an editor is looking for. Home builders specializing in installing solar panels can comment on government incentives for green energy and a travel agency owner can discuss the growth of eco–tourism, for example.
Even local news outlets need comments from more than the usual government and civic leaders. Keep on top of the news and when it impacts you and your business. Then pursue opportunities to talk intelligently about it.
How to write a pitch
Email pitches should be concise and factual. If you have stats (or can get stats) to bolster the news angle, include them. While email pitches should be written in the inverted pyramid style like press releases (most important facts first), they can be more conversational and informal. Address the journalist by name and personalize the first sentence by referencing his or her most recent relevant story on the topic or your last interaction together. Make the subject line of the email as enticing as possible, but not too long. The pitch should be succinct but detailed. Instead of big blocks of copy, break it into bullet points. If you’re offering an exclusive, make that clear. Include links to your company’s social media pages.
Journalists are receiving dozens of pitches daily—and they aren’t sitting in front of their computers in anticipation of yours (no offense.) Don’t assume your pitch is going to be read in a particularly timely fashion, no matter how timely the story.
For the above reasons, a follow–up email is the best way to make sure a pitch or news releasegets noticed. Lead with any new information that wasn’t in the original email or offer specifics on who is available for an interview and when.
Sending an email after the interview to thank the reporter and offering availability for additional questions or clarification is always appropriate. However, don’t ever ask to see anything before it is published—EVER. Some outlets allow journalists to confirm direct quotes with sources, but don’t assume that’s the case. Instead, prepare for the interview by studying talking points and developing potential quotes and “sound bites.”
After a story appears, email the reporter or editor to say you appreciate the coverage. If the reporter did make a mistake, point it out quickly and politely. It’s the only way to fix it. Even if it’s too late for a print or live broadcast correction, the online version on the outlet’s website can beupdated.
Think of it as building a long–term relationship. If a news organization feels that you are well prepared, organized and easy to work with, it is all the more likely to work with you again.
Be diligent and conscientious in every media interaction and you will quickly get a solid reputation as a go-to source.