Proper Pitching: Or how to not to make a journalist or blogger angry and maybe ensure your story sees the light of day
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Guest post by Jeff Cole. Jeff is experienced in marketing communications and in journalism. Cole spent over 20 years working as an awarding winning reporter in New York, Detroit and Milwaukee before crossing over into marketing communications. Because he was a reporter, Cole knows how the media works from the inside. He knows how to approach a reporter to insure coverage. He knows what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to pitches. In his marketing communications career, Cole has worked with such Fortune 500 companies as Smithfield Foods, Pfizer, Johnson Controls, and Rockwell Automation.
So, you, your client or your boss have what seems to be a great story that you think your local media outlet or blogger will jump at the chance to run. Or maybe you’re even thinking this story is so great, it should be placed in a national outlet.
Well, maybe you have a good story, but maybe you don’t. There are several steps you should take before you make the pitch, when you make the pitch and after you make the pitch. Doing this will not guarantee your story will be published or aired. Nothing can. But it can increase the odds.
I am drawing on my 25 years of experience as a reporter in writing this. In that time, I received, and was sometimes subjected to, thousands of pitches. Some were very, very good. Some, frankly, were terrible.
Some things to remember before we get into the details. The news media in general is more overworked than ever. They are very busy. They don’t have the time for you to waste their time. And they have less air time and space than ever. They are going to be very selective on what gets published or broadcast.
Okay, let’s go over the dos and don’ts of pitching. First, the dos:
- Determine if really it is really a story. The old cliché is true: “dog bites man is not news, man bites dog is.” In other word, a story has to be something new, out of the ordinary, or unusual.
- Charity events are not generally news. There are just too many of them. The rationale is that if we do it for one, we have to do it for all. So they do it for none.
- Promotions, awards, getting hired and other such other such things are also not news. Again there are just too many of them. Some newspapers run columns once on a week on such things. They will pack a couple dozen of these into a small part of one page.
So what is news? Something that many people will be interested in hearing about – such as a plant opening, hiring a number of employees, or a company expansion. It doesn’t have to be hard news – it could be about a group deciding to clean up a local river or a woman deciding to start a program for domestic violence victims.
If you think you have a story, do your research on who you should pitch. Reporters hate it, understandably so, when you don’t know what they cover.
I had three primary beats in my career – police, business, and courts. I specialized in a number of things on my business beat. I used to get calls about food, sports and a number of other areas I didn’t have anything to do with. Sometimes I would pass the tip onto the right reporter, but not always. So go the newspaper website or the read the blog to determine who is the best person to contact.
I usually counsel against calling an editor to pitch a story for two reasons: often times the editor will just refer you to the reporter; and it can make the reporter angry.
Reporters often hate it when their editor overrides something they are doing to assign them something else.
You want a happy reporter talking to you, not one who feels like they have been forced to do the story.
Pitching broadcast is different than bloggers or print journalists. Call the news director or assignment editor with your story. Remember, for television you have to have to visuals – something that can be broadcast. They don’t do people sitting behind a desk talking.
Now comes the most important part: making the actual pitch.
If you take nothing else from this blog, remember this – when you call anyone in the media, the first four words you say after you say hello and identify yourself are: Are you on deadline? If the person says yes, thank them, ask when is a good time to call back and hang up. Never keep talking.
Deadline is very stressful time when the person is trying to complete the day’s assignments. You will not make any friends by continuing to talk. Of course, if your building is on fire or you just won the Nobel prize, that’s different. Use some common sense.
A note on email pitching. Find out the outlet’s policy on email before sending one. Some organizations have a blanket policy of deleting any email that comes from an unknown source because of a fear of viruses or hacking. Others do not. I recommend calling the person first and telling them the email is on the way.
Once the interview is scheduled, do your homework. Make sure you have the answer to every question you think might be asked. Have background materials on the topic that you can give to the journalist or blogger. It also helps to have a picture of yourself to give to the person to be used in the article. The goal is to make it as easy for the interviewer as possible.
It’s okay to ask when the story or blog might run. Hey, you are part of it, so you get to see it.
Okay, now let’s talk about what not to do:
- It is okay to pitch a story to different outlets. It is not okay to pitch a story to different reporters at the same outlet. If you’ve pitched to the correct reporter, and that person says no, that’s it. A reporter will always run a story possibility by their boss. If the boss says no, it means the outlet is not interested. Don’t keep badgering people there. It just upsets them.
- While it is okay to pitch to different outlets, once one outlet says yes, stop pitching. Writers and broadcasters want the exclusive story. They do not want to see “their” story in another outlet. You have destroyed your credibility.
- You will not be able to see the story, read the blog or view the broadcast piece before it is made public. So, don’t try. Most people in the media feel you will try to influence a piece to take out anything you don’t like if you see it before it runs.
- Don’t do elaborate media kits. I have a friend who covers the brewing industry. He likes beer, so he is always happy when he receives free beer as part of a pitch. But, giving him beer doesn’t mean he will do a story. What writers and broadcasters want is information in a form they can use. They don’t need to come in an elaborate package. They also are usually barred by ethics codes from accepting anything of major value – say over $10.
Those are the basics of pitching. Remember, every situation and writer is different. So be careful, think before you pitch and you should be fine.