Anyone who’s ever made a pitch to the media — in any medium — knows it’s a big, competitive world out there. Every day, reporters field hundreds of requests for their attention. Like any other human being, they only have so much capacity.
Before I joined Spitfire, I spent 15 years working in TV news as a reporter and anchor. So having worked on both sides of the desk, so to speak, I’m happy to share some tips to help you get your media pitches the attention they deserve — and land in the outlets where you want them placed.
Part Two of this series focuses on how to get your story covered.
Tip 1: Stick to email or social media.
Like anyone else, most reporters really don’t want unsolicited phone calls. Send an email instead or reach out to them on social media, either by tweeting @ them or sending a direct message. Reporters get hundreds of emails a day, so sometimes a social media message is more likely to get noticed.
As a former reporter, I can confess that many in the news business are vain. They value gaining new followers. They pay attention to notifications. There is also an industry-wide expectation that reporters are active on social media. Some newsrooms even require a certain number of posts each day. When you send a message through Twitter, that reporter – who is hard-wired to care about her or his social media standing – will likely immediately see that message. Meanwhile, an email with the same message might sit unopened for hours.
Tip 2: Put down the phone.
Unless you have a solid personal relationship with a reporter, don’t pick up the phone. There’s a time and place for a follow-up phone call, but only do so with reporters you know well or in circumstances where you’re urgently trying to get that reporter’s attention — the operative word here being “urgent.” If your pitch isn’t seriously time-sensitive, it’s not urgent. And for the love of all things holy, do not call a newsroom with a pitch in the late afternoon when everyone is on deadline. You truly risk annoying and alienating that reporter by randomly calling about a pitch email he or she has already (purposefully) deleted. Also, unless you like talking to yourself, avoid leaving any voicemails. If you have a reporter’s cell phone number, you might consider sending a text message instead.
Tip 3: Craft your email for one reporter but assume it will be forwarded.
Any good communications professional knows she or he must tailor pitches to each individual reporter or news outlet. Make it personalized. Make it relevant – don’t pitch a political story to a reporter who covers business or vice-versa. But I’d also advise you to keep in mind that reporters will often forward their emails to colleagues, editors and other newsroom managers. They may do this to seek input or gauge interest about a topic. Or, they may do this because their plate is full and they think the story is still worth covering – just not by them. With this in mind, be careful about how much confidential information you – professional or personal – you write in an email (good practice in general, right?). Once that reporter expresses interest in your pitch, I recommend sharing those sensitive details in a follow-up phone call.
The email forwarding culture in newsrooms can be very helpful. If that reporter forwards your email to his or her assignment desk, it’s a much more influential pitch coming from a known colleague inside the newsroom rather than a random flack outside the newsroom. As such, when you send your pitches to reporters who already might have the background information or knowledge of a given issue, it is still worthwhile to include hyperlinks with those details just in case your email is forwarded to another reporter or editor who is not as well-versed.
Tip 4: Consider your email subject line a secret weapon.
In today’s largely understaffed and under-resourced newsrooms, reporters simply don’t have time to open every email. And random pitches from unknown PR pros are among the first that get deleted. Meanwhile, your emails are competing with every other pitch, as well as the news of the day – everything from President Trump to the 2020 election to sudden events that swallow an entire week of news like the Mueller report or the Notre Dame fire.
Because of this, the subject line is the most important copy you’re going to write. It’s what’s going to get a reporter’s attention and it’s often the only part of your pitch he or she might bother to read, so choose your words wisely.
Make your subject line so unique and attractive that they can’t resist opening the email to read more. Put the most attention-grabbing words — such as “exclusive” or “new report” — at the beginning of the subject line, along with the sexiest part of the story or the most important, relevant nugget because long subject lines get truncated in an inbox. You might even send a test email to yourself to see how the subject line shows up on your laptop and smartphone. And if your story gets covered, your subject line might even help inform the headline that news organization will use.
While we’re on the subject of subject lines, never use the gimmick of starting an email with “RE:” to trick the reporter into thinking they’ve previously engaged in a conversation with you about the pitch. If they open your email and realize this, they won’t be pleased. In fact, some former colleagues have vowed they will never turn a story that comes from such an email. If you’re circling back to your prior, unanswered pitch, forward the prior email. Don’t reply to it.
This is Part One of Spitfire’s two-part series on media pitching. Read Part Two to learn how to get your story covered.