In the first installment of this two-part series, I shared some insights from my years working in TV news and media relations, focusing on the best methods to get your pitches seen by reporters. In this part, I review some strategies for increasing the odds those reporters will actually turn a story based on your pitch.
Tip 1: Pitch stories that don’t benefit you.
This might seem counterintuitive or like a waste of time. Obviously, I’m not suggesting you pitch stories that are problematic for your organization or clients, but passing along news tips or other helpful information to a reporter on stories that don’t directly relate to your work can build a lot of good will.
Reporters might earn praise for their work one day but the stress of finding that next best story is always weighing on them. You know what makes a great story. Make their lives easier by sharing your ideas – even mediocre ideas.
If you can imagine that story in print or on the 5 o’clock news, why not reach out? That reporter will appreciate it – even if they don’t pursue it. And a reporter that appreciates you, will pay attention to you – and your actual work-related pitches.
Tip 2: Show your appreciation on social media.
If a reporter runs a story you pitched, send a brief email expressing gratitude for the coverage. If the story was fair and accurate, mention that. (Obviously, if a correction is needed, you can and should ask for that, but you can do it politely and still be appreciative.) If a story made you cry, smile or laugh, mention that.
And if the story is beneficial to your messaging — which it probably is, because otherwise why would you have pitched it? — do that reporter a favor by retweeting his or her tweeted link as well as sharing the story on your own social media channels.
Use it as an opportunity to amplify your message and give the reporter a shout-out. This is a transaction. You’re giving that reporter access to your social media audience, which they’ll appreciate because it will spread their work farther through your connections. Plus, showing you value their efforts will make them more likely to remember you the next time you send a pitch.
Tip 3: Keep it simple.
This is comms 101 but it’s worth emphasizing. There’s a natural inclination to think it’s helpful to give reporters every single piece of information they might need about a story you’re pitching, or like a legal argument that you’re covering your bases by throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. Don’t. Long emails are unhelpful.
Tip 4: Make it visual.
With the growing importance of social media, news organizations are always looking for visual content to share on Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels. This is not just TV newsrooms. The Washington Post, NPR and all sorts of news organizations want compelling photos or images to share online. They know the algorithms prioritize and incentivize this content.
So when you’re sending a pitch, if you have a strong visual that can help sell the story or (even better) that the news outlet can use in its coverage, be sure to include it and highlight it. Avoid sending it as an attachment because it might land your email in a spam folder; instead, use hyperlinks via YouTube, Google Drive or Dropbox.
Also, make sure it’s all content you own or have permission to share. Telling reporters after-the-fact that they can’t use a photo or video, or making them chase down permission to do so will not go over well.
Tip 5: Use dashes – period.
In any pitch, you should be sure to include all of your contact information: email, office phone and cell phone. If possible, and when necessary, list two contacts. And keep in mind that not all cell phones will auto-dial phone numbers that use periods instead of dashes.
Many reporters spend most of their time out in the field using just a cell phone; they might only open a laptop at the end of their shift. Stick to a 555-555-5555 format so reporters can just touch the number on their smartphone screens to reach you.
Tip 6: It’s all about timing.
There are many, many factors each day that can decide what gets covered and who covers it: breaking news, editorial disagreement, newsroom staffing, vacation or sick leave, prior coverage of the same topic, etc. Consider these factors before sending your pitch. And consider pitching to programs or outlets that will more consistently welcome your pitches.
For example, don’t forget your local TV morning shows have hours and hours of airtime to fill every morning. Staffing in any newsroom on weekends or late at night will be more limited – making the odds of coverage even slimmer – so consider that before scheduling or pitching a Saturday night event. The same can be said for the days just before or after a holiday weekend.
Tip 7: Be nice.
We say it often to our children: “Be nice.” This may seem obvious, but sometimes it can be easy to forget the basic niceties. Reporters are under intense pressure so a friendly salutation or a smile can go a long way.
Being aggressive or abrasive might work on certain stories or in certain situations, but being kind and building relationships is a much more effective strategy long-term. You can’t get to know every single journalist, but take the time to get acquainted with the ones you’re most likely to pitch on a regular basis.
These subtle interactions show you’re interested in them not just as journalists but as human beings. When I was a reporter, communication professionals who would ask about my family, chat about weekend plans or even make a funny joke were the ones I was more likely to reach out to again for future story ideas, sound bites or just background information.