Communication professionals are no strangers to the challenges that journalists are facing today, from the demands of the 24-hour news cycle to budget shortfalls and understaffed newsrooms. We respect them for their tenacity and commitment to uncovering the truth, and we value being able to build relationships with them based on trust and mutual respect.
But despite our best intentions, we don’t always set ourselves up for success. I recently attended a “Double Your Media Placements” workshop led by media relations industry leader, Michael Smart (not to be confused with Spitfire media pro, Mike Carter-Conneen, whose two-part series on top-notch media pitching can be read here and here.)
Building on Mike’s media pitching tips, here are just a few of the many valuable lessons I learned.
Craft the perfect pitch by including a few key elements.
This is the anatomy of a perfect pitch: a customized introduction + a compelling hook + a clear call to action. Journalists should know that you’re reaching out to them for a reason, that you’ve got something interesting to share and that you’re offering them a real opportunity, whether it’s an interview, an event invite or groundbreaking data.
Make sure your pitch is newsworthy. If the broader relevance of the story you’re sharing isn’t immediately obvious, be explicit and draw the conclusion in your pitch, or offer a timely tie-in that speaks to a larger cultural moment.
Make journalists happy to see your name.
This won’t happen overnight, but building strong relationships with reporters through personalized outreach will pay off in the long run. One of the biggest complaints that journalists have about communication professionals is that they don’t take the time to get familiar with journalists’ work before pitching them.
Carve out some time in your week to watch, read or listen to the work of the journalists on your priority list. Offer genuine and thoughtful praise if you see something that resonates with you and speaks to the issues you’re working on. Follow them on social media to keep tabs on the issues they’re exploring.
These practices will equip you with the information you need before you send a pitch note. Once you have something you want to pitch, use the key elements of the perfect pitch above, and be sure that what you’re offering is high-quality, interesting and accurate.
Another way to maintain trust is to offer content that’s higher in quality than what competitors are sharing. Lighten the reporter’s potential lift for the story by offering as much helpful information as you can, such as interview sources and third-party research. And as my colleague Mike says, “Make it visual.”
Showcase existing interest while demonstrating the potential reach.
Journalists don’t want to receive pitches for stories that have already had their moment, but they also don’t want stories without any buzz. The perfect time to pitch a story is when there are initial rumblings about it but still a lot more to be said.
How will you know if a story is at this perfect balancing point? If there are a few initial stories introducing the topic and/or if there is a growing conversation on social media, you’re in a good place to pitch. You can offer reporters a new and less-explored angle or set of contexts to build on the conversation. If you have a sizable social media audience, it doesn’t hurt to mention that you’ll be able to amplify the story on your channels, and no matter what your follower count is, follow Mike’s tip to show your appreciation on social by sharing the story and giving the reporter a shout-out.
Turn to thought leaders beyond the traditional newsroom.
Survey your networks to see where they get their news. Their answers might not be what you expect. Beyond major newspapers and TV outlets, people turn to social media, blogs, newsletters and news aggregators for their news. These are important platforms that should be part of your pitch plan.
Have you considered engaging social media influencers? If you’re sharing a story about a topic or issue that fits squarely into an influencer’s brand, reach out to that person or their team, and see if they’ll spread the word.
There are several ways to do this depending on the time and budget you’re working with. You could ask the influencer to make a post about the story, you could offer payment for a sponsored post, or you could invite the influencer to take over one of your social media channels for a day.
Other nontraditional influencers to engage include celebrities, political leaders, bloggers, newsletter writers, news aggregators, and company and organizational blogs and shows (examples include American Express’ Business Trends and Insights or Leadership Conference on Civil Rights’ Pod for the Cause).
Plan and persist.
Giving reporters a half-day lead time for a story is a great way to land your pitch directly in the trash. Plan ahead. Give the reporter the time they need to pursue the story and use your pitch to point to upcoming moments and events that will give the story relevance. Planning also allows time for follow-ups.
If you don’t hear back after a full day, reach back out over email and continue to follow up over email if the reporter has expressed initial interest. Reporters get busy and their inboxes get flooded all the time, so don’t be afraid to follow up (I’ll emphasize again that this persistence is best reserved for reporters who have expressed initial interest). Calls should be used as a last resort. As Mike says, “Put down the phone.”
In an industry that values the great contributions of journalists and strives to partner with them, communication leaders need to make sure they are staying on top of the challenges and needs facing journalists and constantly working to accommodate them. These five tips can help you step up your pitching game and ultimately, get your story covered.