Secrets to Pitching Reporters
Overcoming a Shrinking News Hole
Finding it tougher these days to get ink or
airtime for your story in the top-tier media?
The incredible shrinking daily news hole
is getting even smaller, warn prominent editors.
What with a limping economy, the ongoing
Iraq and Afghan wars and terrorism saturating the headlines, airtime
and column inches for "softer" stories are still tight
in U.S. newsrooms. At media outlets with waning budgets and a spread-thin
staff, reporters are also being pulled off their regular beats or
putting in overtime to cover more homeland security issues.
How, then, to keep otherwise worthwhile news
stories from getting bumped? Here are a few tips from veteran journalists
to help you gain a competitive news advantage. While some may sound
like common sense, reporters say surprisingly few organizations
Insider Media Tips:
- Content and timing are key to every news pitch. Know what's
relevant for particular journalists and what they're covering
day to day. Pay special attention to tone and the appropriateness
of your story angle. These days it's nearly impossible to predict
whether a news day will be frenzied or relatively quiet, so it's
important to be flexible in deciding when to announce or promote
a particular news item.
- With less airtime and fewer column inches available for stories
that aren't war- or terrorism-related, be realistic about the
amount of coverage your announcement can generate, particularly
in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington
Post. News outlets with longer lead times -- regionals, weeklies,
trade and vertical publications -- might be less affected by breaking
war and terrorism news, offering a better chance at your story.
At least two weeks before you decide to go public with a news
item, closely monitor the extent to which target media outlets
are covering your industry sector or subject matter. If there's
scant coverage, adjust your expectations accordingly.
- Know media deadlines. Don't ruin your credibility by interrupting
a journalist who's furiously cranking copy just to take your pitch
about a non-breaking news item.
- Know more about your industry or subject than the journalist
you're pitching. Nothing will kill a story faster than not knowing
answers to basic questions when a reporter calls. Have talking
points and soundbites handy. And have access to a credible management
rep or expert for the reporter to talk to if you can't answer
the questions being asked.
- Be a resource. If you don't have the answer to a reporter's
question, point him or her to other experts and information sources
to help them understand and write their story.
- Be familiar with the reporter's medium. Know the publication's
or station's format as well as its readership/audience.
- Know whether reporters prefer receiving information by phone,
fax, e-mail or regular mail and which wire services they have
access to. Tailoring your news content and format to their preferences
is critical (e.g., style and content of e-mailed news releases
are far different than their paper-based counterparts).
- For journalists who prefer email over other communications channels
(and more do these days because of the potential for anthrax-laced
postal mail), know and abide by standards of online etiquette.
Never email unsolicited attachments -- they can contain deadly
viruses. Either ask reporters if they want an attachment before
sending it or include a web link to that attachment in your email.
If reporters are interested, they'll access it directly from your
web site or ask you to send the attachment to them.
- If you're mailing a press kit or other promotional materials
to reporters, make sure mailing labels and shipping containers
prominently display your organization's logo. Anxiety about bio-terrorism
is understandably high among reporters, particularly those with
high public profiles. Don't send "teaser" promotions
that look like anonymous mailings meant to pique reporters' interest
in some future announcement or product.
- Establish and continually update your media lists. Reporters
frequently change beats and the publications or stations they
work for. Using a list that's not updated at least once a month
wastes valuable time and energy yours and the reporter's.
Know which external media database providers have the most reliable,
accurate lists and double-check your data against theirs. Always
double-check the spelling and pronunciation of a reporter's name.
If in doubt, call the media outlet to verify the information.
- Track which web sites pick up your news, monitor those sites
and correct media misstatements. In today's hyperspeed world,
media inaccuracies that go uncorrected could quickly and negatively
impact a company's reputation, financials or lead to lawsuits.
What Reporters Hate Most:
- Irrelevant story pitches, especially when major news is breaking
- Unnecessary phone calls (e.g., "did you get my release?)
- Lack of familiarity with their news outlet
- Not understanding their beat
- Unavailability of PR contact or quotable source when on deadline
- Unsolicited email attachments