Pitching Basics – Rules of Engagement
Flickr:timtak (Creative Commons)
So you have a great story idea or new product and you want the world to know about it. You find some reporters, pitch them, and to your surprise you don’t get any responses. Not one. Not even a cordial “thanks, I’ll keep this in mind for next time.” You send yourself an email to make sure it’s not an issue with the server. Maybe their reply got sent to your spam folder? Nope. You check your call log and voicemail and still, no hope. Why isn’t anyone responding to your pitch?
I like to think of media pitching as less about pitching and more about a back and forth game of catch. Reporters need you just as much as you need them. You need them to cover your story and they need new, relevant story ideas to write about. The ideal relationship between a reporter and a source (ahem, that would be you) should be a mutually beneficial one. With that being said, relationship building takes time. The perfect pitch is one that involves getting to know your target reporters and showing a genuine interest in helping them, rather than treating them as a means to an end.
Let’s revisit some basic do’s and don’ts of pitching to the media.
Your Research – Know your reporter and what they like to write about. Read their stories and familiarize yourself with the content. Get on their radar by commenting on their articles and blogs. Follow them on Twitter. Take the time to understand the reporter’s interests, likes/dislikes and general style.
Know what contact method works best – Most reporters still prefer being contacted by email. However, if this isn’t the case, you should know if they prefer fax or phone. Don’t wait until right before a reporter’s deadline to contact them. For example, a daily publication will be rushing to finish their stories at the end of the day. You may want to call them in the morning. Monthly publications often work well in advance of a deadline, so you may need to pitch your story in January rather than wait until the contribution deadline in March.
Offer Valuable Information – Translate the knowledge you gained from doing your research into story ideas that are specific and meaningful to the reporter. Reporters want to write stories that will impact a lot of people or are about issues that are relevant to their audience. The goal is to offer yourself as a resource.
Be Concise – Reporters are busy people who work on deadlines. They are constantly being contacted by people pitching them stories. Pitches should be short and relevant. Be polite and informative, but to the point.
Follow up – If at first you don’t succeed, try again! As stated earlier, building a relationship takes time. If you haven’t heard back, give it a day or two and follow up with a phone call just to make sure they received the information.
Over Pitch – There’s a thin line between following up and stalking. Chances are if you’ve made a few attempts and haven’t heard back, the journalist probably isn’t interested. And if you have heard back and the answer is “no”, that means “no”. That’s not to say to never contact that reporter for anything else ever again. It just means they may not be interested in your story at the particular time.
Appear too “salesy” – You may think your idea is fabulous or revolutionary or that your product is the world’s best or one of a kind but nobody likes a gimmick. Part of keeping your pitch simple is avoiding superlatives and promissory language.
Send generic pitches – Pitches should be tailored specifically to each reporter and outlet – personalize your pitch and engage with the media you’re interested in. Generic pitches may save you time, but more than likely they will yield no results. Address the reporter by name, make a reference to something they’ve written in the past, and then weave in your pitch.
Pitch the wrong audience – Many story pitches get rejected and ignored because they were submitted to the wrong audience. This ties into knowing your audience well and avoiding mass pitches. Nothing annoys a reporter more than someone who pitches them irrelevant story ideas.
Any thoughts or other recommendations for success in pitching to the media?
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