PR 101: How to Pitch The New York Times
Cision’s Media Research team reaches out to thousands of journalists each day in an effort to enhance our knowledge base. Here’s a few themes we’ve complied when pitching one of the toughest, yet most desirable outlets: The New York Times.
1. Don’t call.
If there’s one thing journalists tell us time and again, it’s that they dislike cold calls. It may interrupt them in the middle of writing a story, or worse, prevent them from taking a call with a hot news tip. Unless you have something that is truly breaking, stop-the-presses level news, it’s best to leave the phone alone. This also goes for follow-ups.
By and large, New York Times journalists do not appreciate a PR professional calling to make sure a press release was received; there’s no time for them to confirm receipt of every email. Barring bouncebacks, the email system is likely still working, the reporter or editor just isn’t interested. Radio silence is common, and can be a telling response in itself. Once you have an established relationship with a journalist (see #5), however, calls can come off much less intrusive.
2. Know the paper.
There is no other newspaper like The New York Times. It’s The Newspaper of Record, The Grey Lady, and a journalism institution. The paper employs some of the top journalists in the country, and the last thing they want is a tone-deaf pitch.
Become familiar with the myriad sections, supplement magazines, and the beats of editors and reporters. New York Times journalists will frequently suggest this strategy, as simply reading their stories will often indicate what works and what doesn’t for Culture, Arts & Leisure, Business Day, the Book Review or Styles. If there’s one newspaper subscription to have as a useful pitching resource, it’s The New York Times.
Even without one, the paper’s online archive of stories is helpful when researching what a reporter has written and the kinds of stories that interest them. Do your homework. It’s an old adage, and a crucial step. Some reporters work a national beat, and need evidence of relevance on that scale. Some columns are merely Q&A, and a press release or pitch may not be useful. Other columns, especially those offering event notices, will often be restricted to a certain region in New York or elsewhere, like Connecticut. Journalists will often receive pitches or press materials that just don’t relate to their coverage area, which wastes everyone’s time.
3. Email pitches with discretion.
Most journalists prefer to leave PR contact to email. It’s not just that they don’t want to be interrupted by a call (see #1), but with literally thousands of emails coming their way on a daily basis, maintaining their inbox can be a nightmare, a part-time job in itself.
However, useful case studies, expert sources and relevant, researched pitches can possibly be useful down the line. Email makes it much easier to track and search the various materials and information received.
Generic press releases, however, are best left to general news tip inboxes or department emails that are viewable by all reporters and editors. Make sure the press release contains all contact information, the who, what, where, when, why and how. Without this information, no journalist will take the pitch seriously.
Absolutely avoid blanketing the entire newsroom with the same release, a good practice with any media outlet. They will know, and they will be offended. If you can’t resist sending the same pitch to a few reporters or worse, to media outlets who are direct competitors, at least disclose that information up front.
It’s important to know New York Times reporters rarely, if ever, want to write off of a press release (many delete these right away), preferring to entirely engage in their own story craft, and pure product stories are not likely to fly.
Writing off a release might do for some smaller papers with shrinking staffs who are looking for efficiency, but The New York Times is not short on resources, and definitely not in the practice of hiring folks who are short on ideas; it’s likely a big part of why they’re there.
4. Think about added value.
Of course, an exclusive, juicy national story may be a home run, but New York Times reporters are also always looking for an original angle on a story. It’s important to think about their end goal, and the relevance or utility for New York Times readers.
Regular readers are vocal, and just as discerning as those journalists who staff the paper. Readers expect to be served with the highest quality journalism, and any story that might hew too similarly to the competition’s story is not going to pass muster.
Even worse, the reporter or the paper may have even covered the story previously (see #2). It’s best to demonstrate your knowledge of the paper and the journalist you’re pitching by going the extra mile to sell your pitch.
How can this story be original, relevant, impactful and indicative of a national (or local) trend? As we’ve discussed, New York Times reporters very often generate their own story ideas, and likely have no shortage of them, so the pitch must truly demonstrate how two heads can be better than one.
5. Be genuine.
While being a journalist is a very certain kind of career choice, it’s important to remember they’re still people. Rather than sending a PR-speak sort of press release or pitch, truly reach out to the journalist. Talk to them conversationally, ask them what stories they’re interested in working on, and let them know what sorts of resources you can provide.
Let them know when you’re in town, and suggest a meeting. PR, more than many other vocations, is all about establishing relationships. This also includes honesty. Be upfront with the reporter, give them access and create a foundation of trust.
Once these relationships are formed, journalists are more responsive and more likely to work with you on a story. The best PR professionals approach journalists as they would an everyday conversation before pitching anything. They’re moderate and avoid the hype.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
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