How to pitch to journalists

Public relations certainly isn’t all about media relations, but it is a major element. Knowing how to pitch stories and how to build relationships with journalists is a crucial part of our success.

One thing to think about is whether to pitch by phone or email. This can come down to personal preference, the nature of the story, how well you know the journalist you’re pitching to, the time of day. It’s not a broad brush approach, so think about this for every pitch you make. Journalists are more and more favouring email over phone calls, which can disrupt their day much more. Also, in this modern age of social media consider using services such as Twitter to pitch. There’s certainly skill in pitching a story in 140 characters and it’s direct and much more immediate.

Here are some other key things to bear in mind.

1)      Know your story: this may sound obvious, but can you sum your story up in two or three sentences or a few bullet points?

2)      Make it relevant: why should a particular journalist care about what you have to say? Even if you’re working from a news release that has been approved by the client you can vary the pitch and pick out different elements according to who you’re talking to. And don’t forget about the ‘extras’, e.g. interviews, exclusive additional content, photos, etc. Be targeted

3)      Do your research: use media databases such as MEDIAtlas (paid-for) and  MediaSync (free) to find contact details and the right contacts, but also try to look at a publication or website, listen to a radio station or watch a particular television show – know who covers what, what’s been covered on your topic recently and whether a particular journalist always wants exclusives

4)      Respect deadlines: if you’re calling a journalist always check whether it’s a good time to talk, you don’t want to launch straight into a pitch if they’re on a deadline; it won’t be appreciated

5)      Get to the point: even if a journalist says it is a good time to talk, make sure you get to the point (this links back to knowing your story) – they haven’t got all day; some journalists will receive many calls and hundreds of emails a day

6)      Be professional: be friendly but don’t be over-pally if it’s the first time you’ve spoken to someone. With the first contact you have no credibility and no history, so it will take time to establish this

7)      Don’t spam: similarly, consider whether a story really is relevant to someone, if you’ve made a media list using something like MEDIAtlas make sure there aren’t duplicates in the list so you don’t call or email someone more than once

8)      Be available: if you’re pitching a story make sure you’re around and ready to deal with any requests or follow ups from journalists otherwise you could miss out

9)      Follow up with caution: if you’ve sent an email pitch, don’t just follow it with a call saying “did you get my email?”, consider whether you can offer anything else – what justifies your follow up call? Perhaps in your email you can say “I’ll call in a day or two to get your feedback, unless I hear from you beforehand” – at least then you’ve given a warning!

10)   Know when to give up: sometimes a story is perfect for someone, and you know it, so you keep trying, but sometimes you will be flogging a dead horse of a story so you need to know when to call it quits. If your  story isn’t flying, think about why and what you can do to change this in the future, it’s our job as PRs to advise our clients of the best course of action after all

If you’re planning a long and illustrious career in the PR industry it’s vital to understand how the media works and how to work with the media. Think long-term relationships and making friends. If you do a journalist a favour, turn around stories quickly and efficiently, pitch the right things to the right people, you’ll make a good name for yourself and journalists will, in turn, listen to you.

What do you think? Are you a PR with a journalist pitch story to tell? Are you a journalist with strong opinions about how PRs pitch stories to you (this is most of you, surely?!)? Do you have anything to add to this? We’d love to hear from anyone with advice or anecdotes.

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