Reporters are swamped.
Every day is a balancing act between checking hundreds of messages to get scoops that beat competitors and meeting story deadlines that please editors.
Piercing the blizzard of frenetic activity engulfing daily journalists requires concise, newsworthy and relevant story pitches.
Pitches that present a problem, highlight a solution, and show why the client is a credible source are most effective.
A pitch that grabs a reporter’s attention typically includes several key elements. A solid pitch should resemble a well-written story. The point is clear. The information is salient. The total number of words is spare.
Make It Newsworthiness
Whenever possible, provide the reporter with actual news — meaning, facts most readers do not yet know. If the pitch centers on a story already familiar to the public, present a unique, original, or unexpected angle. In newsroom-speak, this occasionally is called zagging when everyone else is zigging.
For instance, the current news cycle for months has included daily stories addressing negative economic indicators. These include inflation, fears of stagflation, rising oil prices and food shortages due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, persisting supply-chain snarls, a slowing housing market, increasing interest rates, layoffs and stock-market volatility.
Stories warning of a coming recession due to some combination or all of those factors have become commonplace. But, savvy public-relations professionals could secure media coverage for a client who presents an alternative scenario that does not include a recession beginning in the near future. If backed by solid data and expert insight, a story pitch presenting this dynamic new angle to a reporter has a better chance of being accepted than one that simply repeats what’s been reported already many times over.
On a related note, the PR professional must be aware of the stories that news organizations and their editors are publishing now. What’s dominating the headlines and top of mind? If it’s the economy, a story pitch about alternative health-insurance plans is important to most Americans in their everyday lives but will be lower on the priority list for newsroom editors planning that day’s stories.
And pitches with a broader story angle that demonstrate how the PR professional’s client or expert source fits into that — rather than the other way around — avoid any potential negative promotional interpretation.
Do Your Homework
Remember that reporters also are constantly pitching their editors. Like PR professionals seeking media coverage for their clients, journalists, too, are — often multiple times a day — attempting to persuade and cajole their editors to green light their story ideas.
Keeping in mind that reporters must keep their editors happy is essential to crafting successful pitches. Knowing what a reporter’s editors want illuminates the kinds of story pitches journalists most likely will accept.
This obligates researching, at a minimum, the reporter’s news organization, readership and beats. Does the news organization report general news to a general audience? Or does it specialize in business news for startup founders, company executives and investors? Or is its focus narrower still, presenting highly technical information for a technologically sophisticated readership?
After answering those questions, PR professionals should examine what the reporter writes about. If the journalist is a breaking-news reporter for a news organization that covers politics, a story pitch to that reporter about the conservation of fish populations off the New England coast would, at best, cause confusion. At worst, it could cause the journalist to permanently identify the PR pro as someone to be ignored.
Consider the mode of communication the reporter prefers. If a journalist is extremely active on social media, regularly conversing with readers and sources on Twitter, for example, pitching the reporter through that channel might be appropriate. Other journalists prefer email pitches, so they can easily search for keywords when researching future stories. Some like texting. And a few old-school reporters still like to hash out story ideas on the phone.
The goal to keep front and center when pitching a reporter must be to establish the PR pro as a reliable source of trustworthy information pertinent to the journalist and the journalist’s news organization.
Keep pitches brief, free of jargon, offering a spokesperson who is an expert on one or more high-level topics, and include one or two eye-popping data points that could be headlines by themselves.
If the pitch is an exclusive for the journalist, present that high up in the pitch. Every reporter is looking for exclusives. Regularly feeding exclusives to journalists guarantees those reporters will respond to a PR pro’s pitches.
The PR pro who answers the questions that the reporter always must answer in a story — Who? What? When? How? And, most importantly, Why? — quickly will become a go-to person for a journalist on deadline who needs an expert to add breadth and depth to a piece.
Avoid language that positions the PR pro as representing a client. Instead, simply offer the client as an expert who may help the journalist complete an assignment. The pitch should not contain language that implies the attempt to sell a reporter on a story. Instead, the pitch should be a solution the journalist needs to finish the story by deadline.
Mike Cronin is a senior content & media strategist at Treble. He was a journalist for 24 years prior to joining Treble in January.