You may have a really great story you want to share in the media, but – a little like getting to the MD of a company, or seeing a consultant – you have to get past the gatekeeper. And in the world of PR, the gatekeepers are journalists who you want to entice into writing or publicising your story. They are the conduits to the media, so make friends with them and learn how to pitch.
Like all of us, journalists are busy people, with inboxes that seem to keep filling up and up like the magic porridge pot in the children’s fable, and often it’s easier for them to opt for a quick scan and ‘delete’ than to carefully trawl through, looking for that gem of a story.
So to maximise your chances of grabbing their attention, and proving your pitch or press release is the diamond in the rough, follow these simple steps.
Pitching to a journalist
- Send the right idea to the right person. This is all about knowing your audience, who you are trying to reach and what stories you have that will appeal to them and interest them. Next, you select the media they read, watch or listen to, then approach the journalists who work or freelance for these organisations. You’ll be wasting your time and theirs if you send the outline for a great story to a journalist whose readers/viewers/listeners won’t be interested – because neither will they.
- The emphasis is very much on the words ‘story’ and ‘news’. We all love a good story, so if you have a tale, or a news angle, that is eye-catching, or that will make people sit up and engage, then you have a much better chance of succeeding. If, in actual fact, you’re just trying to shoehorn advertising fluff into the guise of a press release or story idea, it won’t succeed. Journalists can see through this – you can’t pull the wool over their eyes.
- If you’re sure you’re targeting the right journalists, and you have a good story, then you’re ready to pitch. The best medium is still via email, because the journalist can read it (or not) at his or her leisure. Unsolicited phone calls are not generally welcome. Think how you feel when hit on by a caller, effectively selling to you, when you’re doubtless tied up with other things?
- Your email has to have a really eye-catching subject line that will make the reader sit up and take notice. There’s a world of difference between:
- Businesswoman publishes new book, and
- New book gets to bottom of how people ‘poo’ *
- Which leads us on to comedy and puns. Journalists like a good pun (see above), that will amuse them and encourage them to open the email. But of course there is a time and a place, and it’s important to remember to be appropriate, sensitive and, dare we say, politically correct.
- We said email is the best option, but you could also try social media, Twitter in particular. Journalists, especially freelancers, use social media as a way of pitching their own stories to media outlets, so they won’t be averse to being tagged or approached in this way. Again, they can respond – or not – as they see fit. But don’t harass them. There’s a difference between pitching and becoming a nuisance.
- What is your story about? Has it got a human interest angle? If you can humanise your story, you’re more likely to succeed. Try to illustrate it with a case study, so your press release focuses on the person rather than the product or innovation that you regard as the real story.
- Get your timing right. If the story is time critical, then give a journalist plenty of notice. Equally, if you are pitching at a writer for a monthly magazine, remember there is a long lead-in time. We’re writing this blog on June; they are already thinking about what to put in their autumn editions (if not Christmas!)
- Be concise. If you are pitching, send a short summary in the body of the email – using bullet points is advisable, as it makes the pitch quick and easy to read. If you are sending a full press release, then, again, send bullet points/summary in the main body, and refer to the full press release which they can find at the bottom of the email, if they wish. Don’t send it as an attachment. They may not open it and, indeed, it may get caught in a spam filter.
- And finally… be patient and persistent (in other words, try again, but don’t keep trying with the same old story – find something new). Pitching can be frustrating, because often as not you won’t hear back but remember: nothing ventured, nothing gained. Just because you’ve had no reply, doesn’t mean the journalist has completely ignored you. They may well have clocked your details and added you to their contacts book as a useful person to know, for future reference.
Of course, getting your pitch noticed doesn’t necessarily mean game on. The journalist needs then to go on to produce a piece that will enchant his or her editor. That’s their skill, but you’ve done your bit. It’s a case of wait and see.
For more help or advice on pitching to a journalist, PR and getting into the media, please do get in touch. To find out if you are sitting on a cracking tale, why not download our Free PR Discovery Checklist.
*We’re referring here to pitching to a journalist for the wonderful Katherine Brooke-MacKenzie, of The Healthy Gut Clinic, and her book Let That Sh*t Go! subtitled 31 Things To Do If You Want A Better Poo. We ran a slight risk here that the word ‘poo’ and its synonyms would get caught in spam filters. It didn’t and we’re pleased to say her story and her new book were well covered in the media.