Lessons of Pitching to the Media from a Veteran Journalist and Editor
Since making the transition from journalist to publicist, I’ve had to learn on the fly the finer points of pitching to media. I’ve tried to put myself in my own shoes, to remember what made pitches effective to me as a journalist and what about them sold me on a story.
I’ve also had to keep in mind how I reacted to cold calls and unsolicited pitches during my career as a newspaper/digital writer and editor. If my desk phone rang with an unfamiliar number, I’d do a quick Google search on it, and if a PR/marketing firm came up, I’d probably let the call go to voicemail (which I rarely checked). If the Metro desk editor transferred a call to me, I might have ignored it altogether, or at least tried to finish the call as soon as possible.
The fact is that as tightly staffed as newsrooms are these days, and as committed as they are to devoting limited resources to high-performing content, pitching is not getting any easier. It’s always been a numbers game: Pitch a few hundred media folks, and you might get one or two replies. But now there just aren’t as many folks to pitch to.
So here are a few lessons I’ve learned about pitching effectively to busy journalists and short-staffed newsrooms:
- Do your research: While more targets might translate to more pickups in theory, it’s best to focus on the ones who might actually be able to help you. If you’re pitching a doctor/patient success story, skip the NBA beat writer and find out who does the “HealthBeat” column or the “Medical Minute” segment.
- Call the desk: The editor or producer working the assignment desk (or city desk or Metro desk) will always answer the phone. They will want to get rid of that phone as quickly as possible and get back to what they were doing, so they will at least put you in touch with the right person (or his or her voicemail). Plus, that call builds awareness in the newsroom that there’s a publicist pitching a story.
- Who’s the boss? My Uncle Sam is a retired sales consultant who preached that effective salespeople skip the gatekeepers and go right to the decision makers. Try reaching out to a managing editor or executive producer to see if they’ll assign the story to someone.
- It goes down in the DM: A recent Public Relations Society of America luncheon I attended featured a panel of media executives sharing advice and answering questions. They all recommended social media for contacting and pitching to journalists. A well-timed direct message might get a response whereas an email might get lost among hundreds of others.
Of course, effective pitching goes only as far as your journalist contact is willing to follow through and write an actual story or produce an actual broadcast. There’s no magical formula for dealing with the media, though when everything works out, it can seem like a miracle.
Mark Richens is Director Public Relations for Morris Marketing Group. He previously spent 20 years working in daily newspaper/digital newsrooms.
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