How to Pitch a Story to a Journalist

Gordon Murray Design: RAC Future Car ChallengeWhether you’re calling on behalf of a consulting client, or you are trying to promote something you’re doing yourself, it can be intimidating to pitch a story to a journalist.

You should relax, because they’re just professionals like you with a job to do, and they’re always looking for fresh content.

But also keep in mind that they get many calls and emails every day asking for coverage, and many pitches they receive just don’t cut it (as a former journalist myself, I can tell you that quite a few pitches from the unprepared are pretty terrible.)

Here are some guidelines to think about if you’re trying to get media coverage.

Is it Relevant?

You need to do a little research beforehand. Are you talking to a trade publication that focuses on IT issues? Or is this a general interest magazine for readers who live in Charlotte, N.C.? Whatever the case may be, think like an editor. Will your story resonate with this outlet’s audience?

Who to Target

It’s easy to Google a reporter and see what he or she has expertise (or interest) in covering.  Target your pitches to the people you feel will understand your issue and are more likely to be interested by what you have to say.

Is it Timely?

One thing I used to ask people when they pitched stories to me is, “Why do I need to write about this now?” What’s “new” about your news? Or, what’s at stake? What issue does it illustrate that you think needs some attention?

Email First

Ultimately, you want to develop a relationship with a reporter, so don’t pitch your first story when you’re in a hurry. Send an email and introduce yourself. Then, find a reason to call. “Just wanted to introduce myself to you — I’d love to talk to you about health care innovations in the Pacific Northwest. When’s a good time to call?” Be personable, and being persistent is OK too. But if you’re pushy, you’re likely to be ignored.

Show You Know Your Stuff

This is where your research comes in. The reporter knows you want news coverage, not a new best friend. But it never hurts to say, “I read what you wrote about my client in the past, and here’s what I liked, and here’s where I thought you missed.” Reporters (when they’re not being crushed by a deadline) rarely mind engaging in banter with people who come prepared.

Polish that Press Release

Keep it concise and simple. This may sound like elementary school advice, but it works: Think about the Five W’s (Who, What, Where, When, Why), and answer as many of those questions as you can in as short a press release as possible. Keep your language direct, and avoid jargon, especially if you’re pitching a general-interest publication (trade publications are a little more forgiving of  buzz words). And, by all means, have someone else proofread it for spelling and grammar before you hit “send.”

 photo by Dominic Alves, used under a Creative Commons license

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