1. Do your research
The first step in pitching a reporter is ensuring your story is of interest. This requires preparation in the form of research. There’s no way to lose credibility faster and find your email address added to a spam filter faster than wasting a reporter’s time via a wholly inappropriate pitch.
So, research. Yes — everyone hates building media lists.
They’re boring, monotonous, and yet absolutely fundamental.
Like most public relations practitioners, I spent my first day as an Assistant Account Executive working on a media list.
But it’s also what I spent several hours on yesterday, more than 8 years into my PR career.
As long as media relations is a component of your job, so too will be media lists.
2. Have a point of view
One of my mentors is a former Wall Street Journal reporter. When I asked him for his advice on effective pitching of top-tier publications, he said simply, “Have a point of view.”
Reporters thrive on stories, and stories thrive on controversy. If you have a client with a controversial, let alone unique, perspective, they are far more likely to be interviewed (let alone quoted) than if their position could be stated by dozens of other people.
3. Think like a reporter
Reporters are harried, as in frazzled – constantly under pressure to produce, particularly in this new era of 24 hour news cycles.
Think about what motivates the reporters you pitch. What are their goals? How are they judged?
I try to always keep in mind that the reporter I’m am trying to reach is driven largely by the following:
1) Will the story get clicks? – Clicks today are the real-time metric by which reporters are judged. Yes, front page stories count too – but make no mistake – even The New York Times chooses some of it’s front page stories based on what received high levels of views, shares, and engagement the day (or night) before.
2) Will it make them (or, even better, their editor) look good? Rule # 1 of any job is to make your boss look good. So anything you can do to make the reporter look good to his boss (the editor) vastly increases your chances.
3) Is it interesting? — This is a wild card, but every reporter has the story they’d love to write, even if it won’t translate to immediate acclaim via proven views. If you have a truly revolutionary story, many reporters will show interest because they are, at their heart, storytellers.
4. Make it easy for the reporter
- Don’t just send an email wall of text.
- Get straight to the point in the first line.
- Include a bulleted list of why this story is relevant to them and what new perspective your client can provide.
- Attach links to further resources, an infographic or other creative data visualization, authoritative statistics, etc. The more you include, the less work on their end to turn it into a polished article.
- Make the ask. Ask for a phone interview.
5. Practice your pitch
I’m an introvert. Which means I don’t much like talking to people, let alone trying to sell reporters on my latest client’s story or point of view.
So it’s imperative that I (and you) practice your phone pitch out loud at least once before you call. You have maybe 10-15 seconds to articulate who you are, why you’re calling, and why they should care. Make them count.
It also helps if your first call is to a secondary outlet – as practice really does make perfect, save the most important reporters for later, when you’ve become more comfortable.
6. Build relationships
Relationships matter. In life, in your work, and in media relations.
A reporter is far more likely to pick up the phone if they recognize your number. The same goes for answering your email, let alone actually engaging with you on your latest story idea.
So build your reputation methodically, taking the time to make each reporter interaction something of value.
As you become more a known quantity, your results will increase proportionately.
7. Develop your niche
Pitching gets easier as you establish a niche expertise.
There’s a world of difference between being a 22 year-old PR generalist who is told to pitch a consulting firm’s latest employment white paper one day; a new coach for an SEC school the next, and a small satellite communications firm the next; vs. a 24 year-old who has established herself within the reporter ecosystem related to say…healthcare PR, or technology PR.
With the former example, you’re a perpetual stranger; with the latter, you are likely calling the same reporters over and over, offering different clients each time. You become a recurring figure, a trusted resource.
Eventually the reporters will begin calling you, asking if you have any subject matter experts they can interview on the latest trend, or for a quick quote from one of your industry contacts that they can insert into a piece just before deadline.
8. Follow Up
I firmly believe that success in life is largely a matter of follow-up.
Everyone is presented with a certain number of amazing options. Comparatively few have the persistence or discipline to explore most of these options to conclusion.
Put another way, there’s a saying: “’No’ just means ‘not now.’”
Just because a reporter isn’t interested in your client or their story right now, doesn’t mean they won’t be open to it a month from now.
9. Be a Resource
PR professionals and reporters share an odd but symbiotic relationship. Your attempts to engage reporters will be far more successful if you remember that it’s a two-way street.
You should position yourself as a valuable resource with credible information and contacts that can help reporters finish their story that much faster with that much less fuss.