Before contacting the media, do your research to find out which reporters cover stories that are similar to the one you want to
pitch. These are the reporters
and journalists that are most likely to be interested in your story. This research includes developing a media list with contact information, the editorial beat the reporter, or producer or show host covers and their contact preferences. Do they prefer story pitches by phone or do they prefer to receive them by email. Develop a list of story ideas and know which reporters on your media list are most likely to be interested in hearing or reading them.
The Art of Creating Hooks - choosing the right bait to catch the right fish
- The Analysis / Summary Findings / Statistics Hook - it’s all in how you play the numbers game
- The Awards Hook - for service above and beyond the call of duty
- The Case Studies Hook - how the who dunnit did it
- The Checklist Hook - Cliff Notes for life
- The Commentary / Op Ed / Counterpoint Hook - “you say potato, I say potahto, you say tomato, I say tomahto”
- The Contest Hook - and the winner is...
- The Consumer Application Of Technical Information Hook - turning coal into diamonds
- The Events / Sponsorship Hook - step right up folks, come one, come all
- The Expose / Pitfalls / Scams Hook - it’s a horse of a different color
- The Human Interest Story Hook - finding true north
- The List of Best/Worst, Biggest/Smallest, etc., Hook - it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (A Tale of Two Cities)
- The Nostalgia / History / Retrospective Hook - those where the days my friend, I thought they’d never end
- The Old Wives Tales / Folk Lore Hook - mama said there’d be days like this
- The Play by Play Description / Meeting Agenda Reports Hook - “the facts ma’am, just the facts” (Jack Web - Dragnet)
- The Publicity Stunt Hook - “ya gotta have a gimmick - if you have a gimmick” (Gypsy)
- The Q & A Hook -inquiring minds want to know
- The Quiz Hook - who’s on first?
- The Recipe Hook - “yummy yummy yummy”
- The Seasonal Items - Holiday Hook - now you see it - now you do it - now you don’t
- The Survey Hook - are you a man or a mouse
- The Tips / How to / Advice Hook - now you tell me, where were you when I needed you?
- The Essay Contest Hook - exercising our freedom of speech
- The Trends Hook - here today gone tomorrow
- The Fund Raising / Sponsorship Hook - dig deep folks, show ’em how much you care
- The Invitation as a Hook - come on down
- The Party as a Hook - and a good time was had by all
Pitching your story by phone
When you pitch you story to the media over the phone, reporters do not want to hear, “Hi, my name is Jane Smith. I’d like to talk to you about blah, blah, blah, blah.” They’ve already lost you. What they are really looking for is a solution to a problem their readers, listeners and viewers share. You need to mention benefits, benefits, benefits, at the beginning of your pitch.
What you want to say are attention grabbers such as: “The Quickest Way to Get Booked on Oprah and Dr. Phil.” “A Sneaky Way to Get an Article in Newsweek, New York Times and Washington Post for Less Than $50.” Check out the magazine and newspaper racks in your grocery or drugstore and look at the article titles and the front page headlines. They usually combine the problem and the solution into one phrase.
First write out your pitch. Write what it is that you want to say, and then look at it. Take out any nonessential words. Format your story ideas as bullet points, as sound bytes, as something that’s just going to grab reporters right away. Start your bullet points with verbs followed by a short phrase 15 words or less, or 10 words or less. The best headline is 10 words or less. So if the best headline is 10 words or less, the best story pitch should be 10 words or less.
After you write out your pitch and can state it within 30 seconds or less, you’re ready to call the reporter. After you state your pitch, the reporter, talk show host, interviewer, radio person, the newspaper reporter will either say, “Tell me more, I love it,” or “I’ve already done that, can you give me a different angle on it?”
You’ll need to be ready with two or three different options or story angles on the idea you’re trying to pitch that you could talk about. If they’ve asked you for more options, they have already decided your pitch seems interesting. Otherwise, they’ll say, “Thank you very much. I’m not interested. Good-bye.”
If they want to hear what you have to say, but they just don’t want that story angle, they want something else. So have some options with some other pitches that are either similar, with the problem and benefit, or other things that you might want to talk about that are problem/benefit-oriented such as checklists, contests, events, pitfalls, exposés, scams, human interest stories, retrospectives, myth busing, quizzes, etc.
Telephone calls are the most efficient way to communicate with reporters. Pitch calls are essential to an effective media strategy. Reporters are on paper overload—chances are they never saw your emailed or faxed release, pitch or advisory.
Other things to keep in mind when pitching over the phone
- Target your reporters. Contact reporters who cover your issue, and reporters you have a relationship with. If you have to make a "cold call," ask the general assignment editor or producer whom you should speak to.
- Find a "hook" for your story. Show the reporter how your story is significant, dramatic, timely, controversial, or impacts a lot of readers.
- Always pitch the story first, and then ask if they received your release or advisory. Immediately capture the interest of the reporter—they won’t wait for you to get to the point.
- Keep the pitch short and punchy. Reporters don’t have time for long pitch calls, so get to the most interesting and important information in the first 90 seconds. Don’t forget the Who, What, Where, When, and Why.
- Be enthusiastic and helpful. If you’re not excited about your story, why should the reporter be?
- Never lie to a reporter. They may not like what you have to say, but they must respect you.
- Be considerate of deadlines. Pitch calls are best made in the mid morning (9:30 to noon). If you sense a reporter is rushed or impatient, ask them if they are on deadline and offer to call back.
- Only pitch one reporter per outlet. If you do talk to more than one person (which sometimes is necessary), make sure the other reporter knows that you’ve talked with someone else.
- Close the deal. Ask the reporter if they are interested or if they are coming to the event. Most will not commit over the phone but they will think about it.
- Offer to send information. If they don’t commit to attend your event. Offer to send them information if they cannot attend. (Remember to send the information right away.)
- Don’t get frustrated. Pitch calls can be frustrating when reporters don’t bite. But remember that every phone call keeps your issue and organization on their radar screen, and is an important step in building an on-going professional relationship with reporters.
Pitching your story by email
Gone on the days when you would call a reporter, leave a voice mail message and pray you got a call back These days, reporters rely upon email pitches to consider story ideas. Story pitches sent by email are fast and efficient Reporters can communicate with you by a reply email message any time of the day or night. They can say “no” without having to talk to you. They can file your story pitch on their computer for follow up. They don’t have to spend valuable time listening to sources babble on the telephone. And they can look up a website for more information before they decide if they want to pursue an idea further.
Pitching by email is sometimes more difficult than calling a reporter on the phone because with more and more email being sent these days, your email pitch needs to stand out from the rest. Yet your chances of getting a response are better than a reporter returning your telephone call.
Here are tips on how to make your email pitch stand out:
- Know the preference of the reporter
Before you email anything, you need to know how the media outlet prefers to receive its pitches—by phone, fax, snail-mail or email. Preferences vary. To find out, call and ask for the reporter, the assignment editor, or the city desk.
- Carefully craft the subject line
The subject line must be eye-catching and compelling. It’s usually on the basis of the subject line that reporters decide if they are even going to open your email and send it tdo the trash.
Format the body of the email like a news release
The first two sentences (typically called “the lead”) should be the most powerful because you need to grab the journalist’s attention immediately. One way to do that is to write visually, or by using lots of description. This is particularly important if you are pitching an idea for television, simply because television is a visual medium. Just don’t overdo it.
- Select the appropriate reporter at the appropriate media outlets
Explain what the story is about and why their readers or viewers or listeners would care. Remember each media outlet has a specific demographic e.g. women 25 to 54 and tailor your pitch to their specific audiences. There’s no sense pitching a story idea on a book about football to a radio station that caters to women, unless the story pitch is about a book about a female football player. If you can throw in a relevant statistic that lends credence to your story, all the better. Try to limit the length of your pitch to no more than one screen of copy.
- Never mass media email pitches
If you are sending a pitch to more than one media outlet, never put your entire media distribution list in the "to" field. Instead, insert the email addresses of the reporters in the “bcc” field and yours in the “to” field. That way, no one will see who you sent the pitch to and you’ll receive a copy of exactly what was sent them. Otherwise, if you include the email addresses of the reporters in the “to” field, reporters know the idea isn’t being pitched to them exclusively. Better to simply send it to each reporter individually. Keep in mind that a story that might interest a newspaper reporter will not necessarily be the same story idea that would interest a television reporter.
- Customize your story pitch
The more you can customize your pitch, the greater your chances of getting coverage. If you are the public information officer for a community college, for example, and your story idea is about a new gourmet cooking program at your school, you can pitch your idea to education reporters as well as food writers. But the pitch might look a little different for each. For the food writer, you might also offer recipes.
- Personalize your story pitch
Anytime you can address the journalist by name at the beginning of your pitch and mention their media outlet by name or call letters, you increase your chances for coverage. If you met the journalist awhile ago, or spoke on the phone, or had another personal contact, mention that in the pitch because it might help them remember you. Or you can mention that you are familiar with articles they write on such-and-such a topic, and you think your idea would be a good fit.
- Link to the media release on your website
More and more reporters say they prefer a two-paragraph pitch rather than a two-page news release that they must spend time reading. So you have two options. When you pitch your idea, you can provide a link to the news release that’s already at your web site along with such things as high resolution images. Or, you can ask the reporter if you should follow up your pitch by emailing the media release.
- Do not send attachments unless asked to
When emailing news releases, always send them in the body of the email and never as attachments. Journalists are worried that opening attachments might spread viruses. And some have even programmed their computers to automatically delete any email messages that have attachments.
If reporters are interested in your release and want more information from your company or on that particular topic, make it easy for them to receive it.
- Offer expert sources
If you’ve lined up expert sources who can be interviewed for the story, say so and mention them by name, particularly if they are in high positions and are usually inaccessible for interviews, or difficult to reach.
- Ask if they want more information
If reporters are interested in your email story pitch or news release and want more information from your company or on that particular topic, make it easy for them to receive it. Provide a link to your website where they can get more information such as backgrounder, tip sheets, and sign up for news releases. If you archive your news releases and offer reporters the chance to search by topic, let them know at the site that they have the ability to do that.
- Keep your pitch simple, short and compelling
Keep your e-pitch short. Keep it compelling. And keep trying a variety of different pitches styles until a reporter bites. When someone does, there’s nothing wrong with asking, “Can you tell me what it was about my pitch that really caught your interest?” Then use that same technique again and again.