The do’s and don’ts of pitching reporters

1 03 2011

I recently sat in on a webinar about how to pitch story ideas to reporters. There were four reporters who shared their views: a staff writer from The Wall Street Journal, one from USA Today, another from AOL News, and a freelancer for Crain’s New York Business.

Because reporters are bombarded with pitches on a daily basis, it’s important to gain every little advantage you can when trying to draw attention to your product, organization or cause.

Here is a summary of what the reporters had to say:

How To Pitch:

All the reporters said they prefer that you pitch via email so they can read what you are proposing when it is convenient for them, they can digest what you’ve written, and they don’t feel like they are being “put on the spot.” Don’t make your initial pitch by phone, and absolutely no faxes.

The reporters agreed that they like short emails that get to the point in the very first sentence. For example: “My name is Alex Mitchell with Acme Health Group, and I’d like to tell you about a new treatment our physicians have devised for pancreatic cancer that we estimate will raise the survival rate from 5 percent to 15 percent.”

You should include a link to your website or a site that gives more details about your proposed topic. You should also use a short, bulleted list to quickly outline your key points. Provide context for what you are publicizing so reporters understand why they ought to pay attention to your news. Is your news part of a broader trend? Does it relate to a “hot” story that people are talking about?

Pitching Via Social Media:

Social media is more useful once you’ve already gotten a reporter or reporters to pick up on your story. All the reporters said that they don’t want to be pitched on Twitter, and all but one (the AOL writer) don’t like to be pitched on Facebook.

Subject Lines:

Reporters receive hundreds of emails a day, so they are more apt to open yours if the subject line of your message is clear about what you are pitching and obviously tailored to them rather than being part of a mass email effort.

Don’t use the phrase “Quick Question” in the subject line. All the reporters said they see that a lot, and it’s an automatic delete.

Follow Up:

The reporters agreed that they don’t mind some initial follow-up after you send them an email. They are very busy, so they realize that it’s possible they missed your initial note.

Top Mistakes:

— Thinking you — your business — is the news. Explain how what you are publicizing relates to something larger. Provide a news peg.

— Not understanding what a reporter covers and who his or her readers are.

— Sending a pitch with spelling errors or not getting a reporter’s name right.

— Exaggerating. Don’t make claims you can’t back up with data. If you make a claim and can’t prove it, you’ll burn your bridge with the reporter.

— Pitching a story that is too similar to one a reporter just wrote or one he/she wrote a few months ago. Get on Google and research what the reporter has written about recently.

A PR pro who pitches the right way becomes a trusted resource for reporters, rather than a nuisance. Once that happens, it’s much easier to get your message “a good ride” in the media.

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2 responses

2 03 2011
Jason Karpf

Excellent roundup on effective pitching. It is a form of direct marketing so it must break through the clutter and impart value. The media relations proposition entails access to information that will be valuable to the journalists’ audiences.

3 03 2011
Alex Mitchell

Thanks, Jason. As a former newspaper guy, I know that reporters welcome pitches — good pitches, that is.

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