Back when I was starting out in PR I made the mistake of calling a busy editor at a business journal without having a real clue about what I was doing. That one painful phone call taught me more about how to pitch reporters than just about anything else I have done since.
While I know everybody will make mistakes — and should if they are going to learn anything! — I want to save you the singular embarrassment I felt during that excruciating three minute phone call.
Here are some tips to mull over as you prepare your next pitch:
- Research first, pitch after: be sure you know what news beat the reporter covers. There’s nothing more embarrassing then pitching a reporter about an education story only to find out she writes about healthcare.
- Know your main news hook: what’s your main reason for pitching a reporter? Be able to articulate it within 10-20 seconds without a pause or sounding like you’re just making it up as you go. A busy reporter may only give you 30 seconds before deciding on whether the pitch has any merit.
- Roll with the punches: reporters tend to be more stressed out than other professionals these days given staff and budget cutbacks in most newsrooms. Don’t be surprised if you aren’t treated with the professional courtesy you think you deserve. It’s not personal. Chances are you are the 25th pitch they’ve gotten that day and they’re working against a deadline.
- Think fast: a reporter may pepper you with questions so be prepared to back up your news hook with facts. Reporters like statistics, trends, and dates. If you can’t demonstrate why the news would be important to the reporter’s audience then you’re out of luck.
- Follow up: you may not succeed in getting the reporter’s attention the first time around. Don’t give up. I keep saying this but it’s true: reporters are busy. Really, really busy. They don’t have time to answer every email or phone call that comes across their desk.
- Ask for advice: if you miss the mark on a pitch – and it happens to the best of us from time to time – then ask the reporter for a little guidance on what he wants from your future pitches. Many reporters won’t mind helping if it means they will get improved pitches from you in the future.
- Show appreciation: finally, don’t ever forget thank a reporter for her time. You want to use the opportunity to build a working relationship so you can come back to her with future pitches.
Pitching a story idea is not rocket science but it can be a numbers game. The more you pitch the better you get. Or perhaps that is better phrased as the more mistakes you make the better you get!