Earning media coverage is among the top goals of any good public relations professional. But getting a news outlet to cover your story is far easier said than done.
I should know. As a former newspaper reporter, I’ve probably received hundreds, if not thousands, of media pitches in my career. I can say with absolute certainty that fewer than 10% of those pitch letters drove me to spring into action.
Yes, I may have been a bit picky when it came to deciding what to cover. Selectiveness is a common trait among good reporters, especially among those who are evaluated based on the number of eyes their content attracts (and these days, that’s most of them). If you approach a reporter with a story idea that they think won’t resonate with their readers, the answer will always be “no.”
PR pros who have never been on the other side of the equation can drive themselves crazy trying to understand why their perfect pitch letter didn’t result in a story for their client. Even former journalists like me have been known to fire off ideas that don’t get any bites. That’s normal. No one bats a thousand. But there are things we can all do to minimize the odds of getting a no-thank-you, or worse, no reply whatsoever.
Consider Your Target’s Audience
Note: That isn’t to be confused with “consider your target audience,” although the two questions are closely related. A journalist’s first duty is to their readers and/or viewers. The paycheck may come from corporate, but reporters ultimately work for their audiences.
That’s why it’s so important for your pitch to take into account the wants and needs of a reporter’s audience. A general audience won’t respond well to an in-the-weeds story written for industry insiders. Likewise, a trade publication probably won’t bite on an idea they consider too general or pedestrian.
A good pitch explains in plain English why the news outlet’s audience will care about a given story. Doing so answers the biggest question a journalist is bound to have about the pitch: How does this impact my readers/viewers, if at all?
Does your news matter?
I mean, does it make a difference in the lives of people outside of your own contact list? Does it help people better understand the world around them? Will it get people talking?
If so, you may have a newsworthy story. Conversely, if you struggle to come up with a concise explanation for why the news you’re pitching is important, you probably need to rework your pitch.
Impact (explained above) is the most important facet of newsworthiness, but it’s hardly the only one. Others include:
- Proximity (ie. This news happened nearby)
- Timeliness (ie. This news happened recently)
- Prominence (ie. This news is about someone or something most people already know about)
- Conflict (because we all love it, whether we admit to it or not)
- Human interest (because stories are ultimately about people)
- Novelty (because weird can be good)
The best story ideas satisfy at least two or three of those criteria. If the story you’re pitching doesn’t, you need to refine how you’re framing it.
Make It Easy For The Reporter
Getting rid of a bad pitch is as easy for a reporter as clicking “delete.” I remember exactly zero of the story ideas I passed on out of hand. The ones that stuck with me are the story ideas I initially agreed to pursue, only for them to fall through because I couldn’t get everything I needed.
For a reporter, there’s nothing worse than doing a bunch of leg work, only to find that the key source they need to interview won’t make time for them. Reporters are typically underpaid and overworked, and if you waste their time, they’ll remember it. And they will think twice before pursuing another story you’ve pitched them.
That’s why it’s important to spell out how you’ll make the reporter’s job easy. Tell them about the interviews you’ll help them secure, the assets you can provide, the photo opportunities you’ll help make happen.
Make It Fun!
Reporters aren’t in it for the money. They want to meet interesting people, visit interesting places and do interesting things. They’re in it for the experiences.
You increase your odds of securing coverage if you can offer a one-of-a-kind experience to a reporter as part of your pitch. Whether that’s a free sample of a product, tickets to the show you’re trying to promote, or a ride on a WWII-era bomber (and yes, I really got to fly in one), you’ll be glad you had something to sweeten the deal.