For many, the media is a thing of mystery. Why are some brands and businesses always in the news? Why are some people constantly quoted? Where do news outlets get their stories?
Some people wrongly assume huge sums of money are exchanged every time something appears in the press. Certainly, some content could be paid placement (it should be marked in small print as “Advertisement” or “Sponsored Content”) but otherwise, editorial is independent of advertising.
So how does it work? News outlets and publishers get their stories from a multitude of places. Investigative reporters dig up stories. Editors brief their staff to follow breaking news. And individuals and businesses, directly and via their PR agents, pitch their ideas to the press. In fact, 2020 research by US creative agency Fractl found 57 per cent of top-tier publishers receive between 50 and 500 pitches per week.
I asked PR practitioners and working journalists to join with me in sharing one tip each on how to successfully pitch a story to the media.
Help freelancers help you
Nina Hendy, Freelance Business and Finance Journalist
Freelance journalists are a completely different beast to in-house journalists, which can very much be to your advantage. Freelancers are self-employed, and the time they spend wading through their inbox is time they could be spending earning money, so you’ve got to make it worthwhile.
Freelancers want to be offering unique, exclusive content to their editors. Take a look at some of a freelancer’s previous work and understand who they write for and what they like to cover.
A pitch isn’t “look at me, write about me” but rather “have you noticed this new trend, it doesn’t seem to have been covered, here’s my thoughts as one of the people you’d interview for it, you should write a story on it”. That sort of pitch takes time but will definitely fly.
Beverley Head, Freelance Writer and Consultant
Write the headline and first paragraph of the story you are hoping might appear, then ask yourself – is that realistic? Would this journalist write that? Would this publication/website/program really be keen to publish or broadcast that? If you honestly believe that “yes, they would” – then go ahead and pitch. If not, it’s back to the drawing board.
Make your media pitch publish-ready
Andrew Birmingham, Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher, Which-50
The more publish-ready a media pitch is, the more likely it is to get run. Pitches that are full of jargon, adjectives, adverbs (or worse trademark symbols!), and full of the kind of technical details beloved by your staff but by no one else, are just too much hard work.
For any pitch, apply the old news rule of thumb: make the first sentence the first most important point, the second sentence the second most important point, and the third sentence the third most important point, and you have done half their work for them. Bullet points with key issues are also good.
Know the audience
Nicole Schulz, Group Practice Lead, Sefiani Communications Group
Your focus must be on the audience first and what they would want to know. The goal is to find that perfect intersection between what you want to say as a business and what the audience may want to hear from you, to create an interesting media angle. The journalist or producer you are pitching to will need to quickly understand how the story is providing value to their audience and delivering something new.
Do your research on the media outlet and the specific journalist you are speaking to. Develop a strong understanding of the types of stories they cover and tailor your pitch specifically for them and their audience.
Jacqueline (Jaci) Burns, Chief Marketing Officer, Market Expertise