There are as many ways to pitch a story as there are reporters to pitch it to, but here are some general tips on what a good pitch includes.
- Timeliness. If you’ve got a source on breaking news, reporters must hear from you within an hour or two of the event, or it’ll be too late – they’ll already have more sources than they need. For non-breaking stories, use common sense: don’t pitch a big story idea at 4pm on Friday unless absolutely necessary.
- Big Picture Appeal. Give reporters an answer to why your story is important enough for them to spend their time on. Don’t depend on them to make the connection. Do everything possible to tie your pitch to something bigger than your story, such as current events or trends.
- Succinct Subject Lines. Reporters at major papers and magazines don’t have time to open most of their email. Your subject line needs to promise to be worth their time. Failing to grab attention in the subject line can mean the rest of your hard work is never seen. Don’t let your story die in the subject line.
- Brevity. Keep your pitch short and easy to read. Think Hemingway, not Proust.
- A Strong Lede. Use a robust and direct first sentence. Just like your subject line, the first sentence can make or break if a reporter spends their valuable time reading the pitch to the end.
- Accessibility. If you’re pitching an expert, provide contact information and the source’s availability. If it’s a story idea, show reporters the elements they can use to build their story (i.e. poignant details, contacts, research materials). Make it easier to envision their story.
- Honesty. Don’t exaggerate or make unreasonable claims.
How do you find the right reporters?
When you have a story to tell, an expert to recommend or research to promote, ask yourself three questions:
- What outlets would be interested in this?
- Who are the right people to contact at those outlets?
- What’s the best way to contact them?
“Our clients are sometimes surprised to learn that we don’t really keep media lists,” said Laura Synder, Vice President of RW Jones Agency. “Instead, we build individualized contact lists for every story we market.”
Using a database to export a broad list of targets, “bcc”ing a bunch of unsuspecting journalists at once, or not knowing exactly whom you’re contacting and why you are contacting them is not a good plan.
Making sure your pitch goes to the right person is time consuming, but critical. Spend at least as much time getting familiar with who you should contact as you do crafting your pitch.
- Search Google News to identify reporters writing frequently on a given subject.
- Read, read and read some more.
- Read reporters’ Twitter feeds to get a sense of their interests.
- Read the stories they’ve written.
- Rely on your own understanding of the media based on staggeringly intense levels of news consumption.
- Use PR software like Cision, Meltwater or Muck Rack to research and refine your list.
- Develop your own personal contacts, learning which reporters prefer a call to an e-mail or a tweet to a text and when the best times of the week or day are to schedule a call or visit with them.
Make sure you or the appropriate contact are available to respond quickly and provide additional information if requested. You don’t want all of your work writing the perfect story pitch and locating the right reporter to end with unanswered interest or a response that came too late.