Twice over the past month I’ve spoken to business groups about the news media and both times we ended up with a large chunk of time focused on pitching stories-best practices, do’s and don’t, etc. Additionally, as a freelance TV journalist, my email gets bombarded with story ideas and pitches on a weekly basis. With so much interest, I made some notes and decided to share a blog which hopefully is useful to anyone who is in the process of pitching a story idea to the news media. It’s a tricky tactic. Real journalists can quickly sniff out a sales job versus a legitimate story idea so be careful or your pitch will be deleted before you get started.
Here are my top three pitch mistakes I see on a regular basis:
Your Pitch is Way Too Long!
If your email or press release or newser is more than one page, you lost me at “Hello”. Stop typing! You do not win anything with word count so don’t bother. Be concise. Be respectful of a journalist’s time and get to your point quickly. Between their regular deadlines, social media requirements, multiple story assignments, and everything else on their plates, their day is extremely compressed with little spare time to review pitches. If you know that and respect it going in, you greatly improve your odds. Stop typing!
Don’t Bury the Lead
Pick the single most important thing about your story pitch and make it the title of your email and/or the very first sentence. The majority of the pitches I see bury the lead, that is, place the most important information in the body of the email or media release. If you don’t get my interest immediately, I won’t bother reading the rest of the pitch. You almost need to hit them over the head with the information. Make it loud and relevant. Why is your story important? Who does it impact? Don’t bury the lead.
Get To Know Your Media
I will be honest with you. It can be really hard to successfully pitch the news media a story. Especially national news media. Cold calling rarely works. But take the time and do some research and figure who the right contact may be for your particular story. Is it a feature story? If so, it might be a more appropriate pitch for the morning news. Does your pitch involve the medical community? Find out if a particular reporter focuses on medical stories. But don’t stop there. Pick up the phone and try to introduce yourself to the proper contact. Be careful not to call late in the day, as that is usually the busiest time. Be respectful and make the call short but quickly explain your idea and ask her if you can email more info? If there’s no interest, they will tell you, and no harm, no foul. But your chances of success are much higher if you take the time to make a personal connection.