Pitching a story to the media: a brief guide

Knowing how to create strong, positive relationships with journalists is a fundamental part of successful PR and is vital in securing the coverage that clients deserve. Essentially, the role of PR is to marry two agendas together – that of the story you want to tell and what the journalist is interested in covering.

Where to start

Whether it be a news announcement via a press release, a more in-depth story via an article or commentary via an interview, the first step is to identify which journalists are likely to be interested in your story and build a targeted media list. The key is really understanding what particular journalists (including editors and producers in the broadcast arena) want to report on. There is little point in wasting your, or a journalist’s, time in pitching a story on a topic they are unlikely to cover. This inevitably requires time and no small amount of research to ensure you are speaking to not only the right media outlets, but also the right people within them.

While the initial job of locating relevant journalists can be made easier with access to one of many media databases, this should only be considered the starting point. Researching what the journalist has already covered on the topic is essential reading to ensure you pitch the story at the appropriate level – for example, is it an angle which they have not covered before, so may require further explanation, or are they well versed in the topic, so will be familiar with specific and relevant terminology?

A competitive environment

Typically, most national press and broadcast journalists will get 100+ emails daily from PRs. And B2B trade publications, not far short of that. To stand out from the crowd, you need to put yourself in the position of the journalist you are pitching to and make your initial contact (usually by email) noticeable and compelling. Initially, the subject line and how it encapsulates the story in a captivating manner is vital. If that doesn’t grab the attention of the journalist, it is likely to be overlooked or, even worse, deleted straight to the bin.

Be human

Beyond identifying the right journalist, the most important thing to remember is that you are trying to connect with a real person. It may sound obvious, but it’s something that’s easy to forget in a context when you are trying to “sell” in a story.

Journalists typically have tight deadlines and are under pressure to deliver a quality product, so they have strict timelines to meet. Be concise, clear (avoiding any “corporate speak”) and compelling in your approach. Communicate why they and their readers or viewers should care about your story and offer them the opportunity to speak to someone who is a direct source of information.

And, while retaining a professional stance, have a friendly approach and tone.

Also consider the time factor. Try to match your time and theirs. Give journalists plenty of notice about your upcoming story – which might necessitate putting a story under “embargo” until a certain date – that is, giving advance notice of the story but requesting that the journalist holds off until a certain, agreed date before publishing. Also, try to aim for a quiet news day when journalists are more likely to be receptive.

Follow up

If you have identified your target journalists correctly and have provided a compelling pitch but they have not responded, it is often useful to send a reminder – either by email or phone. However, once you have followed up, if they have still not responded, avoid continually trying to make contact as consistent efforts might be regarded as spam. Once you have made your case, it is best to leave further outreach until you have something new and relevant to say.

For help reaching the right journalists, contact our team at [email protected].