I graduated from the University of Illinois in May of 2011 with a degree in broadcast journalism. Nine stressful months, many long nights and very little pay later, I realized journalism just wasn’t for me. I looked into several different career paths where I could still utilize the skills I learned in journalism and eventually found my way to the marketing and public relations world.
I was called several names by my journalism peers such as “deserter,” “quitter” and more surprisingly, I was told that I was “working for the enemy.”
It is no secret that journalists and public relations professionals don’t always get along. Reporters and editors find public relations people to be annoying while PR people sometimes find journalists to be unresponsive and rude.
Because I have had the opportunity to work on both sides of “the pitch,” I have some basic tips for newbie PR pros looking to pitch their story to news outlets.
- Decide which (appropriate) news outlets you would like to run your story. Of course, most PR professionals want their client’s story to run in the biggest and best news outlets there are, but start small. Especially when you are first starting out in PR, it’s easier to contact, get noticed and develop relationships with the reporters and editors at smaller news outlets. You should also make sure that the news outlets you choose are appropriate for your story. If you have a story or press release about the best flowers to plant this season, you wouldn’t want to pitch your story to a tech magazine (unless these are robotic flowers of course). Once these outlets are chosen, you can usually find contact information for the publication or show’s news team online.
- Quickly tell the journalist why you are calling or writing them. This should only be a few sentences to summarize your story or press release. Editors and reporters get pitched stories hundreds of times per day and don’t have the time to read or listen to every single one. If you are writing an email, consider using bullet points to emphasize the main concepts of your story.
- Explain why THIS story is important and relatable to the journalist’s readers. Some things to think about when creating your pitch include: proximity, timeliness, helpfulness or how-tos, novelty, magnitude, etc. This is another good opportunity to use bullet points when pitching the story through an email. Note: Not making your story relevant to the publication or show you are pitching to is a GREAT way to get your phone number blocked and your emails sent to the spam folder.
- Press releases are still important. If you have a press release for your story, attach it to the email you are sending. If you call the editor or reporter, ask them for their email address and let them know to expect the press release in their inbox immediately following the call. This is a good way to give a news outlet more information on your story after you’ve hooked them on your pitch.
- Say “thank you.” Ask the journalist if they will run your story in their next publication or on their next broadcast. Whether that person says “yes” or “no,” thank them for their time and consideration. Some reporters and editors may give you a “maybe” or “at a later time.” If this is the case, do NOT harass them. One, MAYBE two, follow-ups to your initial pitch are appropriate. Note: Another GREAT way to get your number blocked or your emails deleted, is to spam news outlets with emails and phone calls.
Make sure the news outlet can contact YOU. End the email or the phone call with information on who they can contact if they have any further questions about the story. This also allows editors and reporters to contact you in the future if they are looking for content and think you may be a good resource.
There is no sure-fire way to get your stories published, but these are some simple steps to pitch journalists without turning them off to working with you now and in the future.
Feeling adventurous? Try pitching your story in 140 characters or less. The “Twitter pitch” is short and simple and forces you to find the true importance of your story in only a few words.