When Not to Pitch

Every day, public relations professionals pitch stories to media outlets of every stripe. First, the bad news: The vast majority do not succeed in generating coverage.

Editors, producers and reporters are constantly overwhelmed with requests for coverage—sometimes hundreds a day. Furthermore, some prefer to enterprise their own leads. Some great pitches get passed over; it is an unfortunate reality of the business.

Now for the good news: by knowing when not to pitch, you can trim the fat from your attempts, thereby significantly improving your probability of success. You will also save time and build better relationships with the media.

To pitch or not to pitch? Check your news item against these four guidelines to decide if it is time to contact the media.

Don’t pitch when:

It’s Not Newsworthy
Does your pitch have what it takes to rise above the clutter? Ask yourself: Why would a journalist care about your item? You would be amazed at the number of pitches full of nothing but hyperbole and company talking points, without a single kernel of breaking news or human interest. Such pitches annoy editors and risk your credibility as a reliable source for future news tips.

If what you are saying is not of great consequence to anyone except existing patrons or employees, then consider saving it for a short blurb on the company Web site or newsletter, condensing it into a calendar listing, or choosing to simply wait until more substantial news breaks.

Does your pitch describe something that is the newest, first, largest, fastest or tallest? If not, it probably will not win over an editor. There is also an old journalism proverb: “If a dog bites a man, it’s not news. If a man bites a dog, it’s news.”

It’s Not Timely
Even the most newsworthy story in the world will not run if it arrives too late. In this age of modern conveniences like online editorial calendars and media databases, there is no excuse for ignorance of deadlines. In PR, on time is often too late. Sending a pitch too close to the deadline means your idea may miss the editorial meeting where stories are discussed and assigned (which may be daily, weekly or monthly, depending on the publication); there may be insufficient time for a reporter to research and compile a story amid other assignments. Unless you have late-breaking and urgent news that is worth interrupting the newsroom’s deadline day, avoid such pitching at all costs.

With proper planning, it is easy to pitch well in advance of deadlines. Keep a calendar on your computer (Microsoft Outlook works great), which lists deadlines and other important pitch-relevant dates. Set the program to post reminders an appropriate number of weeks or months prior to each target outlet’s closing date or deadline.

One final note on timeliness: When alerting press to an event re-cap, send a follow-up within 24 hours of the event’s end if possible. An event that occurred three weeks prior is not usually of interest to a weekly paper.

It’s Not Targeted or Welcome
Each media outlet maintains a distinctive voice and focus. Within that structure, each journalist has a unique beat, style and preferences. Thus, it seems sensible to pitch to everyone in order to have the best chance at coverage. To the contrary: those that fail to target, fail.

One quick way to land your pitch in the garbage bin is to pitch outlets without the slightest inkling as to what they cover. Pitching an entertainment story to a business journal sends the message that you did not bother getting to know them and do not mind wasting their time. They will almost certainly return the favor. Do not pitch a target until you have at least briefly familiarized yourself with what they cover and viewed a few stories firsthand.

A brief phone call to the outlet’s receptionist can answer questions about who handles a certain beat. This information is also often maintained on the outlet’s Web site. Of course, building professional, mutually beneficial relationships with key media members is always the best way to go about getting to know them. Watching editorial calendars for potentially relevant subject matter is also recommended.

If you fail to get a response after a follow-up or two, or you are asked to remove someone from a list, move on to the next target. Persistence is great but becoming a pest is toxic to media relations.

It’s Not Optimized
Your pitch is newsworthy, you are sending it in plenty of time, and you know your target. Is it truly ready to go out the door? A few final areas need attention.

First, is it free from factual and grammatical errors? A simple spell-check is just not enough. If you are unsure of a name’s spelling or the event date is not set in stone, it is not ready.

Is your pitch concise? Does it clearly lay out all the necessary facts (who, what, when, where, why?) and also include a mention of how it might fit into a larger story? Lastly, has it been approved for immediate release by the client and any necessary internal superiors?  Until it is truly a final draft in all of the aforementioned aspects, do not distribute. 

In closing, one well-crafted, well-timed pitch is often worth far more than a month’s worth of blanketed, robotic distribution. Media relations is an art, and these tips act as a chisel with which to sculpt the kind of crisp, effective pitches that members of the press respect and utilize.

This is excerpted from PR News Media Training Guidebook 2009 Edition. The article was written by Brooke Preston, who serves as PR manager at Dayton Communications in Portland, Oregon. To order this guidebook or find out more information, visit www.prnewsonline.com/store.