10 Tips to Craft Compelling Pitches in a Skeptical Media World

In this fast-changing world with nearly limitless ways to get your message out, independent coverage from credible media outlets remains the Holy Grail. But there’s a reason it’s called earned media—PR professionals have to work hard and employ smart strategies to attract reporter attention and win hard-earned coverage. Given the evolving media landscape, organizations seeking coverage can look to these 2024 trends to inform their outreach efforts and boost their chances of success.

1. Earned Media Will Matter More Than Ever

Given the rise of false news, including fake AI-generated content, securing media coverage from credible sources will be more valuable than ever. Look for organizations to move ad spend dollars to put more emphasis on public relations in the quest to generate media coverage. Stories that embed an external link to clients’ websites will be the gold standard—and the highest value. But it’s also the hardest to achieve. Brands will need a well-thought-out strategy and in-demand, proprietary content for a chance at this prize.

2. Hone the Art of the Pitch

According to Muck Rack, most reporters receive five pitches a day—and many get a lot more. A scattergun approach—spraying a press release to hundreds of media targets who have no particular interest in the subject matter—will not only generate zero outcomes, it may get your organization blacklisted. Make sure your pitch is succinct, tailored, carries a strong subject line, and includes everything a reporter needs to easily develop a story, including links to data and sources and an accessible interview subject.

3. Credibility Matters

Trust is the currency of the realm. AI will continue to proliferate in 2024, speeding content creation but also dramatically increasing the spread of misinformation. Journalists cite combating fake news as their number one challenge an issue raised by more than 1 in 4 reporters in a recent Cision survey. That means trusted news sources will be more valuable than ever. As important as it is to make reporters’ jobs easy, it’s even more important to be accurate, verifying your own information and linking to original source material.

4. Put Your Best Face Forward

While brands often want to elevate the CEO as the face of the organization, media outlets may be more receptive to a credible subject-matter expert as an interview subject. As the news media struggles to avoid manipulation and combat fake news, look for more outlets to turn to academia as a source of solid, verifiable information. Take advantage of that trend by identifying, media training and promoting your own internal experts who have academic chops.

5. Do Your Homework

Many reporters used to spend a career covering a single subject area. With newsroom budget cuts and layoffs, the average reporter today covers four beats, and news staff are in frequent flux.

Generating media coverage is less about long-standing relationships and more about precision research and careful cultivation. Find target reporters by reading their stories and looking for areas of subject matter overlap. Offer up relevant information and experts to make their reporting easier.

6. Cultivate Proprietary Data

When asked what they want from PR professionals, 68 percent of journalists cite data, according to Cision. To generate a story, and insert your organization into it, gather, analyze, and release proprietary data and provide context to explain the story it tells. Trend data is especially enticing to generate media interest, according to Muck Rack, so collecting the same information over time can position your organization as a source the news media will turn to again and again. But remember that trust matters, so scrub your data for accuracy and be prepared to release source documents.

7. Consider Dipping an Exclusive

News is still a competitive business. Increase the chances that your story gets picked up—and gets prominent positioning—by giving a chosen news outlet an exclusive dip, especially if you have something of strong value, such as proprietary data. Be sure to negotiate the terms of the exclusive to ensure that you and the reporter have the same understanding. For instance, be clear about whether and when you can release the story to other outlets after they publish first.

8. Pitch Engaging Stories

Reporters are increasingly sensitive to the business end of the news business. As the availability of data has grown, reporters—and their editors and producers—are looking to the numbers to decide what stories to cover and promote. According to Cision, 40 percent of journalists say they are relying more on data (views, engagement, demographic data) to shape their editorial strategy. Keep that reality in mind and honestly assess if the story you hope to pitch is likely to generate audience interest. If not, challenge yourself to find a more interesting angle.

9. Visualize Your Story

Press releases with multimedia elements get six times more engagement from reporters. Visual stories produce more views, shares and comments, and short-form video will continue to be the most engaging content on the internet. Today, most reporters produce content in two or more mediums, so they will welcome content that helps them visualize their stories—including web polls or surveys, data visualizations, infographics, video clips and b-roll, social media posts, animations and audio. Be sure to send visual content via a link rather than an attachment, to avoid being marked as spam.

10. Follow and Engage With Reporters on Social Media

Social media is a great tool to follow reporters and monitor what they care about, since about 96 percent use social media for content promotion and audience interaction. X (formerly Twitter) remains the most-used social media platform by journalists, despite media disenchantment over Elon Musk’s announcement that X would no longer run headlines that link to news stories. The move—a play to get reporters to run their stories directly on Musk’s platform—drove more reporters to venture out to TikTok, YouTube and LinkedIn, which will grow in importance this year.

More than ever, organizations that win media interest for their stories need to skate to where the puck is going by connecting with reporters on social media, meeting their needs for credible sources and data, and providing visual elements to boost audience engagement. It’s not easy, and it certainly requires more creativity than just issuing a press release. But it will always be worth the effort.

Michelle Ubben is President and CEO of Sachs Media Group