At this point, everybody knows the score. Journalists are doing more with less and they don’t have time for copy-and-pasted press releases. You can’t expect your pitch to land if you don’t do your research and know, without a doubt, that your story not only fits the publication but the journalist as well.
“It’s understandable that you might use a similar angle for more than one media outlet, but don’t just cut and paste,” said Jennifer Poppers, principal of JMP Communications. “It’s often obvious you’re doing so and each individual should be targeted directly for their content.”
The format of the pitch should reflect your research on the journalist and publication. Read through their work. Get a feeling for what they care about and what their audience wants.
“Keep it short and sweet with an invitation to discover more and an angle that might resonate. Most importantly, make it original,” Poppers said.
Know Your Journalists
That research goes beyond just getting the topics and angles right.
“You have to know and cater to each reporter’s preferences for communication stylistically, but also just channel strategy,” said Accenture’s Global Corporate Communications Lead Stacey Jones. Do they like email? Can you text them? Or can you just give them a call? If you text a reporter a pitch but they prefer email, it’s not only creepy but also gets the format wrong. If the medium is the message and you get the former wrong, it’s unlikely a reporter will care about the latter.
Regardless of the medium or the message, it’s always possible to overload a journalist with too much information. A pitch can’t be structured like a research paper and stuffed with every data point available. Leave that for a whitepaper.
“Yes, you have to offer data, you need facts to support your pitch,” said Jones. “But more does not equal better.”
It’s a delicate balancing act but one that communicators have to master. There’s an art to respecting resource-starved journos by giving them the context they need without any filler.
Language Use and Word Choice
Part of that is language use. Poppers warns that overusing formalities will only hurt your pitch, but it’s possible to land too far on the other side of the fence too.
“There is a fine line between too formal and too casual,” she said. “Strike a tone that is informative and interesting, but don’t weigh a pitch down with formalities that you wouldn’t use in a real-life conversation.”
Time Your Asks Wisely
The other part is understanding what’s going on in the current and upcoming news cycles. If you’re pitching a retail reporter during earnings season or a style editor the morning of the Oscars, you’re doing it wrong. Poppers said that if communicators want to find a receptive ear, they’ll need to have a general awareness of the industry.
Jones recommends shooting for relatively slow days like when reporters are catching up on non-urgent matters on a Friday afternoon. Maybe try Sundays, effectively avoiding the Monday morning email deluge.
“I often start a call with ‘Is this a good time to talk?’” she said. “Getting that upfront versus the journalist answering and you just start in on what you need to get out of it.”
Respecting a reporter’s time extends to giving them plenty of space to digest your pitch.
Jones said journalists are likely to want time to consider a pitch, without the constraints of deadlines. This opens up space for communicators to fulfill a key aspect of media pitching: being a resource.
“It’s not always a one-way street,” Jones said. “You’re there to help them when they need it and that will create a relationship and it will create context and an ongoing exchange. It will help them do their job and it will enhance your credibility.”
Above all, Jones said to make sure your news is actually news.
“Nothing turns journalists off more than old news that’s being pitched as new.”