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Posted on May 10, 2016 | Angela Shugarts
by Angela Shugarts & Korisa Geiger • Graphics by Lisa Fisbeck
Is your story “pitch-worthy?”
Media outreach tends to be a mysterious effort for many businesses. Sometimes clients ask us, “how can we get on the TODAY show?” and our answers are rarely short and sweet. There’s both an art and science behind how we land a story in a magazine, newspaper, on a blog, or on television…and it doesn’t happen overnight or on the first try (usually). What we can tell you is how to create the perfect pitch to reach your target audience.
Before we dive into how to create the perfect pitch, we need to establish an understanding of what’s newsworthy. Typical topics well received by media include (but are not limited to):
- Company expansions/new hires
- Charity events/benefits/donations
- New service/product launch
- Quirky, surprising or unexpected stories (e.g. Coffee shop offers exclusive $200 gourmet drink)
- Starting a new sister company
- Receiving an award or speaking at an upcoming conference
- Company anniversaries
- Company or product name change/merger
There are many more newsworthy topics you can find here.
With any of these topics, your business needs to be able to connect your product/service offering to a larger story. For example, if you sell bed sheets, the pitch isn’t about how great your bed sheets are (media pitching is NOT the same as a sales pitch)—but perhaps it is about how your sheets solve a common problem for people (e.g. insomnia, getting a good night’s sleep).
The more relatable and relevant you can make the pitch, the better impression you’ll make with the reporter. Think about what the audience of the media outlet you’re pitching wants to read. They don’t want to read about bed sheets, they want to read about the quickest bedroom changes you can make to get a good night’s sleep (and using your sheets are one way to do so!).
“Reporters are extremely busy, so the quicker you can make the case as to why your story resonates with their audience, the more likely you’ll enter the consideration phase of media coverage,” says Korisa Geiger, media relations expert at Philosophy.
Creating the perfect pitch
Now that we’ve outlined what’s newsworthy, let’s talk about how to present your story to media. We recommend reaching out via email first as reporters rarely have time to answer their phone and voicemails are often full. It’s also a matter of preference. According to a recent report from Cision, a PR software tool, 93 percent of reporters prefer to be pitched by email. Additionally, an article from PRDaily adds, “Don’t call to see if we’ve received your email. If we’re interested, trust us, we’ll call you. And, our interest diminishes with every subsequent email and call,” said Dawn Walton, managing editor at CTV Calgary, a local news station in Canada. There are some elements that every reporter, editor and blogger look for in a pitch. These include:
- Visuals – interesting photos or well-produced videos
- Spokesperson – opportunity to interview a company leader
- Relevancy – discuss why the story idea is relevant to their readers
- Impact – mention how the story connects to larger industry/community trends
- Recognition of their past work – do your research to understand what the reporter typically covers to get a sense of their “beat” and writing style
So how do these must-have elements play out in a pitch? Use the following example as a general guide:
It’s important to note, this is a general pitch that will need to be customized depending on the type of outlet you’re reaching out to (e.g. broadcast, print, online), who you’re pitching and what is of interest to their readers.
Even the most well-written pitch can get overlooked or deleted if the pitch topic doesn’t immediately resonate with the reporter and the kinds of stories they typically cover. Not only does each pitch need to be customized, but there are slight differences when pitching national, local and blog outlets.
National outlets – Plan ahead and use editorial calendars
It’s imperative to follow national media outlets specific to your industry to get a sense of the kind of stories they cover and why. Regularly visiting the outlet’s website and/or following them on Facebook and Twitter are good starting points to stay up-to-date. You can get a glimpse into the story topics they plan on covering by accessing their editorial calendars online (updated annually). Editors and writers usually plan stories about 3-6 months out (if not longer).
Timeliness is key when pitching to national outlets. For example, if you want coverage in a publication’s summer issue, you need to start pitching reporters in March. Back-to-school stories? Some outlets start planning as early as February. Simply Google the outlet name and “2016 editorial calendar” and usually you’ll find what you need. Here’s an example of a few.
If you happen to find an editorial topic within a desired outlet you want coverage in and a topic that’s a good fit for your business, offer yourself or company spokesperson to serve as an industry expert.
Local outlets—It’s all about relevancy and community impact
Media outlets that cover local regions (e.g. city newspapers and magazines such as the Denver Post or ColoradoBiz and local affiliates of national broadcasters CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox) love to hear about what’s happening in their own backyard. We often recommend that clients start any media outreach effort by targeting local outlets first to create buzz around their community and then turning efforts to bloggers and national media. The general rule is that if you can create local interest, you increase your chances of garnering attention by larger outlets in the future.
When pitching local reporters, place emphasis on how your business story impacts a community-specific issue. For example, April is Autism Awareness Month and one of our clients is demonstrating its unique product that helps those living with autism at a local convention. Our pitches to broadcast media first introduce the relevant factor: Autism Awareness Month; second: tie it back to how our client is taking part to impact event attendees. This is effective because it touches on a larger, national issue and demonstrates how a local company is taking part to make a meaningful difference in the community.
Blog outlets—Build relationships and offer story ideas galore
Bloggers love dedicated readers. When approaching outreach to this group, it is important to build a relationship with the blogger first. You can do this a number of ways, including: following their blog in an RSS feed, following them on all social media accounts and interacting with them on those platforms (if in alignment with your business’ social media policies). You could also meet for coffee and simply focus the meeting on understanding their background, what kinds of stories they like to write about, etc. These efforts go a long way in building trust with bloggers, which increases the likelihood of coverage.
Before pitching, do your research and get to know what the blogger writes about (this applies to both national and local reporters too!). When pitching, offer a main story idea and follow up with other story ideas too. For example, one of our food clients receives quite a bit of blogger coverage because we offer a variety of food and health-related story ideas within our pitch. They don’t necessarily focus on the company itself but the topics we present to bloggers allow the client to serve as an industry expert, opening doors for interview opportunities.
How do you build a better pitch?
- Know what’s newsworthy
- Make your pitch relatable, relevant and impactful for readers
- Plan ahead and use editorial calendars
- Focus on community impact
- Build relationships and offer story ideas
Any and all of these rules apply to national, local and blog media outlets. If the idea of doing all of this seems a little daunting, let’s schedule a time to chat and we can talk about goals, process and next steps.
- Angela Shugarts