The More Pitching Changes … The More it Stays the Same

by Mary Ann McCauley, ABC

I make it a point to attend at least two discussions annually where reporters and editors share their thoughts about working with media relations practitioners. While media outlets are changing, the ways in which reporters want to be pitched isn’t changing.

Their preferred first contact is still email. At a HARO (Help a Reporter Out) webinar in February, reporters made it a point to say that they do not want to be pitched via Twitter, phone or fax.

Their rationale is that an email with a short, straightforward description of the story idea and why it is of interest to their readers/viewers gives them the best opportunity to make a decision. They don’t mind a follow-up call as they are deluged with emails daily but, as has been the case since time immemorial, do not call when they’re on deadline.

Other tips they offered are not new to the veteran media relations pro and include:

  • Be direct in your subject line. “Story idea: …..”
  • Get to the point immediately. 
  • Provide context. Why is this news? Is it part of a broader trend?
  • If it is time sensitive, provide the news hook. Why is it timely?
  • If it is an exclusive, say so in the subject line and mean it.
  • Know what they write about.
  • Know their deadlines and respect them.
  • Send fact sheets and links to appropriate web sites rather than news releases.
  • Offer your content experts as future resources. Again, be brief but tell the journalist why this person will be a good resource on specific subjects.

The reporters also offered a few “do not’s” that we need to respect, including:

  • Do not pitch a story that is similar in subject matter to one just published. Instead, do your homework and research recent articles by that reporter before you pitch.
  • Do not attach a news release unless the journalist asks you to do so. If you must send a release, embed it.
  • Do not fail to honor an exclusive promise. This will burn your bridge with that reporter.
  • Do not call to pitch a story.
  • Do not fax to pitch a story.
  • Do not send a book or other products. Most media organizations have policies about receiving gifts. Books won’t get read. Rather, send an email about why the book or product is of interest to readers/viewers.
  • Do not try to embargo news. Emails containing embargoed news are deleted without being read.

One big no-no not mentioned by this group but one I usually hear is – never call to ask “Did you get my release?” If you feel compelled to call after distributing a release, which most journalists say they don’t want anyway, call with some additional, pertinent information not contained in the release. Better yet, choose one or two key journalists and email them the release before it goes out for mass distribution. Of course, this technique can’t be applied to major announcements of publicly held companies since that would violate SEC and other national regulations.

If you are unfamiliar with HARO, go to www.helpareporter.com and sign up. It is a free twice- daily list of stories reporters are working on and seeking content experts. I have had some success in placing stories through this venue.