Three steps to better media pitches

The following is a guest post from Globe and Mail reporter Carly Weeks



The Internet has brought the world many wonderful things: the ability to instantly share a photo of your dinner with everyone you know, viral cat videos and never-ending news about celebrity antics.

One downside? Way too much information. 

Now, imagine being a reporter. Our jobs, in large part, focus on sorting through the vast amounts of information are out there and zeroing in on what really matters. It's part of the fun, but it can also be a challenge. Every day, reporters are faced with breaking news, human interest stories, government announcements, scientific breakthroughs, exclusive scoops and countless other stories that require our attention. Deadlines are looming and it seems there's never enough time in the day.

Meanwhile, you may be wondering why reporters aren't responding to the pitch you sent about your client's new line of gluten-free cookies? Or why we didn't jump at the chance to cover your client's 'innovative' new book, baby product or gadget. Or why we weren't lined up overnight to get into the community festival that you promised would blow our minds. Or why we didn't dial your number seconds after getting an email from you telling us that your client can offer spine-tingling insights into the news of a recent medical discovery, the death of a big-name celebrity or any other event with marginal human interest that you're trying to capitalize on.

Are you still wondering why your pitches are getting zero traction? It may be time to consider the possibility that they need a bit of work.   

On a typical day, I'll receive dozens of unsolicited pitches from PR professionals trying to get me to write about a product, event, expert or designated day (i.e. "National Clown Day!" or "Hot Dog History Day!"). This is in addition to the stories already on my plate, the requests from my editors, breaking news assignments and other issues that are competing for attention.  

That's why the vast majority of those pitches fall victim to the dreaded 'delete' key.   

To be fair, I receive quite a few relevant PR pitches that I actually read and consider. But of those, only a fraction will ever actually make it to print. It's nothing personal. There are simply too many stories out there that need to be told and if your pitch isn't up to snuff, it's not going to generate coverage.  

But there are strategies you can adopt to improve the quality of your pitches and get a reporter's attention: 

1. Know who you're pitching to

If I had a nickel for every media pitch I received inviting me to write about the new (insert product name here) that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were spotted using/wearing in public, I'd be writing this post while sipping a margarita on a tropical island. The truth is, I don't care about celebrity news. I write about health. Medical studies. Product recalls. Other journalists have their specialty areas as well. And if you did your homework, you'd be able to target your pitches to the reporters who actually cover those beats. But alas, the off-target press releases continue to pour in. 

Just because the technology exists to allow you to email blast 5,000 reporters at a time doesn't mean it's a good idea. A more effective approach is to do your research, identify key reporters who might be interested in your subject matter and reach out to them individually. 

2. Have a story to tell

Many companies approach media relations with a sense of entitlement, believing that their very existence warrants media coverage. And while Apple's new product releases cause journalists around the world to salivate, let's face it. You're not Apple. 

If you're looking to generate media coverage, invest the time to figure out what story you're trying to tell. First, you need to understand what the drivers of news are. Is your story new? Interesting? Controversial? Does it have a compelling personal tale or other aspect of human interest? If not, you're probably looking at a dud of a pitch. Finding the angle can take time but it can be time well-spent.  

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has never heard of your company or client and has no vested interest in what you do. Would you share the story your pitch is based upon with friends or family over dinner? No? Then why would anyone else? Rethink your strategy and spend the time to develop a compelling story and pitch it to the right reporters.

3. Prepare for the negative

As a health reporter, I often get pitches about the opening of a new hospital wing, the creation of a new medical technology or the approval of a new drug. One of my first instincts is to always look for the potential negative for the public in those pitches. Does the new hospital wing include design elements that are proven to improve patient outcomes? Does the new medical technology or drug have unexplored or potentially dangerous side effects?

If journalists are good at what they do, they are not going to simply copy and paste your news release. Journalists are supposed to ask probing questions and look at the story from all angles. Rather than get angry, refuse comment or blow the reporter off, prepare yourself to actually face up to the negative. What would you say to a good friend or family member who asked the same questions? Are they valid? Do they have a point? If not, you can go ahead and defend yourself and point out the reasons the questions don't make sense. But if the reporter has a point and you really do have something to hide, maybe it's time to go back to the drawing board instead of trying to ram a proverbial round peg into a square hole.

By doing a bit of homework, pitching to the appropriate journalists and having a real story to tell, you can significantly increase your pitch's chances of getting a reporter's attention.