Don’t do these 8 things when pitching journalists
Posted on: 2013-06-03
in How To
how to pitch a journalist
Account manager David Jamieson (@jamiesondavid) at B2B PR consultancy TopLine Communications, ruminates on common mistakes PRs make when pitching that make a tough job even tougher.
Pitching a story can sometimes feel like banging your head against a brick wall but there are a few simple mistakes, commonly made but completely avoidable, that make life much harder for PRs if they’re not careful.
Launch into your pitch before finding out if they have time to talk – not as simple as straight out asking them if they’re busy though, because the answer will always be yes, and then where do you go from there? Because I’ve done my research and I know their beat, I try and pique some interest by first saying I’ve got a corporate finance, or a big pharma based story, or whatever their beat is, that I thought they might be interested in. More often than not that buys me ten or fifteen crucial seconds.
Talk like a press release – no-one talks like they write (it’s debateable whether in PR we should even write like we write but that’s another story). The point is, you only have a few seconds to grab a harassed reporter’s attention – on email or phone - don’t make the first thing you say/write some awful corporate platitude. That goes for companies and products – just say, in plain English, what it is, what it does and who it does it for. Let them be the judge of whether it’s exciting/interesting/paradigm shifting or just mildly interesting enough to be covered. Try applying the pub test. How would you explain your story to a friend in the pub? I’m not sure about yours, but my friends wouldn’t put up with press release type talk for long.
Use boring quotes – if you’ve made it this far don’t blow it by using mind-numbingly dull quotes to support your story. More about quotes from me here but, basically, try and say something interesting.
Make unnecessary calls – yes they get a lot of emails but they also get an awful lot of calls. Which do you think tries their patience more? Don’t assume a call is the default position, I know it feels like emails disappear into a black hole, and the crap ones do, but a well crafted relevant one can be very effective – if you’re prepared to be patient. I’ve just waited a week for an email from a national business journalist, but it was definitely worth it. Journalists need sources to satisfy the pressure they’re under for quick stories, why would they ignore a story in their inbox when they don’t even have to leave their desk to get it? Emails do get read, if even for a split second. The bad ones go where they belong; the relevant, well researched and well pitched ones get used.
Send bad email pitches – these only need to be a couple of sentences, really. You should be able to say in one sentence (of normal length!) exactly what the story is. Then sign off by saying “we can give you quotes from X, images of Y, so let me know if you want any further information”.
Not meet the specifications of a request – come on, use your freaking head! If they wanted a 1000 word case study, why would they send out a Response Source asking for 60 word expert commentary? If you can’t meet the exact requirements then you’re not what they’re looking for.
Pitch stuff they’ve already done - pitching a journalist who has just covered something related to your client is sound in principal but it’s the wrong way round. They’ve just covered that angle, why would they be doing it again the next day? More on this from Janet Murray at the Last Word Group here, where she says that if you can’t move the debate on then don’t bother.
Take an age to respond - you finally get a bite, and what a buzz it is when that journo’s name pops up in your inbox! So what do you do? Don’t go and make a celebratory cuppa. Respond immediately, either to let them know you’re on it or with what they need.
Really all it takes a bit of common sense. Put yourself in their shoes and understand the challenges they face (more space to fill, less people and less time to fill it) and results will improve, like so.
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