As communicators, we focus on convincing reporters of the merits of the news angle we are pitching in our press release. But we lose sight of the fact that those reporters then need to sell the story to their own editors and chiefs of staff, who in turn have to get support for our story at their regular editorial meetings of senior staff. Therefore, our media pitch has to be supported 3 times by up to 3 different people. Freelance journalists also have to go through this process when they pitch a story idea to a media outlet.
All this raises the question of whether there is a formula for the perfect media pitch, including online media. To give the inside story, editors from some of the biggest media outlets in Europe briefed journalists at a July 2018 workshop about what makes a great pitch.
Journalist Stella Volkenand from the European Journalism Observatory summarized the editors’ key points from the workshop about the art of the pitch:
Editors explain how to make your story stand out
1. Do your homework
Understanding the outlet you’re pitching to is crucial. You would need to assess the size and nature of their audience or readers with a quick background search. Then browse through the topics and style of stories your chosen outlet has already run to ensure the theme of your story is relevant to their requirements. This intelligence will also show if the outlet has already published a similar story – meaning you will need to rework yours.
If their objectives and audience align with your story, chances of a receptive response are high.
Make sure you send your pitch to the most relevant editor or reporter who covers the topic you are offering. You can find out a relevant reporter’s name by checking bylines on the outlet’s previous stories on the topic. Using a media contact directory is another option.
2. Know what to tell
One of the first questions editors raise about a story is: “Why would the reader care?” This is very close to the classic WIIFM marketing question: “What’s In It For Me?”. Find a compelling answer and give your contact the key angles to convince them and their editorial group to select your story.
Editors are busy people and will only have a very limited attention span. Grab their attention from the start with a well thought-out lead that delivers your key message and tells them how your story might look. This also shows that you understand the outlet’s content strategy.
3. The medium is the message
Your story fits the media outlet’s content requirements and you have all the information you want to include. Now make sure that the same goes for the package. When you are suggesting details, think within the formats, structures and language of your outlet of choice. To make your story fit, you need to be open to adapt it according to these factors.
Some quick tips from editors
- Add a compelling headline to win over the reporter or editor’s support. It’s one of the key components to advance your pitch. (Communicators should know editors won’t accept the name of your organization or client in the headline of the story, so don’t try it, except for a major story.)
- If you plan to include visual elements like photos, illustrations or video in your stories, make sure to send a screenshot or example to show you know how a good quality image will enhance your story.
- Don’t fear rejection! Most of the time, the first pitch will not be accepted — but it’s the start of your relationship with the recipient, which might be useful later.
- If your story angle is rejected, try to ask for feedback so you know better next time.