So, you think you’ve got a great story and you want to get the media to pay attention to it. Easy as calling the newsroom and telling them to “put it in the paper,” right?
Anyone who’s ever tried to pitch a story to a reporter has been turned down. So, what’s the secret to success? Here are a few:
- Find the “when” and the “why.” Your story needs to have impact. It needs to be important and relevant to the audience the media outlet serves. It is always about people and always has action. It also needs to be timely—help the reporter tie the story to a point in time and you’ve done some of their work for them.
- Do the research. Dig deeper into your client’s story to find the real news. Often, facts are taken for granted by the people involved because they are so close to it. I once was asked to publicize the story of a little girl who had constant operations for a fatal condition and had spent (literally) half of her life in a hospital. What made her story attractive to the reporter was that she was about to celebrate her very first Christmas in her own home. That was the hook that made it (literally) front page news.
- It’s who you know. Know who in the newsroom is going to make the decision to cover your story. Sometimes it’s the reporter who covers that beat; other times (often in TV newsrooms) it’s the assignment editor who will make the call. Talk to that person first.
- Watch the clock. Understand when the most effective time of day (or of the week) is to talk to the news outlet you’re pitching. For spot coverage, it’s before the morning meeting—which means you need to also send information a day or two before to get on the newsroom’s radar. For newspapers, don’t bother calling before 10 am. And never ever call late in the afternoon (after 3 pm) when most everyone is on deadline.
- Make it special. Reporters love exclusives and putting their own spin on a story. Sometimes you’ll have an event or press conference that’s designed for mass coverage, and that’s fine. But other times, think about trying to give the reporter something special that they can claim as their own. You’ll likely get a bigger story out of it and develop a relationship that will live beyond the story.
- Add the elements. Bring in digital items that can add to the story: social media handles, factoids and bullet points, first-person video and other items can all make your story more attractive and give the media outlet a variety of ways to cover it.
- Follow up. Let a reporter know you saw their final product and that you appreciate the job they did. It will grow your relationship with them and it’s the right thing to do.
- Never give up. You will be turned down. Babe Ruth struck out far more times than he hit home runs. But if you don’t swing, you’ll never hit the ball.