Five tips for pitching the media

Extra! Extra!

As much as blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube consume much of the attention of progressive marketers and SMEs of late, let’s not forget the ‘traditional’ things that still work effectively … when done right.  I’m talking specifically about media publicity, or if you’re in it for the long haul, media relations.

(What’s the difference, you ask? Publicity is when you’re in it for a short-burst of editorial coverage; media relations is about building strategic relationships with targeted journalists, editors, and broadcast producers with a view to generating sustained editorial exposure over the longer term. (For more on developing a powerful PR mindset, check this previous post).

If you’re in it to build longer term relationships with the media, the approach is more about educating journalists on your brand and your ideas, views, and opinions. Invite them to events, initiate meet-and-greets, and educate them on your industry—all without the expectation of anything in return. That will come.

However, if your play is a quick hit of publicity, your pitch needs to be different—more hard-hitting, relevant, and direct. Maybe more stunt-like? You will need to ensure the news hook is stronger than anything else being pitched that day if you’re going to cut through and get noticed.

Here are five tips for effectively pitching your story to the media:

1. Put yourself in the journalist’s shoes

This is absolutely critical. Before contacting a journalist, read, watch, or listen to their work. Understand the audience. Work out who the journalist writes for, what their style is, and what sort of stories they cover regularly.

If you ‘know’ them from doing your homework and can relate your story to something they’ve written in the past, or if you can make your story resonate with the sorts of things they write about often, then you’re potentially on your way.

2. Make sure you have a story to tell, with real news and a ‘hook’

Yuh. Sounds basic, right? Well, as basic as it sounds it’s still the thing most brands (big, small and micro) struggle with. And it’s not the easiest thing to do because the temptation will be to write about your brand and how fabulous your product is. Apple can talk on about its whiz-bang new product. You can’t.

What’s in it for the reader? Why is your product or service different? Has it the potential to disrupt an entire industry? In most cases—unless you’ve just signed a major deal and it’s big news for your particular industry—you will probably need to somehow ‘create’ the news. Release the findings from a credible survey you’ve done, comment on an emerging trend, time your pitch with a relevant event, or offer timely advice that provides value to the media outlet’s readers/viewers/listeners.

3. Do not waffle, exaggerate, or use jargon

Whether you’re writing an email pitch or selling your story over the phone, get straight to the point. Tighten your pitch to within an inch of its life. ‘Nuff said.

4. Think laterally, think niche

While it’s nice to get major metro newspaper coverage or a spot on the nightly TV news, chances are you’re going to spend a heck of a lot of time and effort on the pitch and all for nought. Think more laterally—maybe there are some niche online publications that are relevant for your story. An industry blogger or two perhaps? A community radio station? Start thinking niche and targeting relevant media outlets with a laser-like pitch. This can be a very effective strategy, especially in the early days when you’re not that well-known.

And don’t forget radio. As I write this, I have just organised for a small start-up client to issue an audio media release. This involved recording and distributing five audio grabs to radio newsrooms nationally. It took very little time to produce (via and while there was a cost involved, our audio grab was downloaded and syndicated to some 90 radio stations around the country.

5.  It’s not just about the press release

Just blasting out a press release to all and sundry simply doesn’t work, unless you’ve got a genuine broad-based news story (you’re BHP and you’ve just a released your annual results).

Yes, you need a well-written backgrounder to accompany most pitches (usually no more than one page). But a phone call or a personalised email note detailing the news hook and why it’s relevant to the journalist (or more importantly, their audience) is probably the most effective, albeit time consuming, way to pitch a story. Ask the journalist if they’re interested. If they are, you can then send background notes.

Success in this space usually comes from being respectful of the journalist’s role and their time. Do this and you’re well on your way to becoming a successful publicist.