As a producer for one of the national Sunday morning news shows, I saw my fair share of seriously bad pitches.
The newest trends in kids’ backpacks, a new vitamin supplement that promises renewed energy and vigor, a ribbon-cutting event for a local pet grooming shop—why in the world would a national, political Sunday morning public affairs show that tracks the miniate details and developments on Capitol Hill run a segment on any of these topics?
The answer, of course, is that they wouldn’t.
If you’re looking to engage the national media, avoid journalists’ worst nightmare – the blind pitch.
I spent years of my life enduring a steady stream of impersonal pitches from agencies that had clearly never watched our show and had no concept of what we were interested in. For most producers at the national level, blind pitches go directly in the trash. However, a well-researched and relevant pitch can make all the difference, helping you drive a positive media narrative that will elevate your brand and story.
- Fit into a Broader Trend
The best pitches come from people who are mindful of the way their story fits into a broader movement. Before putting together a pitch, it is always worth asking yourself how your story illuminates a larger trend or framework at play – whether that’s part of the debate on Capitol Hill or in your community. Journalists are motivated by trends, so being able to answer that question will help you craft a pitch that can get good traction with reporters.
As a producer, health care stories often sparked my interest. Patient care, access and quality are top of mind for many Americans, and therefore fundamentally interesting to journalists. Leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, 71 percent of voters said health care is “very important” in making their voting decision – a powerful data point that shows health care stories matter to people across the country.
- Add Value to the Relationship
When approaching journalists, remember that it’s a two-way street. To build beneficial relationships with reporters, you must consider how you can help them. Fortunately, journalists want to talk to people that can make them smarter on an issue, and for companies looking to expand their reputation and credibility on an issue, expertise and background can be deeply valuable. Many journalists—a lot of the good ones, anyway—are open to hearing from someone who can provide a fuller picture of an issue they’re covering.
- Lay the Groundwork Early
Timing is everything. Even if it was a great idea, I often had to turn down pitches because there wasn’t enough lead time to do the story right. If you come across a story idea that you think might be a great fit for a particular reporter or publication, share it early. Then, when it’s fully formed and ready for launch you will have already laid the groundwork, and the reporter will be more open to your idea when you circle back.
- Follow Up Mindfully
Another important step to be mindful of is the follow-up. If you’ve followed up with a reporter twice and they’re still not responding, it’s time to drop it. If you continue to push your pitch, it will only irritate the reporter. Worse, you’ll condition the reporter to dismiss your future pitches.
Which brings me back to the pitch about that new, local pet grooming shop. I got four follow-ups, and eventually had to write back asking to be removed from their pitch list. Truly a lose-lose scenario.
Bottom line: Pitching reporters is a lot like interviewing for a job you want. To set yourself up for success, you need to do your research and offer something of value. And if they aren’t interested, be understanding and grateful for their time. You never know when another opportunity will come around.