As public relations pros, we frequently seek how to best pitch reporters so that our issues get covered. However, there’s no better coach from which to learn “best practices” than reporters themselves.
A few weeks ago, the Washington Women in Public Relations (WWPR) held their annual media roundtable, consisting of four panelists from various D.C. and national publications, with the focus on pitching stories to the media.
Being a communicator and a sports junkie, I enjoy comparing the communications industry to the sports world. So when I hear “pitching,” I don’t just think of Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays, but also Walter Johnson and Cy Young. Pitching from a mound and pitching from a desk both require poise, persistence and finesse.
Here are some of the insider tips that I took away from the WWPR panel, with an added baseball twist for good measure:
1. Don’t Call to the Bullpen Too Soon
Unless you have breaking news or an urgent item, you shouldn’t follow up with a pitch call immediately after sending an email. Reporters HATE this and are likely to ignore you in the future as a result.
2. Check the Lineup Card
Personalizing your pitches goes a long way, but make sure that you use the correct name of the reporter (Mollys are not “Holly,” and Melissas are way different than Alyssa). The panel mentioned that this happens often.
3. Avoid the Wild Pitch
Make sure the reporter covers stories that are in line with what you are pitching. Political reporters don’t have much of an interest in covering Lady Gaga’s new perfume. In the words of the legendary Bob Uecker, avoid going “JUUUSSST a bit outside.”
4. Watch Your Lead … or You’ll Get Picked Off
Keep the pitch brief, concise and to the point. Reporters don’t want to sift through large emails to find out what you’re pitching – a few paragraphs should do the trick. To avoid a near-instant delete, don’t attach any items to a pitch email unless requested to do so by a reporter.
From the other side of media relations, here are three lesser known items that will ensure you don’t get charged with an error:
1. Signal for Time Before Your Delivery
After introducing yourself and your organization, your next words should be, “Do you have a minute to talk?” While it sounds like an unnecessary formality, reporters always appreciate it when you’re cognizant of their time, particularly because newsrooms are extremely fast-paced and reporters are frequently on deadline.
2. Prepare Those on Deck
When you offer a spokesperson for your story, be sure that the person is willing and ready to talk to a reporter, understands the overall outreach goal and is prepared with the appropriate messages. If a reporter agrees to an interview and your spokesperson is off in the clubhouse, the reporter will be unlikely to do an interview with you again.
3. Keep Your Eye on the Ball
No story has just one angle. Consider the various perspectives and elements that a reporter could use to cover the story. Check to see previous stories that a reporter has written and try to fit your story into their mold.