As communicators, media relations is a common part of our jobs and it’s up to us to work with reporters to place positive stories in the news about our clients’ initiatives, reports and events. People ask me all the time, “How do you make a story compelling enough that reporters will want to cover it?” The short answer: it depends on what you’re pitching to the media and what you determine to be the best angle to frame the story.
Here at Vanguard, we help our clients with a lot of big and noteworthy events, and we always aim to get high-quality stories that go beyond just the details of the event. One event we’ve been helping with for the last 11 years is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day (Awareness Day), which took place last week in Washington, DC. This year, like every other, we tried to figure out a variety of angles we could pitch Awareness Day to pique the interest of the media.
When coming up with angles to pitch a story successfully, there are a few factors I always keep in mind before I begin. Let’s call them the “pillars” of a good media pitch.
Content — Why would the media want to cover the story you’re pitching?
Is what you’re saying newsworthy? Will members of the media — and, more importantly, readers — care about what you’re pitching? It’s critical to know your audience and pitch accordingly. Breaking news should be pitched differently than feature-type news. Similarly, with events, profiles about each event’s attendees should be pitched differently and to different types of outlets than newsier, hardline stories about the overall goal of the event.
This is where establishing credibility and trust with the members of the media is invaluable. When you do events around a specific topic every year, you can become a reporter’s go-to source on that issue. For Awareness Day, we reach out to both new media outlets (as the theme differs every year), as well as a handful of key reporters who work in mental health, with whom we’ve developed relationships, and who have come to expect our outreach every year.
Timeliness and Relevance — How can you connect your story to other stories that are currently being reported in the news?
Finding the right news “hook” is key to successful media placement. Reading the news daily and staying abreast of the “hot button” issues is crucial. Can you tie your story to another topic that the media is covering prominently?
For example, beyond reaching out to reporters simply to cover Awareness Day events in Washington, DC, we focused our pitch on the rise of children’s mental health needs, providing reporters with current trends and relevant statistics about access to mental health needs for young people. In addition, Awareness Day this year featured panel discussions on such topics as juvenile justice and education, which allowed us to expand our reach to reporters who cover these beats, as well.
Spokespeople — Do you have an expert or well-known spokesperson on an issue who will draw interest from the media?
Is there someone you can offer to the media who can provide an expert perspective on the topic you’re pushing?
Often times, the media will want a quote from someone knowledgeable on the subject, so it’s important to have someone in mind before hitting “send” on your pitch email. At this year’s Awareness Day, for example, we had youth and family leaders who have had personal experience accessing care and handling the issues surrounding it. By sharing their personal stories, and offering expert spokespeople from SAMHSA to talk about policy and research, we were able to give reporters compelling human interest stories backed by relevant data.
Geographic Location — Is your event taking place in a certain part of the country that will draw interest from the media in that market?
For Awareness Day, we reached out to local DC-area media to alert them of the event, but we also have youth and family representatives from across the country who serve as leaders in their field, which opens up their media markets for pitching, too.
For youth leaders serving as panelists at Awareness Day, such as Brendan Ward, we reached out to the media outlets in their geographic markets to let them know about the important work that their local citizens are performing. If they have a good story to tell, the media will want to share it.
While these four factors are helpful, there isn’t a perfect recipe for placing any kind of story in the media. However, what remains consistent for the process of pitching is keeping in mind your target audience, setting realistic goals and crafting your pitch into a good story that would leave a reporter saying, “Why wouldn’t I cover this?”