As public relations professionals, we’re taught many tactics to create and communicate an effective pitch. Yet we often see our calls and emails to the media go unread or ignored.
Part of the reason is simply that reporters are extremely busy. They have long-term assignments and beats they have to keep up with, along with the added pressure of breaking news that could derail their day at any moment. The pitches and story ideas that flood a reporter’s inbox are often an afterthought to his or her typical workloads. Unfortunately, we can’t change reporters’ busy schedules, but we can change our pitching practices.
As a reporter, I used to get very frustrated with PR professionals who made these key mistakes when pitching for media coverage. Take my advice and avoid these five pitfalls of pitching.
- The story is not compelling.
Sometimes a story is simply not interesting no matter how it’s positioned. However, most of the time it’s the way it’s presented. As PR professionals, we may think that we’re simply given all the information there is on a topic, and that there’s no way to change the client’s story—but that’s rarely the case. We can often find ways to make almost any story more compelling and tailor it to an interested audience.
For example, I recall numerous occasions where I would be pitched a story about a new business opening or an existing business growing or changing locations. These types of stories aren’t always worth telling at face value, but if one happens to involve a number of jobs being created, a genuine need being met that wasn’t before, or a revival of a down-and-out neighborhood as part of this business opening or moving, then there may be a story there.
- You don’t know the story.
It seems obvious, but if you’re a spokesperson for an organization, you need to know the facts inside and out. When you pitch a story to a reporter, assume that he or she is going to be interested and is going to have follow-up questions—perhaps right away. Know the organization, product, or announcement as well as your client so you can answer the tough questions. Of course, if there’s anything that’s not appropriate for you to answer, put the reporter in touch with your client or research the information before answering with inaccurate information.
- You’re not familiar with the publication.
PR professionals must do their due diligence before pitching blindly. This means knowing a substantial amount about the publication you’re pitching, including its audience, location, coverage style, and reporters. When pitching, you should know what the reporter has been writing recently, what type of news is getting the most views on the publication’s website, and where your story might fit in with the publication’s news cadence.
- You’re not friendly or authentic.
Reporters are just like you. In other words: reporters are human. They don’t want to receive a lengthy, formal email with a news announcement or story idea from a stranger. In a few sentences, tell them why this information matters to their readers. Additionally, introduce yourself and let them know you’re familiar with their reporting. A simple “I read your recent article on XYZ …” could mean the difference between the trash can and a reply.
- You give up easily.
Reporters certainly don’t want to be pestered incessantly, but they also don’t want to miss out on a good story. If a competing publication picks up a hot story before they do, they’re going to be in some hot water. If you know that your story is newsworthy and will be a good fit with their readers, call again and offer new information or a fresh spin that may pique their interest.
If your efforts to reach a reporter aren’t successful, consider reaching out to the editor. As you know, reporters are busy covering breaking news and keeping up with their respective beats. An editor is often more accessible, so don’t hesitate to let him or her know why this story can’t be missed. Reporters are hard-pressed to say no when an assignment comes down from the top ranks.
As PR professionals, we’re all guilty of some or all of these taboos—otherwise our choice publications would pick up every story we pitched. Next time you’re trying to gain media coverage, consider what may deter reporters from picking up your story. Remember to know your story, make it compelling, know the publication, and be personable in your communication. Most importantly, don’t give up on getting your story out there.