Guest Post: How to pitch your story – tips from a PR sceptic

Advice from a journalist
PR professional pitching a story to journalist

Guest Post: How to Pitch Your Story – Tips From a PR Sceptic

In an effort to stay up to date with trends in the news industry, I interviewed a well-known journalist specialising in business and finance. The publication she writes for is a well-known and respected online news site. These are her words.

I’ve tried to answer the questions in a fairly general sense, but bear in mind that every journalist’s situation will be different. It helps a lot if you know the publication and the journalist personally and are in a position to tailor the information to the specific media outlets you are targeting.

Which is the best medium for a PR professional to pitch their story to you (Email, phone call, message, social media)? Why this medium?

Personally, I prefer an email pitch. I am often out of the office and it may be difficult to reach me. On average, I receive about 60 e-mails per day with story pitches and/or press releases and I honestly just wouldn’t have time to listen to all these pitches on the phone. Having said that, more than 80% of these are on topics that I generally don’t write about or are not stories my publication would cover.

A telephone pitch works best when it is about a story that is offered to me exclusively or when the goal is to inform me of a still-to-come news event or potential story. This suggests that the PR professional is aware of what our publication covers and more specifically what I write about.

It helps a lot if the PR professional knows you, your publication, and your work environment, and the journalist knows the company or body they represent.

Is there a specific day that is better for receiving pitches? Or days to avoid such as Fridays or the day before a long weekend?

This will depend on the publication and the journalist involved. Personally, I am swamped on Fridays and chances are that things will slip through the cracks. Morning pitches generally work best. Almost all my deadlines are in the afternoon. If you phone me between 16:00 and 18:00 (on any day) you may just have to talk to a very grumpy individual!

However, this will differ from publication to publication and it is probably best to try to get a sense of the type of environment the journalist works in and when he/she will most likely be on deadline. In the fast news environment, stories can break at any time and the issues will be different.

If you receive an email pitch, should the PR professional follow up with a phone call? How long should they wait to realistically ensure that you have had time to read the pitch?

As a general rule, I prefer they don’t. If a story is newsworthy, it will be picked up straight away. We work in an open-plan office and you won’t believe how many of these follow-up calls journos to receive on topics they/our publication never write about. Sometimes the PR professional even phones journos about the same press release individually, one after the other (hoping that someone at the publication would say yes…). If you truly believe the story is important, phone me before you send me the release – then I know to look out for it and that you have a spokesperson on standby.

Which mistakes should PR professionals avoid when pitching stories?

You need to know your audience. To give yourself the best possible chance of your story being picked up, ensure you send it to the right publication and journalist. Newsrooms are generally much smaller than they were ten years ago, and the “spray and pray” approach, where PR professionals send out the same press release to 100 email addresses in the hope that it will be picked up, is unlikely to be successful. There is also a much bigger premium on exclusivity today than there was a decade ago.

How many pitches do you receive on average in a week?

Assuming an explicit offer for an interview, roughly 50 (this could include a press release, but may not). I receive about 200 to 300 press releases per week (without an explicit interview offer).

How can PR professionals network successfully with journalists to ensure they build a strong relationship?

The best PR professionals are the ones that can arrange an interview with someone on very short notice and who get back to you within minutes after a call or e-mail. I know this is a tough ask (particularly with certain clients), but in the news (particularly online) environment you have a major advantage if you can provide answers/comments quickly.

It is also very important to know the focus of the publication and what the journalist would generally write about.

Pitching a newsworthy story also significantly increases your chances of it getting picked up. Ask yourself: why is this information newsworthy? What are the implications of this for the news outlet’s readers? Put yourself in the shoes of a reader and ask: is this important?

Do you have any other advice for PR professionals on how to get their stories published?

Time is of the essence. If you send out a pitch or news release two days after a big event (the Budget for example) and the information in the release has already been covered by various news media, it is unlikely to be published again. The readers would be aware of the information already.

If you find it difficult to respond with pitches or press releases shortly after a news event, try to focus on information that isn’t already widely available, but that would still have significant implications.

Ultimately, fostering a good relationship with the journalist is key. You can do this by getting to know the publication and the journalist (his/her focus areas) and by quickly and efficiently providing useful information.

Also, if you promise to provide information by a certain date/time, stick to it. It increases the likelihood that journos will ask you for information in the future if they know they can trust you.

CF Communications strategically conceptualise and manage public relations campaigns to influence, engage, and build relationships with key stakeholders across a host of platforms in order to shape and frame the public perception of your brand. Get in touch to find out more.

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