Have Something to Say: Pitching the Story

Photo by cogdogblog

Editor’s note: This is part 2, continuation of last week’s post Have Something to Say: Creating Stories for the Media by Alison Risso.

Now the question is: once you have something to say, who do you say it to?

Finding Who to Pitch

Finding a reporter, blogger or editor to share your story with is the next challenge.  If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to ask around and find a PR person who can give you an hour of their time and pull up a good list for you to reach out to, or “pitch.” But if you’re not so lucky, you’ll need to put build this list yourself.

Your story is likely to have the most appeal to a local audience, so take some time to read your local papers and listen to your local news stations. Keep a list of the reporters and publications doing stories like yours, and search online for email addresses.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or don’t know where to start, a great free place to begin is the US Newspaper Listing or USNPL. Type in your zip code, check out each outlet’s website, and pull their number. The site has papers, magazines, TV and radio stations, all the mainstream media folks you may want.

It’s okay to call a couple different folks at one outlet, but don’t overdo it.  Limit it to one targeted person per applicable department. Calling everyone will only hurt your pitch.

Local bloggers are great folks to reach out to as well, but you’re just going to have to Google them and read them to sniff out who’s a good fit.  You can also use social media tools such as Twitter to see what journalists and bloggers are interested in, but don’t direct message them a pitch unless you’ve built up a relationship.  Not only does it not work, it’ll make you look bad.

Now, you’ve got your story, and you’ve got your pitch list. But before you start calling / emailing folks you’ll want to compile your information and materials and get your thoughts straight.  There are a couple different ways to do this: a press release, a media alert, and a simple pitch email.

Press Release

A lot of PR people will write up a press release at this point.  They’re good for getting the journalists all of the information they need to create a story, including the news, organization background, spokesperson quotes, etc. Here are a couple of nice sites that can walk you through creating a press release. I promise it’s not rocket science.

Media Alert

If you’re doing an event, you’ll want to create a Media Alert instead.  Media Alerts are designed to get reporters to an event to cover the news as it unfolds.  Some examples are below.

Simple Pitch Email

Don’t spend time worrying about a formal press release or media alert if a crisp simple pitch will do.  If you have a strong idea and have found someone who’s a good fit for it, create a short and sweet email pitch and follow up with a phone call. Spending time writing something journalists will not spend time to read is silly.

Here’s a couple quick steps to creating a nice succinct pitch email.

  1. Think about what the final headline might be and make that your subject line.
  2. To avoid looking like spam, personalize your salutation. Dear Ms. Jones is 1,000x better than Dear Editor.
  3. Introduce yourself with your name and your organization.
  4. If you can, drop in a line about a recent article this journalist has written. This shows them that you’ve done your research and have taken your time deciding who to pitch.
  5. Spend a couple of sentences on your pitch. Go back to the main story anchors at the beginning of this piece and emphasize those elements.
  6. Include a link to compelling photos you have.
  7. Include all of your contact information, email, cell, desk phone, etc.

Now, all that remains is to start reaching out. Keep in mind that journalists are insanely busy and they’re likely fielding 100 emails and 20 calls like yours every single day. Your job is to make their lives easier by bringing something they need (a great story idea) right to their doorstep all wrapped up in a nice little package. Do this and you’ll make friends with the media and generate great coverage for your organization and event. Good luck!

BONUS: For more resources, check out the webinar my friend Mike did at KaBOOM!

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