Mar 24, 2010
Been meaning to post this list for about a month now, ever since the final session of Professional Media Relations, our core annual “soup-to-nuts” training for nonprofit communicators. After five weeks of the class, the participants have found an idea, honed it, practiced it,and in the final session, they pitch it to journalists from around the area.
For years now area reporters have been gracious enough to join us for three hours on a Friday morning to share some thoughts about what kinds of stories they are looking for and how they like to get information. When it works well, they get good story ideas from the session.
This actually seemed like our best year yet in terms of folks in the session finding the best stories coming out of their organizations and getting to tell them to journalists, then journalists finding stories that worked out for them. Another highlight from this year’s session was a list of tips that WBEZ Reporter Lynette Kalsnes offered. Here they are:
- What is the news element? A newspeg [can you believe there's no Wikipedia entry for news peg? We'll get to work on that, meanwhile hit the link for a decent definition--essentially the peg is what makes this story news, now] makes it more likely your story will get covered.
- What is unique about the story? If there’s something new or interesting, that makes coverage more likely. Spell it out.
- Write the pitch as if it were a news story. Or a lede to a story at least. Why should anyone care?
- Putting it in national context can make it more appealing. Got a great local expert or slant to a national story? Pitch it while it’s hot. Also, if you have experts on staff, include them in the pitch/press release with their contact info.
- If the media outlet has covered your event in the recent past, it’s less likely to get covered again unless there’s something different going on. There’s a shortage of resources, as well as a finite amount of airtime/newshole, so we can’t repeat stuff right away. Emphasize what’s new.
- Do send e-mail. Save some money and save some trees.
- Find out something about the outlet you’re pitching to. A colleague tells me he’s received calls from groups who have no idea what he does or the type of news the station does. There are things that are better suited to public radio than TV, for instance, and vice versa.
- Pitch to the right person. Who covers the beat for the outlet? Don’t pitch a story on a not-for-profit resale shop to the reporter who covers sports, or the auto show to the arts reporter. Some reporters are good at passing ideas along and others are not, so you can’t be sure it will get passed along.
- Try a personalized pitch rather than a mass mailing. Do you see or hear a reporter who seems to cover the type of story you’re pitching? Try that person first.
- If you’re making a personalized pitch, let the reporter know if you’re pitching to other outlets. Nobody likes to find out the story was pitched to multiple outlets by seeing it in the paper/on TV/on the radio.
- Send a duplicate to the news desk/assignment desk. But don’t make that your only contact if there’s someone in the outlet on that particular beat. We get inundated.
- Don’t keep calling. Please remember that the media has suffered a lot of cutbacks. People are very busy. I don’t mind being called once to make sure an e-mail got through – I get a hundred or more a day, and 100 more in the arts inbox. But it will get covered or it won’t – repeated phone calls don’t help, and take a reporter away from other duties.
Based on our experience with pitching workshops over the years, this will be old news for some of you and a revelation for others. Do you have a story of how you learned these tips and tricks? Or if it’s new information, what do you agree or disagree with? Let us know!