Once, I participated in a media training workshop. The instructor asked me and the other participants to each come up with an idea for a news story which we had to pitch to a journalist over the phone.
I chose a hypothetical, groundbreaking story: I was working for Novo Nordisk and I wanted to announce to the world that we had found the cure for HIV. It goes without saying that the journalist was interested in my story. In fact, I didn’t even have to try to convince him about the news value of the story – the story sold itself.
A pitching experience like the preceding one, however, is the exception rather than the rule. Usually, it requires a greater effort to gain a journalist’s interest – and for good reason: journalists are being bombarded by companies with stories of all kinds. Therefore, if you want press coverage on a story – that might not warrant publicity to the same extent as the aforementioned about HIV – the question is: what can you do to increase your chances of breaking through the media gatekeeping? This is where the art of pitching comes into play.
In this post, I’ll illustrate the meaning of pitching by giving a brief account of what I believe to be some of the most vital things to prepare for prior to making a phone pitch.
You Only Have Half a Minute
Journalists will generally make up their minds within 30 seconds as to whether they find your story newsworthy. The outcome of this decision determines if they want to hear more about your story. You can seize the short window of opportunity by doing two things. First, you need to figure out what the key message of your story is. Second, you need to make sure that you tell it to the journalist in a concise manner right from the outset of your pitch.
Living up to the requirements as contained above isn’t as straightforward as it might sound, though. If anything, it’s easy to make a mistake, and a crucial one at that. Specifically, some people might be inclined to spend all 30 seconds on talking about their company; that is, explaining what role it has in the story.
Yet such an approach isn’t particularly relevant to a journalist. Rather, when evaluating a story, a journalist first and foremost focuses on whether it meets a set of news criteria, the primary ones being actuality, relevance, identification, sensation, and conflict. Ergo, once you have stated your key message, you should emphasize how it satisfies the news criteria – or at least one or some of them. The criteria of relevance, for instance, can be met by stressing how a story influences the public.
Following these recommendations will improve the odds of your pitch bearing fruit. But before you can seal the deal, you can expect the journalist to be inquisitive. This leads me to my next point.
Anticipate a Variety of Questions and Requests
A journalist might enquire about all sorts of things – and not necessarily things pertaining directly to your story. The explanation is that the journalist might see a more interesting angle to your story than the one you’ve pitched to him or her.
Furthermore, a journalist might request exclusive rights to your story. Such an agreement can also be beneficial to you since it allows you to ask the journalist to write a more in-depth article.
As a final example, a journalist might also ask you to help find someone to interview for a case study to be included in the article. By incorporating a case study, which serves to put a face on the story, the journalist makes it easier for the readers to identify themselves with the story. Thereby, the story actually fulfills one of the earlier stated news criteria.
It can make all the difference to your pitch if you consider these and other possible scenarios beforehand. This is because it enables you to immediately provide the journalist with any information and answer that he or she might need in order to proceed with your story. And that’s an important thing to be able to do given a journalist’s busy work schedule.
More Than One Way of Pitching
This post has presented some of the things that manifest themselves in pitches in general. With that being said, it’s worth noting that no single formula applies to all pitching situations; one reason being that journalists have different preferences about how they like to receive pitches. So, I’m curious about your views on the matter – what do you think is needed for a pitch to succeed?