Landing media coverage through pitching is best achieved through strong storytelling that adheres to core news values. These include impact, timeliness, currency, proximity, novelty, prominence, human interest and conflict.
But even a story that ticks every box has the ability to miss the mark without the right direction when it is shared.
Simply publishing an announcement on your company website can kill a journalist’s interest.
These are the sorts of pitfalls to avoid, so here are five tips to make sure your great story makes it past the gatekeeper.
Journalism is a highly competitive industry, with a ruthless streak that can be shocking to experience for the first time. A pitch must make the journalist feel as though the story has been put together specifically for them and won’t be shared far and wide.
Addressing them by their preferred name is a good place to start, but it’s also important to research the journalist’s work and identify why your story aligns with their interests.
Receiving what looks like a media release sent out to a large list is a big red line for many journalists, unless it’s genuinely breaking news that they are likely to cover regardless. This is rare though, so leave the ‘Bcc’ button on your email alone.
Timing is hugely important both in a practical and strategic sense.
Practical considerations include when an ideal time to make contact is. Morning is the appropriate time as it avoids the frantic period in the afternoon to meet deadlines. However, many editorial meetings take place around 10am so it’s important to have someone considering your story before that if you’re looking for a fast turnaround to publication.
Patience is important, so allow sufficient lead time. One month is a good length if there is no urgent need.
The time it takes to land coverage can be shortened by choosing the right point at which to fit your story in the breaking news cycle when the message is relevant.
Timing can be important for controlling or countering a narrative, shifting negative news cycles, or to inform government advocacy. For example, an embargoed story for publication on a Friday leaves opponents with a narrow time period to respond before the weekend.
So, you’ve put together your media release —what next?
Your email pitch needs to be a condensed version of your media release. Include a short bullet point summary of the most interesting points, complete with a headline and an attention-grabbing subject line.
Following up with a call can be daunting, some journalists don’t agree with it but in a competitive environment sometimes it is needed. Have your bullet points ready and do a test run to make sure you can pitch it within 10-20 seconds.
A simple text message is a good way to engage younger journalists with phone aversion.
Conversely, there are some things you should avoid. These include becoming a pest with daily communication, following up when there is breaking news or taking a short response personally and voicing your frustration.
Preparation is key will ensure a faster outcome. It’s useful to pre-empt what questions a journalist might ask and have all relevant information at the ready.
If you have a long lead time, you can also use information strategically to build momentum and keep the story alive, so keep an eye out for new studies, information or news that reinforces your story. It ensures you’re a helpful nuisance rather than an irritating one when you follow up with a journalist.
With people’s lives on the line, most journalists will be open to correcting stories if they’re inaccurate or misleading. So, don’t be afraid to right a wrong or balance a negative story with a different perspective. Health is perhaps the only news beat where this practice isn’t met with hostility from the journalist.
Reputations can be damaged very quickly in medicine if a negative narrative is left to circulate unchallenged. You must counter immediately before the damage becomes irreversible.
For tips on how to master a media interview, check out our latest article.