Common mistakes to avoid when pitching your story to the media
All through journalism school, I wondered why I kept seeing PR majors sitting next to me in class. I envisioned the newswriting world as dirtying my hands with the sludge of local politics, covering dramatic court cases, and throwing in a profile of a local resident celebrating her 100th birthday for the occasional bit of human interest. PR, I thought, was for product placement and politicians.
But my notions about PR and reporting both changed when I landed my first reporting job.
Coming up with seven stories every week amid the unpredictable nature of news coverage (slow news days are a very real thing, and sometimes that nice-looking 100-year-old woman turns out to be really, really racist) meant I needed help finding interesting stories.
I quickly came to rely on solid pitches from PR professionals I trusted, not only to meet my budget but often to cover a truly compelling story I wouldn’t have heard about otherwise.
But like all reporters, I still rejected many more pitches than I picked up. Sometimes it was a genuine lack of time or space (on the busy news days), but more often it was because the PR rep made one of the following mistakes:
One thing that made me literally cringe was opening my inbox to find two, or three, emails from one PR rep on the same pitch, often sent the same day and sometimes coupled with a voicemail to ask if I’d seen the email. Even better (read: worse) was when I’d get a forward of that same email the next day to artificially elevate it back to the top of my inbox.
No one likes to be pestered, especially overburdened professionals working on a deadline. Following up on an email is fine, but wait a day or two before calling or resending. You rely on reporters for media coverage, don’t drive them away by coming off as needy, or worse: needy, oblivious and inconsiderate.
- Incomplete pitches
Whether you send a fleshed-out press release or just an email pitch with the basics, a good PR professional will make sure the reporter can see at a glance that you’ve provided them with everything they’ll need. Though most of the PR pros who pitched me did their homework, I still received way too many that didn’t include basic information like event dates, sources or any hint of an angle.
It wasn’t a prerequisite that my PR reps include three sources, background research and a hook, but it sure made it a lot more difficult to say no.
- Bad writing
I get it, it’s a pitch/press release, and you won’t be submitting it for the Pulitzer. Nonetheless, journalists care about grammar, spelling and smooth copy, even in their inbox. If your email pitch or press release is clunky, it reduces your odds of getting a hit by approximately 1,000 percent.
Yes, we all know how tedious it can be to try to work all the important data points into 400 words, and we all follow the inverted pyramid model, with few exceptions. But that’s no excuse for leaving in all the grammar mistakes Microsoft Word doesn’t catch, using repetitive language or ignoring rhythm. Take the time to reread, revise and even have fun with the copy, and you’ll see better results.
One of the reasons I can humbly say our agency succeeds with a lot of our pitches is that half of us worked as print and broadcast TV reporters, and we know what made our jobs easier, or more difficult. That said, we’re always responsive to the needs of individual journalists, and we appreciate that what works for one person isn’t a template for success across the board.
This post is just a starter’s guide, not a comprehensive list, so feel free to reach out to us and pick our brains, or ask how we can craft a pitch for you that’s sure to be in the strike zone.