How to pitch a journalist: part 1
Wondering about how to pitch a newspaper, magazine or online news site? In the first of a series, Adrian Weckler offers some practical tips on what to do and what to avoid.
**Today: preparation and reaction.**
**1. Know who to pitch within a media organisation**
If you’re not sure who to pitch, find out. Know who does what in a newspaper, magazine, website or broadcaster. For newspapers, magazines and websites, it’s not that hard: just buy a copy of the publication or search the website.
It is far more impressive to receive a pitch from someone who has a strong idea of what it is you write about or work on than from someone who doesn’t.
Similarly, from a practical point of view, if you pitch a startup idea to the lifestyle features editor, it may or may not wend its way to a business or technology editor. Don’t leave it up to chance.
**2. Personalising a pitch helps**
In the same way that it pays to know who does what, it also pays to take a little more time to personalise an email. It is much, much harder not to respond to an email that begins with my name and a line about something I’ve written or some other personalised note. Whereas if I receive a mass emailed release, it doesn't feel rude not responding to it.
**3. Don’t pitch old stories**
Was a story related to your pitch in one of the daily newspapers? Then don’t come pitching the same thing to a Sunday newspaper. And realise that a different ‘angle’ - unless it’s truly earth-shattering - is not sufficient for a newspaper to do an interview with someone who has appeared in a rival newspaper earlier.
**4. Straightforward beats faux ‘zany’, ‘funny’ or ‘mad’**
Not every Tuesday is a happy one. Starting an email with ‘Happy Tuesday!’ or ‘Hey hey!” may be welcomed as fun by some journalists, but will irritate others. (I fall into the second category.)
**5. Know some detail of what you’re pitching and anticipate likely questions**
One of the signs of a genuinely impressive PR executive is their capability on their clients’ subjects. If you’re pitching a new service, know the basics (at least) to the service AND the market or industry. Anticipate what kind of questions you’re likely to get and be able to answer them. It is regrettably too common for PR companies to shove a press release out the door and not really have much of a clue about what it all means when a journalists follows up on a few basic points. It’s then embarrassing for everyone when the journalist has to call up the client to ask a basic detail.
**6. There’s no shame in pitching fillers**
Every newspaper and magazine uses fillers. Maybe it’s a slow news week. Maybe some of the staff are off sick. Maybe the number of ads fell that week and you’ve lots more space to fill. Fillers can be advice pieces (‘10 ways to reduce the cost of X’), bylined expert pieces (‘The threat posed to Irish businesses by new data protection law’) or numerous other styles. As long as they’re reasonably well written, not too commercial in orientation and deal with an issue of interest to a certain number of people, they have a good chance of being used. Always make sure you supply a photo with these, too.
**7. Know - and respect - the deadlines of journalists you’re pitching to**
This is especially so for phone calls. When it’s 4.35pm with a 5pm deadline approaching, you really, really don’t want to spend four of your remaining 25 minutes listening to a pitch for something next week. There are exceptions to this: if you have something that’s breaking or something very significant or time-sensitive, it’s sometimes okay to intervene. But think about journalists’ deadlines as you would about a television reporter about to go on air: don’t pitch a fluffy feature when the studio red light is about to go on.
Most newspapers have set deadlines for different sections. The news section (the front few pages) is usually the last to go with the latest deadlines. Features sections, supplements and magazines usually have much earlier deadlines, often days beforehand. For example, the deadlines for *The Sunday Business Post’s ‘Computers In Business’* magazine occur ten full days before the date of publication. It’s up to you to know that and to plan accordingly.
**8. Rejection isn’t personal**
If your pitch is passed over, it’s not personal. It’s not because you’re a ‘nobody’. It may not even be that it’s not not newsworthy. It could be that it’s a strong news week or any number of other factors. Some people imagine that ‘placement’ of a news story is purely a matter of favours and relationships. It really isn’t.
**9. Not getting a response is the norm rather than the exception**
While we’re talking about rejection, if you don’t get a response to a PR pitch, that is normal. Many journalists receive dozens of pitches every day. Yes, responding to each of them is good manners. But realistically, many are going to go unanswered.
**10. Don’t try to link possible advertising with your pitch.**
This appears to be on the rise and is probably a result of some publications, magazines and websites who accept commercial incentives to run stories. But mainstream media outlet editors resent this approach and will often go out of their way not to include your pitch if it’s framed in the context of some larger commercial consideration.
**11. Take advantage of dull, slow news weeks to pitch**
Some weeks are dead dull. That’s the best time to pitch an idea or a story. Similarly, some weeks have an unending stream of of gloomy, doomy, macro-economic stories. Those are brilliant weeks to pitch lighter stories, especially picture stories.
**12. Don’t treat a media organisation as an a la carte menu**
Pitching a story or an interview to a certain section is absolutely fine. But be prepared to accept that your story may appear in a different part of the publication. You may think that your boss is a very important person who should make the lead business interview of the week, if not a page one story. The editor may think that it merits a smaller piece on page 9. That’s life.
Similarly, a story may be more suitable for a newspaper’s website - exclusively - than for the printed edition. It’s okay to ask where the journalist might see it being used. And it’s sometimes okay to ask that it not be used (for features, not breaking news stories). But know that this is treated as a minor favour or an indulgence: you can only request it so many times.
**See also: [how to get press coverage using photos](http://www.businesspost.ie/#!story/Home/News/STARTUP+ADVICE%3A+how+to+get+press+coverage+using+photos/id/19410615-5218-4ed7-a84a-f281b2971332).**
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