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How to pitch – 11 essential tips

27 January 2017

The challenge a media team will face is convincing an editor or journalist to take their ideas. So how can you make sure they love what you offer them?

11 tips to consider when you’re crafting your pitch. 

1. Come up with suitable ideas that are targeted carefully at their niche. Is your story what their reader/viewer wants to read/watch? Does it extend their knowledge? Is it surprising or shocking in any way?

2. Approach the right person. Do some research into which journalists have previously covered similar types of stories; find out who makes decisions about running the type of content you are pitching.

3. Consider giving a journalist an exclusive. This is when you offer a story to one journalist either alone or first, so that they are the ones who break the story.

Factors to consider when deciding whether to offer an exclusive are:

  • Is my story important/strong enough to attract the interest of the journalist?
  • Who should get the exclusive (does it help you reach your target audience?)?
  • What benefits will offering the exclusive bring (stronger relationship with the journalist, wider reach etc)? 
  • What are the potential disadvantages (the story may get dropped in favour of something else; other publications may choose not to run any follow-up stories, thus limiting coverage and reach)?

If you do decide to offer an exclusive, make sure you talk ‘off the record’ until the reporter agrees to the exclusive. Don’t spill the beans too early. Then once the journalist has agreed, be as specific as possible about what information is exclusive and for how long, whether you will give interviews to other publications after the story has broken, etc.

4. Send a written outline via email first, and then follow it up by phone afterwards. Not the other way round. Busy people are reluctant to take calls and even if they do pick up the phone they might be too busy to pay attention to an unsolicited pitch. It’s also much easier to consider an idea when it’s written down first.

5. Make sure what you send is error free and well written. What you present will indicate to them whether you can write and present an argument constructively – a key determining factor as to whether your pitch will be successful or not.

6. Think about when you’re sending your email or making the call. If the journalist is on deadline with an article or in the throes of getting an issue to press (also known as putting it to bed) then they are unlikely to have time to pay your pitch much attention.

7. Consider how you use embargoes. An embargo is a request by the news source that the information or news provided by that source not be published until a certain date or certain conditions have been met. It is often used so that journalists have time to prepare (but not publish) their stories ahead of an announcement being made.

The understanding is that if the embargo is broken then the source will subsequently restrict access to further information, thus putting that journalist or media outlet at a disadvantage. It is considered a serious breach of trust to break an embargo and therefore it is rare. However, it is not unheard of, and some journalists will willingly break embargoes if they feel the story is worth it and if they believe that you need them more than they need you.

8. Follow up a response. Editors and journalists receive hundreds of emails every day. They may have missed yours. Chase, but try not to sound too desperate in the process, and certainly do not pester. This will only serve to irritate the journalist. 

9. If pitching feature or blog ideas then feel free to pitch to multiple journalists from different outlets at the same time. However, if you secure a piece then out of courtesy you should let the others know. While you might not mind multiple publications running your article, the editors will and you’ll end up with a black mark against your name.

10. If your pitch is accepted, stick to the brief. Deadlines are sacrosanct. If you miss the deadline then you may miss the print or broadcast date and time, leaving the editor with a gaping hole. They will not be happy. The only occasion where extensions might be available is if an external event has taken place that means you are unable to access the key information required – such as a government announcement being delayed. But don’t leave this to the last minute. If you need to negotiate an extension do so in plenty of time.

11. Sending in copy – the basic rules are to supply it in Microsoft Word or in the body of an email. Definitely not as a PDF. Images must be high resolution Jpegs or Tifs. Do not insert an image into a Word document as it will be unusable for print. Again, check first whether it is necessary to provide images.

This article is an extract from Effective media relations for charities: what journalists want and how to deliver it by Becky Slack. Find out more about the book here

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Becky Slack

founder and managing director, Slack Communications

Becky is the founder and managing director of Slack Communications. She is the former deputy editor of Charity Times, editor of Professional Fundraising and publishing editor of Charity Insight magazines. Becky is also a member of the Understanding Charities Group.