The cornerstone of any PR campaign is gaining media coverage. Yet pitching a story to a journalist can be a challenging task for any public relations professional, given the sheer volume of stories being sold into the media every day.
According to Propel, the PR management software company, the average journalist response rate to story pitches is down 12% from last year. So, how do we get journalists to give us the time of day? What PR professionals require is a pitch strategy, an arsenal of tactics to cut through the noise, and a story that will capture the journalist’s interest.
Easier said than done, right? I recently participated in a PRCA workshop titled “Selling into the Media”; the session shed light on the challenges of pitching stories to the media successfully with Steve Dunne (FPRCA) providing invaluable insights.
Below are my five key takeaways from the session:
Cater to the Reader’s Mindset
If your emails are going unanswered, ask yourself – does the story fit the journalist’s news cycle or provide a new angle that hasn’t been seen in the news recently?
News is generally about people – what they say, what they do, how they behave and how things affect them. The best way to find a fresh angle is to monitor and analyse the daily news agenda and shape your content around this. Are there any ‘current’ hot topics for the media, when did they last cover the topic, and what is their stance? Put the story into the context of the reader and how it could change an individual’s life or a business’s productivity.
Even a non-human story may have a human element. Remember to include the Five Ws and How (who, what, why, where, when) in your pitch, making it significant to the reader of the publications, rather than just looking at it from the client perspective and the message they want to convey.
Monitor the News Agenda
In addition to the above, look at the publications that matter to the client and see what they are talking about. Analyse specific stories – why did story X appear on page 1 but in another publication appear on page 6? Is there a specific stance the journalist or outlet has and what are the top keywords that you can incorporate into your content and pitch?
Watch the morning and evening news, and put time aside to actually read the newspapers. Getting ahead on the news agenda will help you identify how worthy the story is and the impact it will make on the reader.
With nearly six PR professionals for every one journalist, standing out from the crowd is important. Creating a connection is one way to make your pitch stand out in their inbox. Taking the time to meet journalists for a coffee and have a conversation about the industry, what interests and excites them and the trends within sectors, is a great way to expand your network and step out of your comfort zone. It will show journalists you aren’t just interested in scoring a piece of coverage but have a shared common interest. Building genuine relationships will help get you the time of day others aren’t necessarily granted.
Demonstrate Value to the Media
Pitching can seem quite daunting. However, as a PR professional, there’s no better feeling than seeing your company or client featured in a publication.
The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, was one of Vilfredo Pareto’s most noteworthy theories, which found that 80% of outcomes often come from 20% of the related inputs. Using the principle, we can say that 80% of the news comes from the media and 20% is where PR efforts come in. Identify the publications you want to reach out to and create an A, B, and C list.
- A – 10-14 publications you know will take the story.
- B – Publications you will outreach to via phone call.
- C – A list of publications that would be nice to have coverage secured in. They will receive an email pitch.
PR pitches should be short, engaging, and relevant to the topic and time. Also, remember to lead with how the story would be great for the publication’s readership! According to Propel:
- The most engaging subject lines were 1-5 words long.
- Pitch leads between 50 and 79 words had the highest average journalist response rate (3.96%).
- The most engaging pitches were less than 150 words long.
- Pitches with 2-3 embedded links continued to score the highest average journalist response rate (3.8%).
Timing is Everything
Timing is so important when pitching content to journalists. They are constantly bombarded by emails from PR professionals, some receiving between 20-30 cold pitches per day. When considering who you will reach out to, make sure your timing is impeccable by knowing the rhythm of the media you are dealing with.
Take a moment to consider where they sit in the food chain and be aware of who does what. Remember that reporters will most likely always have to sell the story up. Calls to media should take place between 8.30-11am and the earlier in the week the better. Propel sees similar results with email; the majority of pitches are opened within the first 10 minutes of landing in a journalist’s inbox and the best day for responses is Wednesday.
Building strong media relations is a skilful process. It takes time, thoughtfulness, trust – and all the other factors that make up a typical successful relationship in the real world. Here at C8, we are highly focused on making sure that we take the time to build those relationships and respect the journalist’s time and inbox.