5 Ways To Successfully Pitch To A Journalist

I attended Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone this past Tuesday to listen and shake hands with – in my world of communications – some of Toronto’s media royalty. We were addressed by our host Ms. Katherine Scarrow (Report on Small Business Editor, The Globe and Mail), followed by a panel of young, smart influencers in Toronto media, Erin Bury (CTV Contributor, Managing Director at 88 Creative), Amber Kanwar (Anchor/Reporter, BNN), Darrell Etherington (Staff Writer, Techcrunch) and Matt Hartley (Editor, Financial Post Tech Desk).

They presented that for the most part, journalists are up to their neck in annoying, pointless news they just don’t care about. But rather than making us PR people feel like total failures, they provided tips to avoid being ‘THAT’ person they send to their trash can. Here is a roundup summary of their suggestions on how to better pitch articles.

1)   Don’t yell at them

YOU’RE PROBABLY WONDERING WHAT I MEAN BY THIS, RIGHT?! Did you yell when you read that line? Did it sound like I was yelling at you? Yeah, journalists in print and online media are not big fans of subject lines that include 175 uppercase characters. However, Amber Kanwar, differed from the rest of the panel. TV tends to be flashy and those capital letters actually grab a reporter’s attention. With this said, pay attention to the medium you’re trying to attract. Takeaway: Don’t yell at print or online journalists, but broadcast media outlets will be more receptive to the slight emphasis in your message.

2)   Be clear

The panel was fairly unanimous on this one. If you have a story, complex or not, do not pitch it in the way you would to an expert in that field. A journalist’s job is to make stories easily consumable for the public, so difficult headlines or too much detail wouldn’t work for their audience. Be simple, concise but interesting at the same time – it’s not as easy as you might expect.

3)   Be unique

You still need to spark a journalist’s attention. In order to do this, you have to make them care by providing an interesting and unique story to tell. The fact that your website has over 50,000 users may be interesting to you but what’s it to them, or to anyone else for that matter? Provide an original storyline that journalists can imagine working off of. You should include interesting facts and figures within a story, but do it in a way that adds support and evidence to the information. If the story cannot be expanded upon or related to any other news or trends, it isn’t really a story, it’s just a thought. If journalist’s wanted to report about thoughts they would just look at their Facebook news feed.

4)   Don’t give “exclusives” or “embargoes”

Matt Hartley was adamant about declaring his hatred for exclusives and embargoes. For those who don’t know what they are – shame on you. For those who do and still use them, stop.

Telling a journalist you are giving them an exclusive is a lie – you know it and they know it. Why would a company or individual only want their news in one piece of media? They know you’re probably going to at least nine other media outlets with the same “exclusive story” – so don’t play with their hearts and heads like that. It’s rude and deceitful – they don’t like it and neither would you.

Embargoes are another ridiculous request that Techcrunch banned years ago. If you want a story out, you’ll get it out when a journalist/editor puts it out, not when you say so. If you have a product launch in two weeks, don’t give them a bunch of information and say they can only release the info when you say they can. That’s not their job. Their job is to report new information in a creative way and bring in readers and greater interest to their outlet. Sorry but embargoes are obnoxious and just selfish.

5)   Know them

The majority of my friends and family are not journalists. I have some pretty strong connections here and there but overall, journalists are not the easiest people to meet, unless they’re covering a story on me (which personally, I think they should do more, because I’m a pretty hot topic). For the most part, when a journalist is interested in something, they will seek you out, not the other way around. But, alas, they cannot know everything. So, when people send them a story, it definitely helps to hear it from a familiar voice.

Erin Bury revealed that she is more inclined to open an e-mail from someone she knows first.  What does this mean? How do you become friends with a journalist who isn’t in your immediate circle of friends and family? First piece of advice; be friendly. Shoot them an e-mail and introduce yourself.  Don’t ask them to publish your news right off the bat, get on their radar first. Even more, if you are sending them news, know what they specialize in as a reporter. Don’t send Darrell Etherington a story about how your pet pig can flush the toilet – I mean you could, he might find it funny, but he isn’t going to report about it.

In conclusion, don’t be aggressive with journalists – they don’t like it. Be smart, witty, interesting and likeable. It’s like trying to get someone to date you, but harder. Journalists like to feel special but don’t bribe them either. Unlike a lot of other professions out there, they tend to stick by their code of ethics. My advice is to be honest and transparent but never boring. They may not print your story today, but at the very least they’ll admire you for being credible. As a communicator, that matters more to me than delivering a sensational story without basis.

Happy Friday folks!

Nicolina, Head of Communications, Ask for Task


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