Taking aim: Successfully pitching to the media

It’s simple, really. If you give reporters something relevant, interesting and new, they will be interested.

That was the advice of four top journalists participating on a conference call during which we discussed the topic of being heard in an increasingly information-heavy world. The journalists on the call included

  • Lisa Belkin, contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, and author of Life’s Work: Confessions of an Unbalanced Mom.
  • Shelly Banjo, personal finance reporter for The Wall Street Journal Sunday. She also writes two columns related to Gen-Y, called Starting Out and the Journal Women’s Fast Track.
  • Abby Ellin, Former New York Times columnist, frequent New York Times contributor, author of Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs in on Living Large, Losing Weight and How Parents Can (and Can’t) Help.
  • Megan Scott, a reporter for the Associated Press, now working on wealth-management stories for the Dow Jones Newswire.

It starts with doing your homework, the journalists agreed. Knowing who they are, how they spell their names and what subjects they cover is critical. If you pitch stories that aren’t in their areas of expertise or you pitch a story that they’ve already written about, you will not only get turned down—they likely won’t even respond—but you may lose credibility for your next pitch, as well.

This almost goes without saying but clearly, it must be said. The topic must be of interest—or even of benefit—to the reporter’s audience. Even if your story has a limited audience, point out why they would be interested. Don’t expect the journalist to figure it out. They are smart people, but they are also very busy.

Which brings us to the next point.

As we all are, reporters are busier than ever. They are now likely writing for several media and have multiple deadlines hanging over their heads at any given time. So, when you do pitch—email is their favourite way to be contacted—get to the point. Immediately. Keep your pitch to about two short paragraphs and lead with the interesting stuff. They simply don’t have time to read three pages of background material unless they choose to do the story.

When you do send background material, remember that many of them are now reading it on their mobile devies. Attachments are difficult to read on these devices so if you can put the material into the body of the email, do so.

During the conference call, there was much talk about what the journalists liked and didn’t like. For example, don’t try to wine and dine them. They don’t like owing anyone anything and, in fact, many are not allowed to accept even a free coffee. Don’t send pictures unless they are requested. Don’t ask for a meeting just to introduce yourself—they just don’t have time.

What it really boiled down to, however, was exactly what was stated in the opening sentence: If you give reporters something relevant, interesting and new, they will be interested.