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So you think you’ve got a great story and you want to get the media to pay attention to it. Easy as calling the newsroom and telling them to come out, right?
Anyone who’s ever tried to pitch a story has been turned down. So what’s the secret to success?
1. Find the why. Your story needs to have impact. It needs to be important to a wider audience of people. It needs to tug at the heartstrings. It needs to be important to more than just the people who are involved in it.
2. Do the research. Dig deeper into your client’s story to find the real news nuggets. Often they’re buried, or they’re overlooked because the people who’s story it is are so familiar with it. I once publicized a story about a little girl who had constant operations over the course of her life and had spent most of her time in a hospital. When we drilled down on her story, we found out that she soon would be celebrating her very first Christmas in her own home. And there was the hook that made it (literally) front page news.
3. It’s who you know. Know who in the newsroom is going to make the decision to cover your story. Sometimes its the reporter who covers that beat; other times (often TV newsrooms) it’s the assignment editor who will make the call. Talk to the person who you need to convince.
4. Watch the clock. Understand when is the most effective time to talk to the news outlet you’re pitching. For spot coverage, it’s before the 8am meeting – which means you need to call a day or two before to get on the newsroom’s radar. For newspapers, don’t bother calling before 10am. And never ever call late in the afternoon (after 3pm) when everyone is on deadline.
5. Make it special. Reporters love exclusives and putting their own spin on a story. Sometimes you’ll have an event or press conference that’s designed for mass coverage, and that’s fine. But other times, think about trying to give the reporter something special that they can claim as their own. You’ll likely get a bigger story out of it and develop a relationship that will live beyond the story.
6. Add the elements. Anything you can add to the story, especially a social media component or something to involve the media outlet’s audience – will make a story more attractive. These have to be genuine outgrowths of the story, not just shameless tweets and facebook posts.
7. Follow up. Reporters hate being thanked for their “great story” because it makes them feel like you think they did you a favor, when in fact, they were doing their job. But it’s my experience they like being thanked for caring about an important issue, because that shows you recognize the value of what they’ve done.
8. Never give up. You will be turned down. Babe Ruth struck out far more times than he hit home runs. But if you don’t swing, you’ll never hit the ball.