Media pitching is a hard gig.
Knowing how to pitch to a journalist is one thing, but knowing how to pitch a story that gets coverage is something else.
I would know.
I’ve just spent the last month ‘pitching’ two stories to the media. Stories I thought were ‘newsworthy’, ‘piquing with interest’ and ‘super exciting’, only to find out I missed some key elements which make the story a story worth telling (statistics and figures, for one).
And while I had some success with the second one, I also realised that one key element may have played a crucial role in preventing my story from getting covered across multiple publications (timeliness).
To make things even more difficult, when it comes to PR, pitching stories where your clients will be showcased across reputable media outlets in an obviously organic kind of way without appearing ad’y, is that much more difficult.
Now it’s not impossible to pitch a good story to the media, but it’s an art form that takes some time to muster. And a big part of it lies in understanding how the media works, the news cycle, newsworthy angles and what journalists (and their audiences) are looking for.
But above all other things, the most important thing to keep in mind when pitching stories to the media is to pitch the right type of stories (newsworthy and noteworthy), to the right kind of journalists and media outlets (sending a lifestyle story, to a lifestyle writer, of a publication that has a lifestyle section).
And this means you need to do a big chunk of work upfront. You need to know your story, your target audience, and the types of publications that would publish that kind of story. But, you also need to know how to set the story up in a way that ticks the box for what journalists want most. And that is good content.
Top 3 Content Features for Journalists
According to the data collected from 983 journalists surveyed across digital, print, radio, television and podcasting, there are three features journalists value most in story pitches:
#1 News value (44%)
#2 Human interest (38%)
#3 Original ideas and thought leadership (28%)Medianet 2022 Media Landscape Report for PR (Australia)
So in this article, I’m going to explain and take you through the process of pitching a story to journalists. I’ll explain the ins and outs of the entire journey from brainstorming newsworthy ideas to finding the right angles, creating a media list, writing a press release and finally sending the all-important email pitch.
I’ll also share invaluable advice I got from an actual journalist, Jack Evans, News Reporter, news.com.au. Candid and honest insight like that provided by Jack is super helpful, and I’m immensely grateful he was willing to take advantage of a ‘slow’ news night to respond to my questions.
Taking some of his advice and putting it into practice may help save you (and me, I’m sure) some ‘heartache’ (as Jack puts it) in our future media pitch endeavours, so we don’t go and invest hours into writing a press release and an email pitch for a story the media wouldn’t publish anyway.
Top 3 Pet-Peeves for Journalists
68% Story not relevant to their field or audience
48% Content lacks news value
30% Being contacted too often by PRMedianet 2022 Media Landscape Report for PR (Australia)
But alongside Jack’s advice, you can also take advantage of my step-by-step method for pitching to the media which will give you the best chance of getting your story covered.
How to pitch to a journalist in 9 steps:
- Know your story, audience & topic – Ask yourself, who would care (audience), why they would care (is it timely, quirky or a first of a kind?) and what topic it relates to (is it a lifestyle, business or news and current affairs type of story).
- Identify publications to pitch to – Work out what are the publications your target audience reads, listens to or views because they will be the ones that are most likely to cover your story.
- Build a media list of relevant journalists – Research and compile a media list of the most relevant journalists to send your media pitch email to.
- Find the ‘hook’ in your story – Identify how you can position your story to make the journalists think, ‘I can see that in our publication; it’s relevant, timely and intriguing’.
- Write a media or press release – prepare the media/press release along with accompanying media assets (images, videos & resources) ready to copy and paste into your pitch email.
- Draft the media pitch email – Write an email template (for all journalists) or personalised emails (for each journalist) to send to your media contacts list.
- Craft an email subject line that grabs the journalist – Be creative, click bait’y and try to reflect the headline styles of the publication you are pitching to.
- Be available to respond immediately – Keep an eye on your emails and aim to respond within 1-3 hours.
- Follow up (if you don’t get a reply) – follow up once within a couple of days of sending the first email and if you don’t get a response, know the story was not a good fit.
But in case you are a beginner in the world of PR, you’ll need a lot more than the above summary of steps. So keep reading to find out what a media pitch is, who pitches to the media (and why) as well as why it’s well worth your time to labour over a good media pitch.
Let’s get straight to it, then.
Are you ready?
What is a Media Pitch?
A media pitch is a story idea that a person, company, organisation or representative ‘pitches’ to a journalist/s at a media outlet in the hope they will ‘cover’ (turn the idea pitch into an actual, published article) the story.
These days, a media pitch usually comes in the form of an email. In fact, when it comes to PR pitches, 96% of journalists prefer to receive them via email. Usually, that pitch will also include a press or media release, which will be inserted into the body of the email, possibly with an image or two.
By including a media/press release, you give the journalist enough information and links to media assets that will allow them to write up a story quickly (or even copy it directly) and publish it online, in a newspaper or in a magazine.
What is a Media (Press) Release ?
A media release (sometimes also called a press release) is a short news story written for the media or press. The purpose of a media release is to incite the journalist to write and publish a story on the topic. It’s approximately 500 words long (no more), and it’s set up like a news article where the most important information is placed at the top. Good media releases make it easy for a journalist to produce a great story quickly and easily. To see the structure (and how to write a media/press release) scroll down to Step #5.
Now that you know what a media pitch and a media release are let me explain who uses them and why.
Who Pitches to the Media?
Media pitches are normally crafted by the people who sit in the public relations or media relations teams of businesses, companies, organisations or governments. Sometimes, they can also be done by marketing professionals or agencies on a client’s behalf, as well as business owners themselves.
Why Pitch to the Media?
The purpose of any media pitch is to get free (and positive) editorial coverage for your brand, company, client or organisation.
3 Things Editorial Coverage Will Do for Your Brand (And Why it’s Important to Work Proactively on Media Pitches)
The first and most obvious reason why companies (big and small), organisations and institutions pitch to the media is that they have ‘something of significance’ to communicate to the public.
But a lot of the time, the main motive behind a media pitch is public relations (PR). Getting good stories published that reference your brand can:
- Increase brand awareness
- Build a positive public image and brand reputation
- Boost the company website’s SEO (this one is super important!)
And, when it comes to this latter type, it’s not uncommon for media, PR and marketing agency teams to work proactively (and months ahead) on creating newsworthy stories to pitch to the media in the hope they get some good organic media coverage across some of the best media outlets.
Why It Pays to Labour over Your Media Pitch
While the word ‘pay’ doesn’t sit well with editorial coverage (after all, we are not talking about advertorials, or paid media), it definitely pays to spend the time on coming up with a good media pitch. Learning the ins and outs of editorial content and how journalists think will up your chances of pitching media a story they will love and want to cover!
2 Reasons Why You Should Learn How to Pitch to a Journalist:
#1 It’s an organic, naturally fitting story, and it’s free!
Firstly, you didn’t have to pay a cent because the publication and its journalist/editor found it newsworthy enough (a naturally-fitting story) to select and write up. It stood out amongst the hundreds of stories they get pitched every day, which means your ‘news’ was significant enough to broadcast to the public as a story of ‘public interest’.
#2 It may be featured in a reputable publication
All free editorial coverage is great coverage, but when it’s published by a highly sought-after, reputable media outlet, it’s that much more valuable. The higher profile of the publication, the wider the audience reach and the greater your SEO rank (if that publication links to your site directly). I can’t tell you how valuable this is for Google Search and your website’s Domain Authority (DA) (I’ll explore and explain this in an upcoming article. Watch this space.)
What Makes a Good Media Pitch?
A good media pitch is one that’s noteworthy and newsworthy.
A huge chunk of stories you read in the papers or online come from media pitches journalists receive in their inboxes. To get a journalist to tell your story (and showcase your brand, product, service or an expert from your organisation), you need to find a way to position that story (or idea) in a way that makes it noteworthy and/or newsworthy to the publication or media outlet and their audience.
A noteworthy pitch is one where the information is of public importance or relevance. For example, a new CEO or company name change would be a noteworthy pitch.
A newsworthy pitch is one where the information is interesting enough that it would validate a story being published on it. For example, the story of a tradesperson or high school dropout who develops an app that makes him a millionaire in the first year of the app’s launch is a newsworthy story and pitch.
Some Advice on Pitching Stories to the Media (From an Actual Journalist)
There is no better place to get advice on pitching to the media, than the media themselves. So, I reached out to Jack Evan, News Reporter at news.com.au so he could shed some light on what journalists are seeing, and what they are looking for when choosing stories to cover from the piles of pitch emails they receive each day.
Q: How many pitches do you receive a day?
Being at the country’s largest online news site with our emails easily accessible, it wouldn’t be unusual for nearly anyone in the newsroom to get upwards of 30 PR pitches each day.
Q: How do you select the ones you will turn into a story (do they have the perfect headline, accompanying images, statistics etc.)?
Firstly, journalists are in the news business after all – not advertising – and you only need to watch Media Watch each week to see why most news journalists will steer well clear of anything ad’y. This doesn’t mean a PR pitch can’t be news, especially if it’s backed up with good independent data and unprompted case studies. Even better if the company/organisation you’re representing can organically be a part of, or a voice in another trending news topic.
Q: What are the things you wish people would stop doing in their pitch emails?
It is pretty frustrating (and common) when 20 of the 30 before-mentioned daily pitches probably shouldn’t have come my way in the first place. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to check out a network’s homepage, news bulletin etc. and ask yourself, “Does this story fit among this content?”
If it doesn’t, all you’ll do is annoy a journalist.
Perhaps, consider if you even have to target the newsroom, and not the lifestyle, travel, technology writers, etc.
Q: Where do you get most of your story ideas? Do they come from email pitches or elsewhere?
Some do come from PR!
Sometimes, readers reach out after reading a story with thoughts or experiences of their own, which often manifests into their own stories.
There are honestly a million different places ideas can come from – police, parliament, TikTok, a chat at the pub. And I will say most journos love nothing more than a big fat ‘exclusive’ before their stories, so if you can help out there, you might be on a winner.
Q: Where do most press releases fall short?
For me as a news reporter, I need:
- An actual news story that makes sense on our website and relates to what I cover (not an ad).
- Pictures (extra points for video).
- A case study I can interview (not communications manager at *insert company here*).
If you tick these boxes and many don’t, you might get a look in.
Q: As a journalist, do you want to see the person pitching the story put some effort into building a connection with you on a professional level, where they show they read the stories you write and follow and know the types of stories you write?
I touched on this earlier, but it doesn’t hurt to build a rapport.
If you get on a phone call basis, you might even be able to gauge a journalist’s interest at the idea stage before you even write the release, and save yourself some heartache.
Most journos, at most networks will have a profile on their website where you can get a good idea about what they cover, and what they’re interested in.
Where Most Media Pitches Fall Short
The place where I feel most media pitches fall short is in the ideation process. Instead of creating a story around a central newsworthy topic or trend (which is what journalists are looking for), many media pitches focus firmly on talking mostly about their brand (‘A-D-V-E-R-T-I-S-I-N-G) and weaving the broader topic into that story. When in fact, it should be the other way around.
Let me explain in movie terms:
The central topic of your media pitch is equivalent to the leading actor role in a movie.
And your brand, product or company spokesperson is equivalent to the supporting actor role in that same movie. Not the other way around. So make your idea about the bigger picture, and let your brand be the case study that backs (supports) your newsworthy claims and arguments.
How to Find a Good Idea to ‘Pitch’ to a Journalist
Finding a good idea to pitch when you have no obvious ‘news’ can make you feel like you are looking for a golden needle in a haystack. However, there’s one thing you can do to come up with a bunch of promising ideas the media will be interested in covering.
And you can do that by spending some time brainstorming ideas that fall into the nine news angles categories.
9 News Angles to Look For in Pitch Ideas
|Identify a current trend or issue in your industry (or generally) that affects many people.
|Increase in number of people with side hustles
|An event, a milestone or something of significance that is relevant and newsworthy around a particular date.
|A first-anniversary of a newly opened community centre.
|A celebrity or person of importance is seen wearing your brand or product.
|A movie actor posting a social media pic of themselves in your organic cotton sleepwear.
|Linking your story to a seasonal ‘thing’.
|News Year’s resolutions ahead of each new year.
|Something that is culturally, politically or economically significant or significant in your particular industry.
|The opening of the first 100% vegan restaurant in the city.
|A winner or finalist announcement.
|A business being named a finalist in the annual business awards.
|The local impact of an event or announcement.
|How a unique boutique hotel is bringing a flux of tourists
|Linking a product to a trend or to a solution for customers.
|Lightweight, sustainable beach towels that take minimal space in your bag as a story for summer months.
|Responses, reactions or consequences to something else that has taken place.
|An increase in interest rates impacting spending on dining out.
Know Your Business, Brand, Product and Industry
But, before you can come up with any ideas, you need to know the business, brand or product you are trying to get media coverage for. You also need to know the industry it is part of, so do your research and find out what are the key trends and issues in that space.
Also, look for stories, statistics, insights and expertise you can leverage from the brand, business or organisation. Link that data and information to broader news topics and angles by using them as examples or case studies to back your claims.
How to Pitch to a Journalist (In 9 Simple, But Crucial Steps)
The secret to pitching to journalists lies in sending the right story to the right media and making it about them and their audience – not about the story you think is newsworthy and want to see in their publication.
Below are nine steps you can take to write a killer media pitch that will give your story the best chance of being covered.
Step #1 – Know Your Story, Audience & Topic
Ask yourself who would care (audience) and why they would care (is it timely, quirky or a first of its kind?).
Your Target Audience
If it’s a product or service find out more about its target market. Create a mini persona profile that outlines their demographic and interests and get to know the ‘person’ you are trying to reach with your story so you can include information that will resonate with that audience, answer their questions or provide useful tips or solutions to difficulties they might face.
Your Story Topic
Ask yourself what topic your story belongs to. Is it lifestyle, health and wellbeing, business, careers or could it be a combination of two or more?
To help you work this out, visit some online publications to see the categories their news sites are divided into and identify the one where your story belongs. This will set you up for Step #2 where you will look for the most fitting publications and the journalists that will be most likely to cover your story.
Step #2 – Identify Publications to Pitch to
Work out what publications your target audience (the one you identified in Step #1 ) reads, listens to or views because they will be the ones that are most likely to cover your story.
Here, again you need to do some research and reading. Hop onto Google and visit the ‘About’ pages of various publications to scan their readership demographics and any specialist industries and topics they focus on.
In this step, remember to also look for smaller, specialised media outlets that focus on your industry, rather than just the large media outlets everyone targets first (which are also the most competitive).
Step #3 – Build a Media List of Relevant Journalists
Research and compile a media list of the most relevant journalists to send your media pitch email to.
Once you have your list of the most promising publications to target, it’s time to build a media list of the journalists that are most likely to write up your story.
Already Have a List?
If you already have a media list (or a network of media contacts you have a working relationship with, then kudos to you! You are one step ahead). But, if, on the other hand, you have a blank spreadsheet, then read on…
How to Build a Media List From Scratch
There are many ways you can build a media list from scratch, and unfortunately, a quality one can take a bit of time. However, please don’t let this get you down and don’t take shortcuts with this step. Because the truth is, a high-quality media list will increase your chances of getting media coverage. And that is your ultimate goal with a media pitch campaign.
Personally, I find I get the best (and quickest) results if I search similar news story headlines on Google Search (’News’). Generally, the results Google generates will give me the names of some journalists who have written similar stories in the past. I jot these down and build out a list of media contacts for my media pitch campaign.
You can also search for broad topic terms such as ‘business journalists Australia’ or ‘lifestyle reporter Sydney’, but I find, a lot of the time, these categories are too broad. Many business journalists for example focus on a certain segment of business, meaning you then need to sort and land on just the right one.
On the other hand, for many publications, reporters and journalists cover a broad range of topics and don’t have an area they specialise in. That is when the above method works to provide better results.
Focus on Quality (As Well as Quantity)
While it’s better to have more contacts in your media list, it’s not better to have more of the wrong contacts. So be meticulous in your selection process. Spend the time to create a quality list because it will pay off in the long run. And remember, you will also be able to reuse and build out that list further the more media pitches your write.
Keep Tabs on News Websites and Journalists
Make it an unofficial part of your job to keep tabs on the publications and journalists or reporters you have on your media list. Read their articles and follow them on Twitter so you can recognise the types of angles they take and the stories they publish. This will help you get to know them a little better as well as identify new pitch ideas for editorial coverage opportunities.
Step #4 – Find the ‘Hook’ in Your story
Find the ‘hook’ in your story or that little ‘something’ which will make that particular group of journalists stop and think: ‘I can see this as a story in our publication; it’s relevant, timely, interesting and/or intriguing’.
To help you find the ‘newsworthy’ hook, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there a new perspective on a current trend I can take with my pitch idea?
- What new research or unique insights can I leverage to support my pitch idea?
- Is it an ‘untold’ story or the ‘other side’ of a story of a current trending topic?
- Is there a ‘shock’ factor to the story? Something challenging the widely-accepted views of the majority?
If the answer to any of the above questions is ‘YES’, chances are your media pitch ideas have good potential.
Step #5 – Write a Media/Press Release
Before you write an email pitch to a journalist, you need to have the media/press release (as well as images and any accompanying links) ready to copy and paste within the email’s body.
Take the ‘hook’ you’ve landed on in the previous step and write up the media/press release for your story pitch idea using the below format. Note, that while there might be some differences from one press release to the next, generally, they all consist of six key components.
6 Components of a Media/Press Release
- Headline – catchy enough to make you want to find out more.
- Subheadline – summarises the entire story in one or two short sentences.
- Body – several paragraphs providing key details of the story ( who, what, when, where, why and how and the use of expert quotes and statistics and figures which back your story’s claims.
- About – a short paragraph about the company or organisation issuing the release.
- Media Assets – link to associated media assets (possibly a media kit) which journalists can refer to for more information or to download images to use within their story.
- Contact – a sentence with the name and contact details of the person journalists can reach out to for more information (usually someone within the company’s media or public relations team or the person who has written the release).
Example of a Media/Press Release
Step #6 – Draft the Media Pitch Email
Once you have the media release ready, you’re almost there. Check it over once again to make sure it hits the mark and ticks all the journalistic flair boxes (ask yourself over and over again, ‘Is this newsworthy enough and is it something I would want to read about ?) and compose the email pitch.
There Are Two Approaches You Can Take When Writing an Email Pitch to a Journalist:
#1 Short & Sweet – Write one standard email template that you can use for all the journalists in your media list.
Example of a short media pitch email:
#2 Long & Personalised – Write a personalised email pitch for each journalist in your media list where you go into slightly more detail, to show them you understand their publication and the stories they cover. You might also suggest alternative angles they might want to explore with the story.
Example of a long media pitch email:
Both options are fine as long as the emails go to the right type of journalist. The difference is that #2 takes more time and may not be efficient if you have a large media contact list to pitch the story to. However, if you are offering an ‘exclusive’ story to one journalist or publication, you would go with option #2 and make it clear the story you are pitching is only being exclusively offered to them for the next 24-48 hours.
My experience is that option #1 is just as good if your story hits the mark. And with 58% of journalists claiming their ideal story pitch length is one or two paragraphs it gives you all the more reason to stick to the short and sweet option.
Also, remember that most journalists receive several dozen email pitches each day, so a short and sweet email that gets straight into the ‘story’ (or media release) might be the better option.
Step #7 – Write an Email Subject Line That Grabs the Journalist
The subject line of your email pitch is probably the next most important thing after the press release. This is because it sort of determines whether or not a journalist will click and open the email or not.
So my advice here is to not only be creative (and a little click-bait’y) but also to try and reflect the headline styles of the publication you are pitching the story to for editorial coverage.
You can, and should also use text like, ‘TIMELY’, ‘TIME-SENSITIVE’ or ‘EMBARGO’, where it relates to your story. This adds another layer of urgency for the journalist to take a look at your email pitch.
Step #8 – Be Available to Respond Immediately
In many cases, the journalists or reporters may have all the information they need to write up a story just from the media release you have sent through. However, in case they want to make a bigger story out of it, they might come back to you requesting an interview with the person that was quoted. So it’s vital you keep an eye out on your emails after you hit the ‘SEND’ button.
Ideally, you should respond in 1-3 hours to journalists. If this isn’t possible, include another contact in your email they can reach out to in case they are on deadline.
Step #9 – Follow-Up (If You Don’t Get a Reply)
As a general rule, if the journalist doesn’t come back to you, one follow-up email should be enough after the initial outreach. Anything more, may just irritate them and make them blacklist you. And you don’t want to do that. You want to build good professional relationships with the journalists in your media contacts list.
Know that if the story was appropriate for their publication and had all the elements they needed (timeliness, relevance, newsworthiness, credible sources and figures), they would have covered it.
What if You Don’t Get Any Coverage from Your Media Pitch Email?
There could be a long list of reasons why your story doesn’t get covered.
- It may be something the publication has covered recently, and they don’t want to double up.
- It might not be relevant enough to their audience.
- The statistics or figures used to back the story might not be recent enough (this was my miss in a recent campaign).
- You may have targeted the wrong types of journalists or publications.
- It might not be a ‘big enough’ story (not newsworthy enough).
- It’s more marketing and advertising than journalism.
Remember journalists want to tell good stories that pique their audience’s interest. And while there are stories all around us, it takes a bit of skill to find the angle that will make it ‘new’, ‘intriguing’ and ‘exciting’.
Some Things to Remember When Pitching
- Large vs small organisations
- Pitching a media/press release that comes from a large organisation (such as a government or global corporate/organisation) is different to pitching as a small agency or company. For large organisations, just having their name and logo on a press release gets their story into the publication. Small organisations need to do a lot more work to get published, and they need to justify why the broader public would want to know about their ‘story’.
- The days and times you hit ‘SEND’
- Early morning or mid-afternoon of any weekday is a good time to send an email pitch to journalists. Generally, what the journalists care about most is the content of your pitch, not the time you sent it, so focus on identifying quality stories rather than the time of the email sent.
- Targeted emails rather than en-masse
- Don’t flood entire editorial teams across publications with your pitch email. Choose the most appropriate journalists within a publication, send to them and leave the rest out.