Pitching Advice From National Reporters

Not long ago, I attended a HARO webinar on how to pitch reporters. The reporters participating in the event included someone from USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, a freelancer for Crains New York Business, and a guy who covers weird news for AOL News.

Although I cannot say that I learned anything earth-shakingly new during the webinar, the reporters’ comments certainly reinforced much of the advice I’ve provided in previous blogs about pitching the media, although what they said often applied more to national print media than local print media.

Here is a recap of what the reporters said during the webinar:

How to Pitch. Nearly all of them prefer to be pitched via e-mail so they can read what you are proposing at their leisure. Do not make your initial pitch via the phone and no faxes!

The reporters said that they like short email pitches that get to the point immediately – in the very first sentence. For example: “My idea is this…” or “My news hook is this…” Including a link to your web site (or your client’s site) is a good idea too as is using short bulleted lists to quickly convey your information. The reporters also advised providing a context for what you are publicizing so it's clear why they ought to pay attention to your news. For example, is the subject of your pitch part of a broader trend, does it relate to something in the news, etc.?

Pitching Via Social Media. All of the reporters said that they do not want to be pitched on Twitter and all but one (the weird news guy) does not want to be pitched on Facebook either. (Half of the reporters said that they do not use Facebook in their work.)

Subject Lines. The reporters receive hundreds of emails every day so they are more apt to open yours if your subject line is clear about what you are pitching and obviously tailored to them rather than being part of a mass email effort, and if your subject line shows that you understand their beat.

They also advise that if your pitch is time-sensitive, that you identify the news hook in your subject line. And, they warn that if you use the word exclusive in your subject line, make sure that what you are pitching is truly newsworthy, national in scope, and would serve a reporter’s readers.

Don’t use the phrase “Quick Question” in your subject line, something the reporters said they see a lot. Be totally up-front about what you want from a reporter.

Follow Up. Reporters do not mind some initial follow up after you send them an email because they know that they are very busy and so they may miss your message. However, all of the reporters warned not to followup by phone when they are on deadline.

Press Releases. The reporters do not like them, although they like receiving emailed emailing fact sheets so that they have all relevant information related to your news in one place. Don't send the fact sheet as an attachment however, unless a reporter specifically requests that you do. (Note: HARO strips out any attachments sent in response to queries on its site, so reporters never see them.)

Books. None of the reporters want you to send them your book. It’s a waste of your time and money because the book will just end up in a pile and go unread. If you want them to know about a book, tell them about it in a short email and if they want a copy, they’ll ask for it. They also noted that because many reporters work from home, they are unlikely to see unsolicited books that show up at their offices and so someone else is apt to end up with them.

Top Mistakes!
• Thinking you or your business is the news. Explain how what you are publicizing relates to something larger. Provide a news peg.

• Not understanding what a reporter covers and who his or her readers are.

• Sending a pitch with spelling errors or not getting a reporter’s name right.

• Exaggerating. Don’t make claims you cannot back up with data. If you make a claim and cannot prove it, you’ll burn your bridge with the reporter.

• Pitching a story like one a reporter just wrote about or wrote about a few months ago. Get on Google and research what the reporter has written about recently.

More Stuff.

• All of the reporters indicated that they love it when an expert lets them know that they would like to be a resource for a future story. If you make this offer, explain why you are an expert and what you have to offer and make sure that your area of expertise relates to what a reporter writes about. The reporters all indicated that they maintain databases of experts they may contact sometime.

• According to the reporters, embargoed news (News that is not supposed to be released until a certain date.)is pretty much a thing of the past, and in fact, reporters with the The Wall Street Journal do not accept any pitches with embargoes -- those pitches get deleted.

• Don’t mail products to the media. Most media outlets have strict rules that either prohibit reporters from accepting any products at all or that limit the value of a product they can accept to no more than $20, in most instances.

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