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How to Pitch the Media
Fastballs, curveballs and wild pitches
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by Jon Greer
The Media Bridge

Jon GreerWhat's the best strategy for pitching stories to reporters? As we all know, journalists hate to be bombarded with pitches, especially those pitches that are not relevant to their beat or specialty. But it's often hard to know exactly what a reporter's beat is, even with the help of databases. And when you do figure out a beat or coverage area, there's no guarantee that a) the journalist will respond favorably to your pitch, or b) the journalist is still even on that beat since reporters change jobs and switch beats a lot. 

There's also a lack of uniformity in the media defining beats: for instance, some retailing reporters might also cover e-commerce, but at other publications, that sector might be covered by an "Internet" reporter. And at some publications beats are not strictly adhered to, meaning that a reporter can write any story that interests them.
 
Given that background, there are three basic ways you can build a media list to pitch a particular story:

  • Fastballs: If you do a lot of homework, you can build a highly accurate media list that includes only those reporters who cover a certain beat or topic, using a media database and doing research (such as looking up past stories) to create that list. If you do this, you will be pitching fastballs -- that is, fast, straight-ahead pitches right to your targets. 

  • Curveballs: You can also be creative in building a media list, adding general assignment and feature reporters, or other reporters who might be interested in the story. Then, when you follow up, you tailor your pitch to what you know about that reporter's interests. Here's a story from my past: I was covering the advertising industry for the San Francisco Chronicle and opened the paper one day to find a big feature on an advertising agency in the Entertainment section. When I later asked the PR person why he didn't pitch me the story, his answer was simple: because he knew I wouldn't cover it, and he instead pitched it to a friend in the Entertainment department who would. And he was right -- I would not have found that story worthy of a business section write-up. But he got his clip for his client. 

  • Wild Pitches: You know what I mean here -- pitching everyone in sight, from the managing editor down to the lowliest cub reporter. Journalists hate this, but there's a reason PR people do it: it sometimes works and it's not that much more expensive than the other two approaches. The reason it sometimes works is that by spreading the story to the widest audience, you may find a reporter willing to do the story who otherwise might have slipped through the cracks.

What's the best approach? In my view, wild pitches are disrespectful of the media and do not put your company in a favorable light. But I wouldn't limit myself to fastballs only. For most stories, I would recommend building a media list with all the fastballs you can find, plus some additional curveballs to increase the odds of the story being picked up.


This article was adapted from MediaBridge Extra, a free e-mail newsletter about media relations written by former journalist Jon Greer, founder of the MediaBridge corporate communications and media training firm in Emeryville, CA. For more information about MediaBridge and a free Extra newsletter subscription, visit www.themediabridge.com or email info@themediabridge.com.





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