How to pitch to journalists: It's the story, stupid

For PR professionals who are tired of having their pitch shot down in flames by journalists, it's a good idea to get the basics right before making contact, writes Hanover PR consultant Charlie Simon.

It's the story, stupid, argues Charlie Simon
It's the story, stupid, argues Charlie Simon

"Hi there Steve, my name is Charlie and I am calling with a great story about… hello, hello?!?", "Hi Steve, did you get my email regarding…hello?!", "Hi Steve… oh, can I just send you the press release then… thank you?"

Every PR has learned what it feels like to have their pitch rejected before you have had time to completely deliver it. But how many of us design a pitch on the basis that you are not selling a product or mere data set, but instead an actual story that you would want to read?

And to those who say, "Duh, I do", please explain why is it that press still complain that their number one hate is bad pitches from PRs over a "quick coffee".

It is clear from the increasingly symbiotic relationship between ‘flacks’ and ‘hacks’ that it is more important than ever for budding PRs to really understand what makes a story and thus what a journalist will see as an attractive headline.

Of course having a rapport with the relevant journalist helps, but with the ever-increasing amount of copy that papers need to publish online each day, young journalists in particular are desperate for good stories, not good friends.

Having reviewed the main stories of the UK national newspapers one recent morning, along with their business sections, it is very apparent that PRs affected at least two-thirds of the articles.

Upon closer inspection it appears that almost 40 per cent of these stories look like they were active sell-ins by PRs from across the communication sectors.

So why do the horror stories of PRs getting sell-ins shot down continue to be staple anecdotes in the pubs around Chancery Lane, Covent Garden and Victoria?

It seems to me that too many PRs think asking a journalist to write about something that is potentially interesting is the same as preparing a good story and presenting it in the right context.

But remember, the press do not want a fully fledged article from you; that’s just irritating as they have to unpick it. Journalists are far more inclined to write when you have given them good story points placed into a relevant context.

So what is good PR then?

I believe it is composed of four parts:

First, establish the quality of information you have that can be used to build the basis of a story.

Second, do not be afraid to challenge your boss/client to provide more information in order to give the story more depth or data.

Third, you must ensure that the story is placed into a wider narrative in order to increase its relevance.

Finally, present your story in a tailored format to the journalist in question – don’t just Bcc’d the entire media landscape. Add a proper greeting; mention the article they wrote today, comment on a tweet, anything to make it more real.

No one wants to feel like they are an afterthought, particularly when you expect them to publish something.

Charlie Simon is PR consultant at Hanover Communications

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