Graphic of computer, cell phone, TV and microphone.

Pitching journalists doesn’t have to be intimidating. It turns out, journalists, reporters, bloggers, and podcasters are like us. They have a job to do, and usually not enough time to do it. But, they also have hundreds of people calling, emailing, and tweeting them daily with unrealistic requests for coverage, and in the digital age, their deadlines never end. So be deliberate. When trying to gain coverage for your company (what PR folks call “earned media”), consider these tips.

Have a purpose with your pitching

General publicity, or wanting coverage because a media outlet covered a competitor, is not a purpose. When planning to do a publicity campaign, consider what your goal is for the communications with questions like these:

  1. Who is the target audience we are trying to reach?
  2. What stage in the purchase cycle is this audience?
  3. What messages do we tell this consumer at this point in the cycle in our other marketing channels?

When working with trade and consumer media, you’re never going to have as much control over your targeting and messaging as you do with advertising. But you still need to answer these questions to determine the media outlets and journalists to target. Then you can translate your messaging strategy to PR.

Find and pitch to your niche in the news cycle

In paid media, you develop your target audiences, your messaging, your channels, and you hit go and it’s out there. Your messages are usually some form of “we’re the best” at whatever you do. Unless you have some incredible, newsworthy award like winning a Nobel Prize – the media does not want to talk to you because you claim to be the best.

Closely related to “we’re the best” is the pitching angle brands normally want to take – the “innovative solution.” This is also the least likely to generate coverage because reporters are skeptical of innovation claims. Rightly so, since almost every brand claims innovation. To make this claim stick, you have to have strong proof that you’re innovative – support from an independent, third-party expert helps – and you have to be addressing a problem that is already in the news cycle. Reporters are generally not interested in hearing solutions to problems that only a few people care about.

The most effective angle, and the most dangerous for brands, is conflict. Companies hate conflict. But the media loves it, and if you want to be published, you play by their rules. If you can make a credible claim to be an expert on a topic that is currently or will soon be in the public discourse, and you have a strong opinion on that topic, then you may have a good shot at media coverage. Effective pitches satisfy all these criteria. Opinions from people with no credibility go into 2¢ columns. Sharing opinions on topics that aren’t of concern to most readers, listeners, or viewers is just wasting a reporter’s time. Of course, there’s a tradeoff to this approach. Verify that it advances your marketing goals before wading into a public fight.

Another interest for the media is “news you can use” or consumer tips. This is less powerful than conflict but is also generally safer for brands. Whether the media wants your tips still depends on your credibility and whether it’s of public concern at the moment. For example, after a major consumer data breach, the media talks to IT security experts for tips consumers can use. In this scenario, “IT security expert” is a relative term, so unless you can make a claim to be a nationally known expert, it’s unlikely USA Today wants to talk to you. However, you may be a perfect fit for your local TV station that is trying to tell a local story angle to a national story.

Be early and be brief with your pitching

In the above data breach scenario, enterprising security experts will inundate reporters with calls and emails. That’s why, whenever possible, it works best to contact a reporter when coverage of a topic seems likely to happen, but has not started.

For example, the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) is in early January every year. Without fail, every December tech reporters start tweeting complaintsabout the hundreds of emails company PR flacks send them with requests to see their products at CES. In reality, reporters start planning CES coverage the summer before. That is the time to pique their interest and get on their list of booths to visit.

Plan a calendar of events likely to generate media coverage for the topics you care about, and then plan to send pitches in advance of those events. For major events like CES, or CONEXPO-CON/AGG, start your pitching months in advance. This is especially important if you are pitching reporters who write their articles well in advance of an event. This is often the case with magazines.

When it comes to actually pitching the media – don’t overthink it. Send a brief email (two to three sentences) explaining who you are, what makes you credible, and what you can offer. Then end the email by asking the reporter if he or she wants to speak with you further. Ending with a question helps spur a response. Just make sure you’re pitching a reporter who would cover your topic (read his or her past coverage) and that it satisfies the above criteria of timeliness and newsworthiness. And above all try not to end up here.

Once you successfully reel in a reporter with a good pitch, then it’s time to talk. Check out our post about media training for more on that.