Official Blog of Bannon Leadership Consulting Founder Shawn Bannon

Pitch Perfect — Improving Your Chances of Earning Positive Media Coverage

For the better part of four years, I had the good fortune to work as a producer on “Our Region’s Business,” a terrific regional affairs program that airs on NBC affiliate stations in four states just before “Meet the Press” every Sunday morning.  It was a great experience for a lot of reasons, not the least of which are the lessons I learned about pitching the media. 

The world of public relations looks a bit alien and can leave you scratching your head … or contemplating suicide/homicide … when you’re on the receiving end of those pitch phone calls and e-mails.  Once my name appeared in the closing credits of the program, I quickly learned that the pitches would come from every direction. 

When you’re a producer you expect that you’ll get calls from PR folks, but it never occurs to you that you need to be on your guard at family functions or the dentist’s office.  One clown pitched me a story about his business while taking a break from entertaining the children at a birthday party.  I’m not just calling him a clown; he really was a clown – in full makeup, the big shoes, red nose and wig.  Turned out he also did bachelorette parties – definitely not a fit for our Sunday morning broadcasts.  Another time, I was pitched a story about a growing family dental practice WHILE I WAS GETTING A ROOT CANAL.

The timing of those sorts of pitches never seems to be quite right, but I wasn’t ever bothered by them either.  Well, maybe by the clown pitch …  The pitches that really bothered me, though, were the ones by people who make their living doing PR but who didn’t seem to know anything about me or, more importantly, our show.

“Our Region’s Business” covers regional business news, public policy and government, and stories about the people and attractions that make Pittsburgh one of America’s most livable regions.  Those are fairly broad parameters, and you’d think that paid PR professionals would understand that it’s their job to find the angle from which their stories can be covered to fit a given show or audience.  But more often than not I found that the people who pitched me had little understanding of our show and expected me to figure out why their stories would be of supreme interest to our viewers.  Not only did those folks not land their stories on our program, but I found myself less inclined to give them much of my time when they e-mailed or called with other pitches down the road.

Pitching media isn’t all that complicated, but pitching media successfully does take a little bit of effort.  So here are some lessons I learned during my time as a television producer – lessons that continue to help me as a public relations professional.

1. Know something about the outlet you’re pitching.  No PR pro can be expected to be an avid viewer/listener/reader of every television show, radio program, podcast, publication and blog on the planet.  But we can – no, we must – take the time to do a little bit of research before we pitch.  We’re not making cold calls like a bunch of telemarketers.  So spend some time identifying the outlets you’ll be pitching, and use the tools you’ve got at hand – whether you subscribe to one of the big media monitoring packages or you rely on Google – to learn a bit about the sort of stories that they cover.  Approach an editor/reporter/producer with an angle that’s right for her audience, and you dramatically improve your chance of earning coverage.

2. Relationships matter.  The assignment editor at your local TV station doesn’t have to be your best friend, but take the time to learn his name.  Find out what the production schedule is like in his newsroom.  Pitch him before he sends his crews out for the day, and offer yourself and your clients up as resources and experts he can call on when he needs somebody down the road.  Remember, successful relationships involve a give and take.  If you demonstrate that you’ll do your best to come through when an editor or producer asks you for something, he’ll do his best to cover your stories when you call on him.

3. Be flexible; be easy.  I can’t tell you the number of times I was pitched stories that had merit but wouldn’t work for our show the way they were presented.  Often times, if I were pitched a guest whose story wasn’t really as newsworthy as he might think, I’d suggest we pair him with an industry expert who could help to broaden the discussion.  The original caller still got his time in the spotlight, but my job was to make sure the discussion on the show was topical with broad appeal.  After all, we weren’t in the business of putting guests on the show simply to hawk their products and services for seven minutes at a time.  I was amazed at how much pushback I got from PR pros who didn’t want their clients to share the spotlight or who griped because we planned to run their interviews in the B block instead of the lead.  Those folks didn’t get invited back often.  Rather, I’d go time and again to the PR pros who not only welcomed my ideas about broadening the appeal of their stories but had even taken the time on their own to put together a list of possible guest pairings for me to consider.  Bottom line – the easier you are to work with when you’re pitching your stories, the more often you’ll find success getting yourself and your clients in print and on the air.

4. Be flexible; be creative.  Sometimes, your pitch is solid but just doesn’t work.  The angle isn’t right for the show or it’s too similar to something they’ve just done.  Be prepared to reshape your pitch by approaching it from an entirely fresh angle.  Or two.  Or three.  Give the editor or producer on the other end of the line a few different ideas about how she might tell the story.  Even if none of your suggestions are quite right, you just might find she’s intrigued enough that she uncovers an angle you haven’t considered.  And that collaboration between the two of you will pay off in the form of good coverage and a strong, valuable relationship.

Have some tips of your own for successful pitching?  How about stories of pitches gone horribly wrong?  Send them my way; I’d love to hear about your experiences working with – or as a member of – the media.

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7 Responses to “Pitch Perfect — Improving Your Chances of Earning Positive Media Coverage”

  1. Heather McMIchael says:

    Agree 100 percent. I was a TV anchor/reporter for many years and now do PR. I used to refer to PR people as PR weasles until I became one. It’s better NOT to pitch something than to pitch something to the wrong person, at the wrong time with no real news value. Do your homework!

  2. Jay Hamilton says:

    1) Try to make your story or guest timeless. Often producers have last minute cancellations and are scrambling to have any warm body in the studio.

    2) Send b-roll footage and a link to previous coverage. TV still follows print when it comes to reporting.

    3) Persistence – in a pleasant way. Often producers change assignments and you need to re-acquaint yourself with the new person. A story angle may change, too.

  3. Jaclyn Deter says:

    Thank you for the tips. You make some great points here. In media relations, it is critical remember the relationship aspect. Also, I always find it easier to pitch a print publication if I can get my hands on a print or digital copy first. A little homework can go a long way.

  4. Allen Shadow says:

    Good suggestions all. I’ve began as a newspaper reporter/editor, so my PR pitching has perspective. First of all, I’m a relationship builder, not a sleeve-tugger. Editors have come to know that I don’t come to them with a story for no good reason. One example that comes to mind involves the metro editor at the New York Times. He turned one of my pitches into ink a few years ago. I didn’t pitch him again for two years, but he remembered me and my nose for news on his beat. The second story I pitched required a good nose, since it was about two teenage homeschooled brothers who turned their skills in fly-tying into an art form. The editor loved the idea and even spoke to the kids’ father. That one didn’t make it into print, but my relationship with the editor remains solid.

  5. Alison Koop says:

    Great tips! I strongly agree with suggesting several possible story angles. It also makes the PR professional look resourceful and creative–someone the media might check in with on future needs.

  6. Katy says:

    AGREE. I produce a show that airs on PBS affiliates and can’t stand when people don’t bother to ask me if it’s a good time to talk, or briefly tell me what they’re pitching. People need to refine their elevator pitches.

  7. Tony says:

    As a former TV reporter, I would evne take number two one step further and foster relationships with producers and reporters. They need story ideas to pitch in their editorial meetings. Also.. join a journalists association and make some connections.

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