In my 20 years in broadcasting, I was on the receiving end of a lot of story pitches. Admittedly, many were quickly deleted. Statistics show the average reporter spends just seconds reviewing a press release before deciding whether to hit delete or read a little further.
So how do you ensure your story doesn’t wind up in the trash?
Here are TEN TIPS from a reporter's perspective:
- Write an attention grabbing headline. There’s a saying in the business, “Don’t bury the lead”. Give me the most important information at the top of the page. I may not make it to the bottom. Producers and reporters days are fast paced and filled with deadlines. They don’t have a lot of time to spend reading long press releases, so make sure the most important information is at the top. A strong headline may gain you another 20 seconds of attention, enough to explain your pitch and allow them to make a decision.
- Use correct grammar and spelling. If you don’t, I think you’re unprofessional and careless. (Remember, I’m a communications major!)
- Send the press release directly to the recipient. Include a personal message to me with the press release, telling me why this is a great story. It’s also a good idea to know what station I work for and the name of the show I work on. Reporters take pride in their work and the companies they work for. Don’t include the name of the competing station.
- Keep your pitch short and to the point. It should never be more than one page and hopefully a lot less.
- Include the who, what, where, when, how and why of your story. There’s nothing more frustrating than to receive a press release about an event and the date or location isn’t included. In addition, some consider the traditional press release to be dead, but I always appreciated having all of the information I need to know on a single page that I can easily print and take with me to the shoot.
- If you are representing a company, try not to be too self- serving. Look for opportunities to make your story about more than your business. Be aware of topical stories related to your industry and don’t hesitate to reach out and offer your ‘expert opinion’. You can also be creative about how your company can give back to the community.
- Don’t send me pitches through social media or my personal email. Even if we’re friends, my work email is best. I can’t keep track of that many inboxes and if I need to reach you just before the shoot, I may not be able to find your information.
- Build relationships with media contacts. But don’t be disappointed if I can’t accept your invitation to lunch. I don’t have much free-time and rarely get to take lunch.
- Ask yourself these questions: Is it newsworthy? Is it visual? Is the story easy to tell? These questions will help dictate whether or not I can cover your story. Even if you gave birth to me and want me to cover a story, I don’t have complete editorial control. Ultimately my producer, executive producer, news director, assistant news director and sometimes the general manager have the final say in what gets covered.
- And finally, if you aren’t getting a reporter to call you back, think about how you can tell the story yourself. Consider pitching to smaller publications or media outlets, and don’t overlook the power you have on social media of sharing your story.