How to approach pitching print versus broadcast
Whether you work in-house or at an agency, media relations is a big part of life as a PR pro. And it’s not easy given the many other tasks piled on your plate, all in the name of keeping both your internal team and clients alike happy.
As all PR pros know, essential to keeping everyone smiling is landing those all-important placements in everything from key verticals to major national publications. Getting these media hits – not to mention developing relationships with journalists – takes time and plenty of practice. Not only do you have to determine the ideal publications to pitch your story, but identify the proper reporters and then research their previous stories and personal style as well.
In addition to tailoring your pitches to the reporter and growing a rapport with them, there’s also the fact that pitching print publications involves a different approach than with broadcast outlets. How you pitch Good Morning America won’t be the same as the New York Times. Print and broadcast are two different beasts.
If only there were some kind of secret sauce to all this, right? While this unfortunately doesn’t exist, there are plenty of people in this industry who’ve experienced it all and can now impart their wisdom on the rest of us.
So, I thought who better to offer this advice than two of my colleagues who’ve been on both sides as journalists… and on the “dark side” as PR pros. Mike Kelly (MK) is a Senior Account Executive at SHIFT Communications after previously working as a news producer at NECN, while Elizabeth Segran (ES) is a former Account Executive at SHIFT and is now a staff writer for Fast Company.
Here are their takes on how to approach print versus broadcast pitching so you can maximize your time and efforts and start bringing smiles to the faces of your managers and, yes, even your clients.
My biggest tip is…
MK: Keep your pitches short. Broadcast journalists know within two sentences whether the story is relevant and/or visual.
ES: Start months in advance. The print process is notoriously slow. Also, many publications have separate staff members working on digital and print, so be sure you’re reaching out to the right editors and writers.
The difference between working with print versus broadcast reporters is…
MK: Broadcast reporters need visuals. I can’t count how many interesting stories have had to be turned down because there was no video to shoot to accentuate the piece. Try to imagine how you can help broadcast reporters tell your story without making them do extra work.
ES: With magazines, especially, stories tend to be more trend-focused and less news driven. The stories also need to be extraordinary, since there is a limited amount of space. All pitches would need to be exclusives and you would need to provide strong assets: top spokespeople, brand new data, etc.
My biggest pet peeve is…
MK: Sending an email and calling just a couple hours later to follow up. Unless it’s something that you really think would fit one of the day’s top stories, give it a day or two before reaching out.
ES: When PR people excessively follow up both by email and over phone. We get a lot of pitches, and we don’t have time to respond. If you don’t hear back from us after the second follow up, it means we’re not interested in the idea.
The must-haves in a pitch are…
MK: Bullet points. As I said, broadcast producers know within the first couple of sentences whether it’s a fit for their show. If you can reel them in with a couple of quick bullet points for why it’s a fit, the battle is halfway over. If you’re pitching an interview, you must also be able to include what video you can provide to help tell the story.
ES: Succinctly conveying what you are offering and why the story is worth telling.
When pitching, definitely don’t…
MK: Pitch during breaking news unless you’re offering quick commentary, call first unless you already have a relationship with the reporter or producer, or reach out to a regular newscast producer when you should be reaching out to booking producers.
ES: Follow up more than once or phone pitch.
The ideal length of an email pitch is…
MK: A quick paragraph, 3 or 4 bullet points and then some contact info. But if you can make a compelling argument in the first sentence or two, I don’t think it matters how long your pitch is.
ES: Short. The best ones I’ve received are 4-5 sentences that get to the point. Flowery storied pitches hardly ever work.
Journalists receive so many pitches, so you can break through the clutter by…
MK: Offering something unique in the subject line (e.g., “Mike – exclusive look at this company doing this” or “Mike – CEO can speak to this developing story for your show”).
ES: Having a good story worth telling. That’s the only I’m going to bite. No amount of window dressing will change that.
The best time to pitch is…
MK: Dependent on who you’re pitching. If you’re pitching local news, between 8-10 and 12:30-2 are the best times as that’s when reporters are starting to map out their days and newsroom meetings are being held to determine coverage. For national news, you need to find the producer for each specific hour and pitch them in the 4-6 hour range before their show begins. During breaking news situations, everything is fair game.
ES: At the beginning of the week or month. That’s when we have the most mind space to plan stories.
When trying to determine who to target at the outlet…
MK: Research the different shows and reporters to understand what they’ve covered before. While many reporters are on general coverage, some focus on health, tech, business, consumer, etc. Gorkana is also a valuable resource. I always recommend reaching out to the Assignment Desk or to booking producers if available, too.
ES: Read the publication. Also think about the reporter’s interests and the beat they cover. It should be fairly obvious from doing some digging.
The best way to build relationships is…
MK: Prove you know what each individual journalist needs. With the breaking news culture increasingly taking over broadcast, it’s becoming tougher to place clients within interview segments or feature stories because the opportunities just aren’t there. If you can break through with a reporter or producer and provide them with an intriguing story, they’re so much more likely to come back to you if they need commentary on the breaking news of the day.
ES: Provide journalists with strong material. Otherwise, they will see no benefit in investing in a professional relationship with you. Relationships are not necessary, but they make things easier. A personal relationship only buys you a little more patience from a journalist, who might be willing to hear out an idea that isn’t immediately a great fit or that might take time to explain properly.