5 tips for timely media pitches
When playing the stock market, they say timing is everything, but in pitching stories to the media, timing is just part of the equation. You have to start with a solid pitch that adds value and is not overtly self-promotional. Not only that, you have to craft an engaging subject line in order to stand out among the hundreds of emails editors and reporters receive weekly.
Once the text of your media pitch is finalized (with a little leeway for some customization) you have to decide when is the optimal time to send it. Following are some general guidelines:
- Know the publication/news cycle of the outlet.
Long-lead publications like lifestyle magazines are already working on content for six months to a year out, and won’t likely respond to a pitch about an event or news story happening right now. Conversely, many news websites update multiple times a day and might be interested in pitches that relate to extremely topical events.
Don’t pitch broadcast or daily news reporters late in the afternoon when they’re deep into the stories they’re already working on for that day. Similarly, I don’t pitch to our local business weekly on Wednesday afternoons because I know that’s when they are “putting to bed” that week’s issue. Keep in mind also that many syndicated TV talk shows cease production during summer months and just show reruns.
- Leverage current events and seasonal trends.
Although I detest the term “newsjacking,” I do understand that PR professionals want to tap into the current buzz in order to interject their employer’s or clients’ perspectives. I would urge caution, however, not to appear to capitalize on tragic events or to pitch off-topic. Keeping in mind the production/news cycles mentioned above, appropriate examples of this type of pitch include summer safety tips, annual industry forecasts, holiday gift giving, etc.
Our client SearStone has a resident who is a retired TV sports director who was involved in one of the most influential decisions ever impacting an NFL broadcast. After several unsuccessful pitches related to that story, and with the 2018 Winter Olympics capturing the public’s attention, we pivoted and began pitching his experience directing Olympics sporting events. Within a week he was interviewed by a local sports anchor for a segment that aired multiple times.
- Anticipate upcoming events.
One of our most successful media pitches happened a few years ago when we learned that President Obama would be addressing cyber security during his State of the Union address. We were able to quickly draft and pitch a guest article from an attorney who specializes in that field, and secured placement on entrepreneur.com.
In this instance we are able to match an appropriate subject matter expert with an important topic and link it with the timeliness of the president’s address. We pitched the editor right before the speech, completed the draft the day after the speech, and the article appeared a few days later.
- Avoid pitching on Fridays if possible.
There’s a well-accepted rule in public relations that Fridays are the worst days of the week to distribute press releases. The same is true of media pitches, unless you are pitching to weekend assignment editors at local media outlets. Just like most of the general population, journalists are probably already thinking about the weekend and not likely to respond to a pitch received on a Friday.
- Follow up once, but not too soon or too late.
Many surveys of journalists indicate they prefer email pitches to phone calls. Likewise, most detest follow-up calls along the lines of “I’m just calling to see if you’re interested in what I emailed you the other day.”
Having said that, I have called journalists I have an existing relationship with to draw their attention to my emailed pitch. However, I’ll do this infrequently and only when the pitch relates to a topic I know he or she is interested in.
For the most part, it’s okay to follow up once – after two outreach efforts, you can assume they are not interested at this time. If I follow up by phone, it’s usually the day after my email pitch. If I follow up by email, it’s usually 2-3 days later. Any sooner, and they might not have had time to scan their inbox and potentially read the pitch. Any later, and they probably have already forgotten the email or made up their minds.
In general, remember that journalists’ time is valuable, so don’t waste it. Don’t be annoying and don’t badger them. If you do successfully pitch a journalist, they are more likely to remember you and perhaps pay more attention to your next pitch. Good luck!