Pitch Perfect: Tailoring Your Story Pitch to Different Platforms
What are these? They represent the numbers of unread emails I have seen recently in friends’ inboxes as we all try to keep up with the seemingly endless number of requests that flood our computer screens each day.
Does the thought of opening your email send a shudder down your spine? (It no longer does for me, thanks to an extremely organized Castle colleague who should be recognized as a great humanitarian for her ingenious method of inbox categorization, but that’s a blogpost for another day). Then imagine how a news editor must feel sifting through the seemingly endless barrage of news alerts, press releases, tips and media advisories that come across the newsroom transom each day.
Emails battle with each other for attention, which makes crafting the right pitch for the right audience more important than ever. This involves carefully thinking through the media organization—and platform—you are pitching. Below, we’ll go over what to think about when you are pitching different mediums and why it matters.
As a former TV news producer (with a short stint as a local traffic guy, too), I repeat this mantra multiple times per day in my new life as a PR person: It’s All About The Visuals!
If you are pitching a story for a daily newscast, start by thinking about the most gripping visual in your story. Are you trying to get coverage for a groundbreaking event? What time are shovels going into the ground? How about a press conference? When will the mayor be presenting Big Papi with the big award? Home in on these details and make them part of your communications outreach to TV stations so they have a clear understanding of when to show up to get the most compelling video.
Think about the big moment and then also think through one or two other special moments throughout the event that might make for good visuals. The average TV news story is between 90 and 120 seconds, so reporters, producers and news photographers are often only looking for a few minutes of key footage. Let them know in your pitch what those moments could be. Just as you are selling the story to them, they are likely selling it to their news director, who will also be thinking – Nice story, but what’s the visual?
Just as imagery drives a good TV news story, sound is the engine of a good radio story. Years ago, I covered Boston Comic Con as a radio reporter (interviewing My Little Pony on the convention floor was a big moment in my journalistic career). I spent time gathering natural sound of people excitedly mingling as they waited to get a picture in front of the DeLorean from Back to the Future and cheering when comic book writer Stan Lee took the stage. I also have a clip of the guy who voices Tigger from Winnie the Pooh turning down my request for an interview, which sadly never made it on the air. Sound clips like this help create atmosphere for the listener – what it felt like to be in the room.
A good radio pitch will tell the reporter or producer what kinds of sound they will be able to gather and should include some of the event’s atmospherics, so they know they’ll have a story that’s music to their news director’s ears.
It’s important to do your research on whoever you are pitching regardless of medium, but it’s even more important for print reporters. There are a few reasons why. First, generally speaking, print publications still have more specialized beat reporters than many broadcast television and radio newsrooms. You could craft the perfect pitch about that famous musician who is coming to speak at a local college’s commencement ceremony, but if you send it to the crime beat editor instead of the music and arts reporter, it will: a) not be seen by the right person and b) make you look pretty foolish.
When pitching a print story, you may also want to include more background information than you would for TV or radio. Being concise is always important, but don’t be afraid to share a little more of the fine details with a print reporter. Your story may illustrate a trend in the industry they cover. Go deeper so the reporter understands you know what you’re pitching and how it fits into the broader topics they cover.
This is not to say that information = bad when pitching other mediums, but a typical print news story might be 600-800 words while a broadcast story between 60-90 seconds will likely contain only about a third as many. Time and space are less of an issue in print or digital, so don’t be afraid to share additional details if you’re pitching for those mediums.
Doing your research, knowing the reporters you are pitching, and thinking strategically about how you are talking about the story you are trying to get coverage for are all important parts of media relations. But taking that little bit of extra time to tailor your pitches to the various platforms you are trying to attract will give you a better chance of cutting through the clutter of those unwieldy inboxes and getting your story out there.