It’s a technique that’s been used for years by public relations firms and marketing companies: pitch a news story idea or subject matter expert to a media outlet in the hopes that they’ll talk with and/or about your client in a positive light. It’s a proven method for helping to shape the public’s (or the industry’s or the government’s) view of an individual, company or organization.
When I worked as a reporter, producer, anchor and news director for more than three decades, I received more than my share of these kinds of pitches. They ranged from very helpful to horribly misguided. I found that the best pitches were those that were timely, topical, geographically pertinent, interesting, and unique. It was clear that the agencies or individuals that sent those pitches were paying attention to their target outlet and the types of stories that my newsroom routinely covered. Some even forced me to “think outside the box” about how my audience would be informed by the topic/expert.
However, as a member of the media, I don’t think that I truly understood the business of these subject matter expert pitches. How was my outlet selected? Why was it selected? How was the pitch’s effectiveness evaluated? Did my reaction (or lack of reaction) to the pitch provide some type of valuable feedback to the sender? That information was unknown to me and, I suspect, unknown to most in the media.
Many of the pitches that I saw followed the standard formula. “We have an expert who can talk about (fill in the blank.) It’s important because everyone needs to know about (fill in the blank.) We would love to engage with your readers/viewers/listeners/website visitors.”
Those that did stand out were those that included one or more of several important elements. These are features that those in the media are looking for when they receive any kind of pitch from a firm or representative.
- Is the subject matter or the subject matter expert that you’re pitching talking about something new? (Yes? Great!) Or has it been out for a while and you’re trying to see if you can get some renewed traction on it? (Not so good.) The information should be current (A new report? A new product on the market? Announcing a new expansion?) because most, if not all, media are looking for the latest information. They don’t want to sound like they’re rehashing old material.
- News hook. Pay attention to what’s going on in the region where you are pitching. Does your expert or information have a connection to something happening there? Can you tie it (or them) to a newsworthy topic that people are really interested in right now? Be realistic, though. There were too many pitches over the last year and a half that were written with the COVID-19 pandemic “hook.” Your connection to a news peg must make sense.
- Is it unique? When presenting material to a media outlet, it’s very important to think about what makes it different from other information that’s been available. Reporters want unique and interesting subject matter that will resonate with their readers, viewers and listeners. Editors and News Directors will be thinking, “Why should people care about this?” You should be thinking the same thing.
- Local. This element is designed for those pitching to non-national media outlets. Local newsrooms, naturally, are looking for information that affects the residents that they serve. While the Internet has made almost every local news outlet more accessible to everyone everywhere, the pitches that will see successful traction are those that are tailored to a specific local market. Find out what’s happening in those markets. What do people care about? What are their “pocketbook issues”? Answering those questions will go a long way toward helping you understand what might work in marketing your expert or story idea.
TVG has an experienced team that understands what the media wants and needs. Using that experience and knowledge of the news media, we help our clients convey their messages and reach their target audiences. We work with them on how to best present their experts or ideas, as well as preparing media relations plans for both the short and long term.
By Bill Raack, Senior Director at The Vandiver Group in St. Louis, Missouri. Bill spent more than 34 years in journalism and was formerly the News Director at St. Louis Public Radio (KWMU).
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