“Be fast, be reactive and be available – the lifespan of a story is hours, not days.”
So said Chris Bendall, Series Producer on Network 10’s The Project, earlier this month at a #MeetTheMedia event hosted by Media Stable.
I sat in the audience as Chris and five other journalists/producers talked through the art of pitching, that difficult exercise involving contacting journalists and convincing them to cover your story.
In my Heard Communication media training sessions I teach pitching too because it’s a key skill to master: no matter how fabulous you are on camera or on radio, it means nothing unless you can get the journalist interested in you in the first place.
So here, from the #MeetTheMedia journalism coalface, is the 10 steps to pitching:
- Fresh and new. What you’re pitching must be newsworthy, so know what’s fresh and new about it before you make the call.
- Tailor your pitch. Do your research and be familiar with the show, segment or publication that you’re targeting. Know what kinds of stories they cover and the way they cover them, then pitch yours in a similar fashion
- Front and centre. Journalists don’t have time to read your entire media release searching for your hidden story. What’s fresh and new must be clear, and in the top three sentences – preferable the first.
- Timing is everything. Know when your story is at its newsiest and pitch it a couple of days beforehand. Live shows like The Project don’t have a lot of capacity for getting a story on air quickly. Give them time to plan you in. Another tip: don’t pitch on the day of a Royal Wedding or some other big event, because you won’t get a look in.
- Be available. As Chris Bendall says, your story is probably only going to be interesting for a matter of hours, not days. So be ready for that phone call and make yourself available if a news outlet wants you.
- Tell stories. Someone who’s “good talent” is someone who can tell a good story. Tell that story in your pitch – just make sure you do so in a succinct way.
- State your expertise. Journalists/producers are turning to you for credibility, they need someone who knows their stuff. Include a short bio or state your experience in your field.
- Give and take. You might know exactly how your story should be covered but you won’t get everything you want, so be prepared to compromise.
- Plugging feels hideous. Journalists are hard-wired to hear shameless plugs of organisations and ignore them, so mention your organisation once and once only when you pitch.
- Consider a video. The most common way to pitch is through a written media release. But as long as your email has a strong subject line and heading, an embedded video of you pitching your idea might get the cut-through you need to grab someone’s attention.
Perhaps the best advice of the day was this, from James Lush, ABC/BBC broadcaster: “Know your stuff and deliver it in a real, engaging way…Just tell the story beautifully and it will happen.” And that goes for whether you pitch over the phone, via email, face to face or through a video.
For pitching practice using the Eight Universal News Values specifically designed to get journalists hungry for your story, contact Christine Heard at Heard Communication on 0418 821 726 or [email protected]