The Art Of The Pitch

Pitching reporters – aiming to get a tailored message across to a target audience – is one of the most vital facets of public affairs campaigns.

A pitch is your initial means of communicating your argument, insight, scoop, etc. If your pitch is a dud – meaning it lacks newsworthy, compelling substance – it will likely fall on deaf ears.

No good journalist accepts everything thrown his or her way. That’s (thankfully) not how this works. Think of your pitch as a story – if it’s dull and irrelevant, who would read it?

You must be adaptable and shrewd when pitching. Your hook should be newsworthy and timely.

To be sure, you may devote hours or even days crafting what you feel is the perfect pitch just for it to be shot down, but at least you did your homework. Sometimes that initial “no” snowballs into a valuable opportunity down the road.

For further context, I asked Roll Call’s former Opinion Editor Rebecca Gale to share some insight from the receiving end of the pitch. Here’s what she had to say:

“Good pitches, in my opinion, come from someone who’s engaged and informed,” said Gale. “When people tweet [at] me or send me a note demonstrating they’ve read my work – and perhaps have a smart idea for a future story on a related topic – I’m more apt to respond than when someone blindly sends me a pitch on something not even remotely on my radar.”

“Keep in mind, journalists love exclusives. That’s the kicker: Give them something you’re not giving to everyone else,” added Gale. “In most instances, by the time the press release goes out, the news has already happened. Of course, releases can be both informative and helpful; however, it’s best to offer a reporter something that’s not widely available.”

Drafting and sending a worthy pitch is hard work – it requires finesse. You must research the who’s and the what’s, the where’s and the why’s – and as mentioned, your pitch should be useful to the reporter.

Reporters’ inboxes are flooded on a daily basis – there are even sites devoted to sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly in pitching. To help your pitch stand out from the pack, here are some tips to keep in mind:

What are you pitching, and to whom? Reporters do not want to be spammed with pitches irrelevant to their beat. Be sure you’re reading what Reporter X has written on before you pitch him or her. Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes. Would this person be interested in what you’re sending? If not, perhaps there’s a more appropriate angle to leverage, one that supports the type of work Reporter X is interested in covering.

Sure, you may get lucky in sending a “blast pitch” – but sending a one-off, tailored pitch to a reporter who may have a genuine interest in your idea is a more strategic, more effective approach.

Do you know what you’re pitching? Become knowledgeable on the subject at hand. Does this mean you need to be a leading thought leader on the issue(s) you’re pitching? No. However, if you have no grasp of the material in your pitch, it may come across as disingenuous. Just as you research journalists’ interests, familiarize yourself with the issues you’re pitching.

The best pitch ideas come when you truly understand an issue and can communicate its importance succinctly. What’s more, if you learn both the material you’re pitching, and the climate around that issue, you’ll be able to target the ideal contact at the optimal time.

For instance: If you’re pitching a story on the need for energy independence, knowing what’s happening in the energy space is of the utmost importance (i.e. What’s the status of Keystone? Which states have high numbers of careers supported by nuclear power? Does the reporter you’re pitching have a history of writing pieces that favor renewables?).

Do your efforts support a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with the journalist(s) you’re pitching? As you can imagine, when pitching story ideas tied to particular issues and efforts, there will be certain press circles with whom you interact more regularly than others. But keep in mind: Reporters are not robots. They have a wide range of needs and expectations – learn those and adapt.

Draft interesting leads. Provide off-the-record comments when constructive. Offer sources – and third-party allies – who are among the best and the brightest. If you gain intel related to a particular reporter’s beat, give your contact a call. It’s about relationship-building. You should never view your efforts as transactional.

Does your pitch efficiently get the point across? Reporters are busy – now, more so than ever, given the financial changes many outlets are experiencing and the rapid growth of the new-media industry. So your pitch shouldn’t be a 12-chapter memoir. It should be punchy. Bottom line: get to the point.

Key takeaways here: Spend time learning what may be of value to your friends in the media. Offer them knowledgeable sources and reliable tips. Respect their deadlines, and know what you’re pitching.