5 Tips for a Great PR Story Pitch

story pitchEvery public relations professional knows that a story “pitch” occurs when you contact a journalist or blogger and offer them a description of a potential story.

While this may be one of the most utilized public relations skills in the business, it’s hard for young professionals to understand and develop this skill without having first participated in an internship with a PR agency or firm that practices it regularly since one can’t learn story pitching from a textbook.

As unfortunate as this may be, facts are facts: You need experience story pitching to make it as a public relations practitioner. I’ve compiled a list of 5 tips and resources for writing, packaging, and pitching stories to the media for young public relations professionals. If you have any additional suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below sharing your expertise and additional resources.

Familiarize Yourself with the Journalists

Your communications professor has said it, your internship supervisor will say it—everyone will tell you this—a careless story pitch can ruin your relationship with a journalist or blogger. Think about it, if I write a blog about public relations, social media and online marketing, why would I want to receive a story pitch about a cheese and cold cut promo at the local deli?

Alison Kenney of Lindsay Olson.com says that, “If you ask any reporter for tips on pitching them, 9 times out of 10 they’ll say, ‘read my writing.'”

Don’t be the public relations person that blasts large lists of journalists with irrelevant content. Research topics journalists at your desired outlet usually cover, and review what’s currently trending at that outlet and with some of its competitors. Familiarize yourself with some of a blogger’s work by reading at least 3 of their most recent articles related to your topic. This will not only help identify who the best contacts are at each outlet, but ensure that you can comfortably communicate why this story would be well-suited for their portfolio of work.

Here’s a tip: Check out the tags at the bottom of most online articles—are your client’s keywords there?

Identify Your Top 10 Journalist

Dr. Malayna Williams of PWR New Media suggests that you maximize pick-up by targeting journalists wisely and getting permission from bloggers prior to sending a story pitch and Jeremy Porter agrees. Porter, who is currently an editor of Journalistics, says that, before you even start pitching your story, it’s best to “know without a doubt the top 10 journalists” you’re targeting for the story. He says that this will reduce the amount of time wasted blasting a story pitch to a large list and give the pitch a greater chance of being picked up by larger, more competitive media outlets.

This will also allow you to focus your efforts on a select number of journalists, making this task more manageable and allowing you to better tailor your efforts to each professional’s preferences. You can always refer to your original list of journalists for additional pitching opportunities if you strike out with your Top 10.

Make it Relevant to Readers

When it comes to story pitching, Kenney suggests that you remember the saying, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Just like the journalists you’re pitching, it’s important for you as a public relations professional to always keep the target audience in mind and be ready to clearly communicate the unique qualities of the story in relation to the readers’ concerns. Today’s online content has a heavy focus on how the audience will interpret the information, so be ready to answer the following questions: What would make someone share this information with their followers? Is this something another person would find helpful or is it too advertiser-oriented?

In her article on digital public relations story pitching, Miranda Miller suggests using an introduction that “states your unique value proposition upfront in one or two sentences. Tell the reader who you are, why you’re a valuable source of information specific to their audience, and what you bring to the table for this specific piece of content.”

Send it in an Email

public relations story pitching infographicJournalists aren’t waiting by the fax machine for your news release. In fact, according to Dr. Williams, the majority of journalists never get their releases via fax, RSS feed, or traditional wire services.

Cision‘s 2011 digital influencers survey (featured on the right) supports this new trend by highlighting the fact that almost 89% of journalists would rather receive a story pitch via email than by any other means.

Make Easy to Access & Share Graphics

According to Dr. Williams’ study, about “85% of journalists will cover a story if the release includes easy-access to images” and if the “content that is easy to grab and reuse.”

That means that today’s story package should not only include all the traditional public relations add-ons, but should also some Web 2.0 content as well. Here are some of the assets journalists stated they prefer to receive with news releases during story pitches:

  • Easy to repurpose materials like backgrounders, bios, and fact sheets (92%)
  • High and low resolution images available for download (85%)
  • Information about the brand’s social media accounts on 2-3 platforms (46%)
  • A link to a relevant blog post discussing the topic being pitched (46%)
  • Embed code for transferable video (42%)

Suggested Reading

Image via PivotComm

Yasheaka Oakley Owens

Yasheaka Oakley Owens is the owner of YOakleyPR, a woman-owned small business that provides public relations, social media, and online marketing support services to small businesses and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Delaware.

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  • Great post! The tip about “making it relevant to readers” is especially true if you are trying to pitch something as more of a feature story (typically soft news) rather than a hard news piece that has a clearly defined angle.

    Another thing to keep in mind when pitching is to limit the amount of jargon that you are using in your pitches. Journalists are often very knowledgeable about their area(s) of expertise but simple, clear language is better than throwing a bunch of “SAT” words at people.

  • Great #PRtips! Especially the part about identifying your key audience ALONGSIDE your top journalist. I pay a ton of attention to conversation planning, and writing for a response from my top journalists, their audience AND potential consumers of my clients brand/message. Keeping these factors in mind when pitching has kept client placement consistent.