You’ve spent weeks preparing your media release, and you’ve finally sent it out to your chosen publications. You sit there, patiently refreshing your inbox, waiting for a reply, and … nothing happens. No one replies, no one calls you for an interview, and no one picks up your story.
If this scenario sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Many businesses struggle with their public relations efforts, especially when they’re just starting out.
Thankfully, if you can identify where you’re going wrong, you’ll be well on your way to PR success. Here are some of the most common mistakes when it comes to media pitching, and how you can stop tripping up.
1. You haven’t given them enough notice
Journalists are extremely time-poor, so it’s critical to time your pitch perfectly. If you send a pitch about a new business to senior business writers at the Australian Financial Review during financial results season, for example, don’t expect a reply any time soon. Similarly, if you send an email on a Friday afternoon at 4pm, there’s little hope your story will ever see the light of day.
If you have a timely story that needs to be published on a particular day, make sure you give the journalist enough lead time to prepare, fact check and edit the story. This can differ from outlet to outlet, but for most publications, they’ll need at least a couple of days to prepare.
Keep in mind if your pitch relates to something that happens every year on a journalist’s calendar, such as end of financial year, or back to school, they will have prepared stories and lined up interviews well in advance. So you should be speaking to them well in advance too.
2. They’ve already covered your topic a lot lately
Again, this often comes down to timing. You might have seen an issue in the media and come up with a great response piece, but by the time you’ve spent several days writing, editing and asking your friends what they think, it’s too late. The story has already passed, or the outlet has already published several pieces on the same topic, so they’re not interested in yours.
If a journalist has fatigue on an issue, it’s very likely their readers will too. The subject might have already been covered to death, so it’s critical your pitch can help the journalist create something fresh and original.
3. What you’re pitching is too stock standard
If a journalist can tell a story without your help, they will. So if the story you’re pitching is so generic that any old journalist could write it, they’ll either simply do it themselves, or write it off completely.
Make it more interesting. Present them with something they haven’t thought of before, or that adds more colour to a story. Ask yourself: if you happened to come across this story in real life, would you stop what you’re doing and pay attention? If not, you might want to rethink your idea.
4. What you’re proposing isn’t relevant to the outlet or journalist
Are you offering an advice article when they only do interviews? Are you offering an interview when the bulk of their publication is made up of advice articles? Are you writing something targeted at schools, when this publication is targeted at parents? Are you approaching an editor who only considers stories that come with financial information, video footage, or case studies?
There are so many publication-specific standards to consider, so it always pays to do your research thoroughly. If you pitch something that’s not relevant, it’s likely your idea will be ignored.
Even within the same publication, different journalists will have different needs. Find out what area each journalist writes about (known in the trade as their ‘beat’), and make sure your pitch is tailored very specifically to their requirements.
5. Your important cause isn’t tugging heartstrings in the right way
If your business or not-for-profit works with important issues that affect the community, you might expect media coverage would be easy to win. But oftentimes, these kinds of organisations find it equally difficult to get their story out.
Your organisation’s message might be simply too depressing for a publication’s readers. A journalist might feel the story doesn’t have a glimmer of hope or sense of empowerment as a critical counterbalance within stories about strife and struggle.
If you’re presenting a problem, you need to provide a call to action for the reader, society, or government. It’s not enough to simply present a problem or a sob story — you need to follow it up with actionable solutions. If not, your pitch will come across as a rant or too depressing, and one that will most likely turn the journalist off immediately.
6. You lack credibility
News outlets need reliable, credible experts who they can call upon at the drop of a hat. If you’re not known to the journalist when you first approach them, it might take some convincing to persuade them you’re a credible source of information. It’s your job to show them you are trustworthy, and that you don’t have an ulterior motive.
You need to persuade the journalist, editor or producer you’re not likely to go off-script, especially if you’re pitching for any form of live TV or radio. This is especially true if your competitors already have a relationship with these journalists; why would they take the risk on a new contact?
The best way to get around this issue — aside from hiring a PR agency that already has strong contacts with the media — is to make sure you have something original and unique to say. If you can be more interesting and more engaging than your competitors, a journalist is far more likely to take the risk.
Another antidote is to find experts who are well-known and/or well-respected to attach themselves to you and your story, even if it’s simply getting a quote from them in your press release, or having them available for interview alongside you.
If any of these mistakes are affecting your ability to pitch effectively, you might want to reassess your strategy — or bring in a PR professional who can. If you want to reap the incredible rewards that media coverage can bring, it’s essential you get pitching right from the very beginning. Otherwise, all you’ll get is an irritated journalist and the sound of no one replying to your emails.
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