5 Things Reporters Look for in a Pitch

Your new app just launched into the app stores. Your company just hired the all-star executive away from the competition. You’ve just introduced the first ever organic leather baseball glove. You’re sitting on a huge story, right?

You send out your press release and wait for the inevitable barrage of interview requests to pile in. 20 minutes goes by, nothing. A day goes by, nothing. You hit refresh on your inbox, maybe the influx is causing a jam? Nothing. What went wrong?

This happened to me a few months ago when my company, Pressboard, soft launched into the US. At first it was crushing, like getting stood up on 10 dates at once. But after some reflection, I thought maybe there’s a reason why so many companies, from startups to big corporations, have such a difficult time getting press coverage.

To find out what reporters are looking for, Josh Catone, former editor at Mashable, and I surveyed over a dozen reporters, writers and editors at some of North America’s most prominent publications.

Here’s what they look for in a story pitch:

  1.    Make sure it’s interesting

This may seem obvious, but the reporters we spoke to receive hundreds of pitches each week, and only cover about 1-2% of them. Is your story unique enough to stand out?

Start with what makes your company or product different than everybody else. Chelsea Stark, who writes about video games for Mashable, says, “On my beat, I see a lot of derivative products, so it’s nice for someone to lead with what’s different.”

A good test is to ask yourself: if this wasn’t your company or client, would you want to read this story? If you’re hesitating even a bit here, there’s a good chance you need to find a more interesting story to tell.

  1.    People before numbers

Owen Thomas, editor-in-chief at ReadWrite, tells us that the number one thing he looks for in a quality pitch is, “A personal story. Something real that actually happened to a human being.”

Human narratives tend to be more interesting than facts and figures alone. Stories help us relate to one another and develop empathy for things we previously didn’t understand.

Telling a personal narrative forms an emotional connection with the reporter, and with their readers.

  1.    Get to the point

Your email subject line might be the only thing a busy reporter will ever see, so make it count. Summing up your entire story pitch in a few words is never easy; there’s a reason that Upworthy writes 25 headlines for every story they publish.

“Why is this news important, and can you explain that to me in a paragraph? If it takes longer than a few sentences to get to the point, you’ve lost my interest,” says Natt Garun, US editor of The Next Web.

Explain your story and why it matters as quickly as possible.

  1.    Respond quickly

“Be available — if it’s a good pitch, you’re going to get a reply back, but news gets stale fast, so you have to be prepared to handle follow-ups promptly,” says Knowlton Thomas, managing editor of Techvibes.

It is highly unlikely that a reporter will pick up your pitch and write a story based entirely on your initial email or press release. Make sure you or your client is available to speak with reporters, and be ready with additional information about your product, service, company or whatever it is you pitched.

  1.    Remember that reporters are people too

Many of the reporters emphasized how spending time building a relationship goes a long way towards increasing the chance they’ll cover your story.

Michael Sebastien, reporter at Advertising Age says, “The best advice, I think, is to forge a relationship with a reporter before pitching him or her. That might mean a drink, coffee or meal; maybe it’s just a quick email to say you liked the reporter’s recent story; maybe it’s a retweet. This stuff matters.”

Just make sure it’s authentic, false flattery has the opposite effect. “I haven’t worked at Mashable for almost three years,” says Sarah Kessler, associate editor at Fast Company. “I still get pitches saying, ‘I follow your work at Mashable closely, and I love it.’ Fake flattery is not so hard to spot, so you can just skip it.”

Personalizing your pitches is a must. Get to know the publication, the reporter and their beat, but eschew the superficial comments.

Natt Garun sums up what reporters are looking for nicely, “The [pitches] that stand out are the same as any headline you read on the news – it stands out because it’s different or unique.”

If you liked this post check out Inside the Newsroom: Why Timing Matters

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