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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Finding Your Voice With the Media: How to Pitch a Journalist

You’ve got big news about your company, and you want to get the word out. The first step is drafting a compelling press release—but then what?

You know you’ll need to contact the media, but doing so might be a bit intimidating. And, not surprisingly, there are some unspoken rules that govern the relationship between brands and the media that can be tricky to navigate.

But with a bit of preparation and a few guidelines, you can develop a solid relationship with your media contacts. Here, we demystify the media pitching process and provide helpful dos and don’ts to turn that press release into a front page (or, let’s be honest, any page) story.

Build Your Target Media List

You may already have a few publications or journalists in mind that you’d like to let know about your announcement. But, in order to get the best coverage for your release, you need to cast a wide net. Think about where you do business (or where you’d like to), and develop a target list for that area.

For example, let’s say you have a large customer base in St. Louis. Do some digging to find the journalists that cover your industry for the St. Louis region. Local papers are a great way to start, but don’t forget trade publications and online outlets specifically focused on your industry (like Publishers Weekly, Runner’s World, or PRWeek). Media lists will vary in size based on the announcement, but it’s always good to have at least 20-30 journalists on your outreach list.

One you’ve identified your list of journalists and publications, the next challenge is getting their contact details. While you can often find what you need with your trusty friend Google, more elusive journalists’ digits and emails might require some strategic sleuthing. Try comprehensive databases, like Gorkana, which include journalists from around the world—organized by the industries they cover and where they’re based—and, more importantly, their coveted contact details.

Ready Your Release for Distribution

Once you’ve got your contact list, it’s time to start pitching. While pitching techniques come in all shapes and sizes, they’re usually broken down into two parts: the distribution of the press release and the supplemental pitching.

Distributing the Press Release

First, decide when you would like the press release to go out. Hint: In order to have the best chance of being seen, your announcement should be sent between 6 AM and 10 AM in the region it's being distributed from. And it should never go out on a Friday. (Remember what you were doing last Friday around 3 PM? Whatever it was, it probably didn’t involve reading company announcements.)

Next, decide how you’d like to send your release to journalists. If you have the budget, an effective and timesaving way to distribute your release is over a newswire, like BusinessWire, PR Newswire, or Marketwire. These services offer access to ready-made lists of top-tier, regional, and trade publications to maximize your reach.

Alternatively, you can opt for a more personal approach, and send your press release directly to all the journalists on your target media list via email. Keep in mind, though, that when sending a release to multiple sources, you’ll want everyone to receive your information at the same time. As media outlets are inherently competitive, a journalist may decide not to cover your story if she finds out you’ve shared the release with another outlet beforehand.

If you go the route of sending mass emails, whatever you do, be sure to send everything via BCC. You want to show your sources you appreciate their privacy—not to mention, keep your carefully researched target list a company secret.

Sending the Supplemental Pitch

Your supplemental pitch is an opportunity for you to connect one-on-one with your target journalists. It also allows you to pitch your announcement a bit more informally than you can in your press release, as well as answer any questions journalists may have about your news.

When creating your supplemental pitch, you should keep it to 4–6 sentences of your most important messaging and context. Be sure to include the high-level who, what, where, when, as well as any additional information that may entice the journalist to write a story.

For example, if you’re announcing an event that brings together influential women in technology, you should include the location, time, and noteworthy participants. But, you should also provide relevant context or stats (e.g. “women only make up around 25% of the technology industry”), and any highlights that will entice the journalist to cover it (e.g. “several of the 2012 Forbes Women to Watch list will be in attendance”).

But regardless of whether you pitch your target journalists on the phone or by email, make sure you keep it short and sweet, and that you’re upfront about what you can offer. If you can provide a journalist with anything special—like an exclusive interview with your CEO—let her know from the get-go. Should you wish to give a journalist exclusive access to your announcement, you would pitch this prior to the press release distribution, and ask that she keep the news confidential until the press release is public.

Also, remember that just because you’re having a friendly conversation with one particular journalist, doesn’t mean you should divulge all of your company’s secrets. Anything you say can end up in print, so stick to your messaging.

Finally, don’t hound the journalists. After your initial pitch, following up once or twice is fine—but any more than that and you’re approaching stalker territory. If you don’t hear anything after the first two calls, move on.

Forging a relationship with the media might seem daunting, but when you’ve got a newsworthy announcement, a well-crafted press release, and a solid pitch, you’ll find the right journalists who’ll be just as excited as you are to publish your news.

Photo courtesy of Roger H. Goun.