6 secrets of pitching from a newspaper editor’s point of view

When the news hit about a nurse in Utah being arrested, I knew it was a perfect hook to get one of my clients in the news. The nurse at the University of Utah Hospital had acted to protect her patient from a police officer who wanted a blood sample from her unconscious patient. She knew the law and physically stood between him and the officer. She acted as her patient’s only advocate and ended up being arrested. It’s a perfect fit for a client who’s in the business of educating nurses.

As public relations professionals, we’re always striving to get our clients’ stories into the media. We send out details on new product releases, write alerts about mergers and acquisitions, arrange press conferences, and more. All while actively enhancing or building our clients’ reputation through a positive media presence. So how do you get your client noticed? Here are six secrets to get media attention:

  1. Press releases don’t attract editors, but they’re necessary to pitch to editors

The hard truth about press releases is that they may never be fully read, or read at all. In this 2014 survey of journalists, participants said they received about 50 press releases every week. On average, the journalists in the survey stated that they spent less than a minute reading each press release that he or she opened.

Sixty-eight percent of journalists said they wanted “just the facts,” aka who, what, when, where and why. And 79 percent said subject lines greatly affect whether they will open your email. So it seems like writing and sending press releases is a lot of work with minimal reward, right? No. Press releases are a necessary part of the job. They provide SEO value when posted to wire services, and they give you something legitimate to send directly to editors and reporters. Those press releases, however, won’t SELL your client’s story. That’s where your pitch comes in.

2. Craft the perfect pitch and know how to use it

Though the subject line has a significant impact on whether a journalist will open the email, your pitch will determine whether journalists keep scrolling or read your press release. You’ll make some pitches via email, social media or phone—and sometimes all three.

When you pitch over the phone, keep it short and passionate, and ask if you can send an email with a press release. In a recent survey, only 11 percent of journalists say they like getting pitches over the phone, so be careful with this method.

Instead of jumping on the phone, why not jump on Twitter or LinkedIn to connect with journalists. Seventy percent of journalists say Twitter is the most valuable social media tool, so don’t hesitate to start tweeting. Some journalists also have professional Facebook pages you can follow and comment on.

When it’s time to send your pitch, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Keep subject lines compelling, but short.
  • Don’t just rewrite your press release.
  • Grab reporters’ attention by telling them how your client is relevant.
  • For TV, present an outlined TV segment. For example, you’ve got a chiropractor who is curing Type II Diabetes. The idea might be to follow a patient through a portion of the medical process.
  • Give reporters a particular angle for a news story and how your client would make an ideal source. My example of the U of U nurse above is a great example of relating your client to current news events.
  • Write an outline for an article that includes key points.
  • Keep it short. Ben Parr, a former editor of Mashable, said “I ditch e-mails after one or two sentences if they aren’t getting to the point.”

Crafting the perfect pitch that grabs reporters’ attention takes time and practice. But it’s not impossible if you follow these tips.

3. Editors are all about the relevant story angles—not your relationships

You may be good friends with a reporter, editor or TV producer, but that doesn’t mean every pitch you send to that person will be published or broadcast. It has to be a good, relevant story.

Pay attention to this advice from Chris Chamberlain of Nashville Scene: “Even a short note about how your release might relate to the type of topic that my readers care about really stands out.”

For example, I recently sent a pitch about a Kickstarter campaign launch to a former co-worker at a newspaper. I sent it to the right person and had a personal relationship with her. But the pitch was initially rejected. Why? Because even though I knew her and thought it was a good story, it wasn’t a right fit for her at the time. So I re-crafted the pitch and release so that it was more relevant for her audience. And it worked!

Remember, personal relationships will only take you so far. You need to write your pitches and press releases so they’re relevant to that editor or reporter.

4. Know the reporters and their audience

Most newspapers these days are hyperlocal, which means they have reporters focused on that area’s communities and neighborhoods. So if you’re pitching a story about a company in Utah to the Dallas Morning News, and that company doesn’t do business in the area or have anything to offer Dallas residents, you’re going to be rejected.

Case in point, I have a client based in Salt Lake City who wants to be featured in all major metro newspapers. But my colleagues were getting rejection after rejection. Why? Because we didn’t have a way to make this client relevant to those audiences. To get media attention, you need a pitch that will attract the newspaper’s key readers.

Just like sending an irrelevant press release will earn you an instant rejection, so will emailing a pitch to the wrong person. You need to know to whom you’re sending emails or calling, and that they cover the topic you’re pitching.

Danny Willis, of the Bay Area News Group, says he gets a lot of irrelevant press releases. “I’m a data journalist, and I get press releases for book signings, people soliciting interviews about celebrity gossip, a shocking number of food-related announcements and for some reason updates from a guy who says he invented a new kind of muffler.”

Sending press releases to or calling the wrong reporter or editor is a waste of their time and a waste of time for the PR pro and client.

5. You will make editors angry if you do a mass blast and it doesn’t fit their beat

Reporters and editors don’t want to get mass emails, and especially not if it doesn’t fit their beat. So don’t ever, ever send a mass email to every reporter at every newspaper in the state. And don’t send an email with a generic subject, because a journalist will never open it.

“I’ll automatically delete: Subject: PRESS RELEASE or Subject: Interview opportunity,” said Patrick Ary of WAAY-TV Huntsville.

The best way to ensure you never send a pitch to the wrong person is to build relationships with as many reporters and editors as possible. If you can’t meet them in person, follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn. Journalists use Twitter for work more than any other social media—more than 96 percent of them use Twitter every week. So start retweeting them. Also, read their articles and sign up for HARO and respond to requests.

The easiest way to get an instant rejection is to send an email blast to the wrong people. So make sure you know to whom you’re sending.

6. Know what’s happening in the news

If you’re not keeping up with what’s going on in the world, you’ll miss valuable opportunities to get your client in the news.

“Attempt to tie in a company’s news, whenever possible, with regional or national trends—although this strategy should not be forced or the truth stretched,” advised Randy McClain of The Republic.

For example, when the Oroville Dam breached and when Hurricane Harvey hit, we immediately contacted media outlets with images from our client, Nearmap. We had to jump on it quickly so the story was still news.

When former model Jennifer O’Neil was on the “Today Show” several years ago talking about her raw food diet, I immediately pitched the producers that morning about a raw food cookbook author I was working with.

Timing is critical if you want to get your client in the news. Waiting days after news hits to pitch your client as a source or part of the story is too long.

It’s our job to get our clients’ stories into the media. As we’re writing about all those mergers and acquisitions, awards, new product releases and more, by following these six secrets, we can ensure our clients’ news will get noticed.