Pitching to the Media: Batter Up!

June 25, 2008

Five Tried and True Ways to Pitch the Media on Your Nonprofit’s Issues

You know that media coverage helps to generate discussion about the critical issues your nonprofit organization is trying raise with your constituents and the public in general. But getting coverage is not always easy, especially for issues that nonprofit organizations are apt to be working on, issues related to ensuring equity, building sustainable communities and respecting diversity.

So what works and what doesn’t when it comes to pitching story ideas to traditional print and electronic media? Take this short (Tried and) True or False quiz, and see if you can add any tips to your media pitching toolkit.

Note: The following ideas are primarily for generating traditional print and electronic media coverage. With the explosion of new technologies, there are a number of other ways to share your message with constituents today. But press coverage by traditional media can certainly enhance your overall communications strategy.

1. The first rule of pitching your idea to the media is making sure it is newsworthy.

  • True, of course. (They won’t all be this easy!) But what makes your idea interesting to traditional media? You need to have a story that is timely, has a unique angle in that it shows a new or unusual way of doing things, is relevant to people locally/regionally, nationally or internationally, and is tied to other topical events. Your story idea should also be thought-provoking and should either reinforce existing ideas or provide an interesting counterpoint.

2. Crafting your pitch shouldn’t take more time than creating a detailed press release. If it does, you are thinking too hard!

  • False. Like cold calling, your media pitch requires substantial preparation time to create a clear, convincing two to three paragraph pitch letter/email. And you’ll need lots of preparation – and practice – for the 15 to 30 seconds you will have on the telephone with a reporter for your follow-up call. I once was told, “Denise you’ve got 15 seconds to convince me before I hang up.” So craft your message carefully and get to the point quickly. Be sure to begin with a startling fact or statistic, an anecdote or some other dramatic opening to grab the reporter’s or editor’s attention.

3. Develop clear guidelines for which media outlets and reporters to pitch.

  • True. You will want to find out which media outlets serve the audience(s) you are most interested in reaching. A great news piece won’t serve your nonprofit well if it doesn’t reach your target audience. Then find out who has covered your issue or similar issues recently at the media outlets you choose. If you cannot find who the right person to contact is, take time to call the outlet’s assignment desk to find out who covers your issue or visit the website to see who has written similar stories in the past. One caution about calling – use the same 15 to 30 second rule.

4. Once you have your media list, don’t alter your pitch. If an editor or reporter finds outs that a colleague was pitched differently, s/he will think you are playing games.

  • False. Editors and reporters expect and want you to tailor your pitch to their type of media outlet and their “beat” (education, state politics, etc.), making it relevant for their audience and to their news approach. For example, a few years back I pitched a story idea for a nonprofit that was rebuilding burned black churches in the South with volunteer support. For the radio, we pitched the idea of families using their summer vacations to participate in the rebuilding effort, calling it a unique opportunity to spend time together outdoors and to teach/learn the value of helping others. For electronic media, we pitched the idea of volunteers from one part of the country coming together to help others at a distance and the visuals of the rebuilding process. For print, we pitched the ways that the rebuilding, done by a diverse group of people, had begun to change the racial dynamics of the towns where the arson had taken place.

5. Make your pitch near the end of the day when reporters have more time to talk and are preparing for the next day.

  • False. Media calls are best made in the morning or early afternoon when most reporters are not on deadline. Always ask if the reporter is on deadline before you begin. If they are, ask when a better time would be to call. Exceptions to the rule are radio and TV talk shows. Call when the show is not on the air. And since reporters often don’t answer the telephone, use the pitch crafted in #2 to leave the kind of message that will get a call back. Note that West Coast reporters working for an East Coast media outlet are often busiest during the late morning and early afternoon, working to meet East Coast deadlines.

Here’s hoping your pitch hits a home run the first time you’re at bat. And if not, check your pitch with colleagues to make sure it is interesting, clear and concise. Then alter it as needed, and get back out there and keep swinging until you land the story you seek.

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