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Journalists Advise Media Professionals on Perfect Pitching at PRSA-NCC Workshop

January 16, 2013

By Lee Guerringue, News Generation, Inc.

With a morning of tweets and role playing, media and public relations specialists gathered to learn how to write the perfect pitch. PRSA-NCC’s “Pitch Perfect” workshop was held on January 16 at the Navy Memorial. Four panelists answered questions and advised professionals on the dos and don’ts when proposing stories to journalists.

As sample pitches were projected on the screen written by attendees, the panelists reviewed the strengths and weaknesses. All emphasized that pitches should be written in clear, plain English without any jargon. The panelists also spoke to making sure pitches are very personalized to the journalist you are proposing it to.

Dion Haynes, Real Estate Editor for the Washington Post, explained that many public relations professionals fail to realize that it is not the journalists job to publicize the story; journalists want to write stories that grab a reader’s attention. He also noted that it is pertinent to do your homework. Research a few past stories the journalist has written to make sure your story pitch is relevant to their area of journalism. Haynes explained that by researching past stories, it will help you to target your pitches to the right person.

Jayne O’Donnell, a retail reporter for USA Today, reminded the audience that emails are the preferred communication when pitching. She spoke about always keeping your contact list updated and not following up with a phone call after emailing. She also clarified that aggressive people who are selling things aren’t as relevant as the actual retailers that sell them. “I didn’t go to journalism school to promote your project,” she said. O’Donnell specified that she looks for pitches that lead to a story and don’t pitch a “thing.”

Hank Silverberg, a reporter for WTOP News, emphasized how important a timeline should be. If you pitch on an extremely busy day after a large news story has surfaced, be aware of the appropriate time to email. He also suggested personalizing emails, and not sending out mass email blasts. Once he receives an email, he stated, “You have 30 seconds to grab my attention.” This means to write subject lines that encompass the pitch, but keeping it concise at the same time.

Andrea Stone, an independent journalist and communications consultant, defined a good pitch as being exclusive to the journalist and media outlet. Stone also agreed that knowing who the journalist is and what they cover can make or break a pitch. Along the lines of exclusivity, Stone looks for pitches that revolve around news trends and not so much one-point stories. By pitching a story that is a hot topic, it gives journalists many areas to expand on.

Other advice from the panelists included:

  • Provide links, data,  relevant contacts, and experts in the pitch email
  • Get to the point of your pitch in the first one to two sentences
  • Send pitch emails one to two days before an event
  • Do not put links to other news sources (this is along the lines of exclusivity)
  • Seek out some nontraditional news sites depending on the audience of your pitch, for example, Buzzfeed.com
  • Do not pitch with your own quotes, because journalists want to talk to sources personally
  • Give specific examples about the topic you are pitching
  • Always answer the question, “Why should the journalist care?”
  • Put names of important people in the beginning, because sometimes journalists know contacts or like a local connection

To find out what people are saying about the event and more tips on pitches, visit @PRSA_NCC on Twitter and search our hashtag, #prsancc.

Photos: Jimmy Minichello (www.jimmyminichello.com).