A PR professional recently told me that when she pitches a story to a reporter, she has no qualms about asking if the story is going to appear as the lead in the publication or broadcast outlet. This sort of bold, desperate inquiry shows a complete lack of understanding of newsroom operations and the role of PR. It also increases the odds that the reporter won’t respect you or want to work with you in the future.

A better approach with the reporter pitch is to spend your time making the idea so newsworthy, the editor or producer wants to place your ideas as the top story or first in the newscast.

“Newsworthiness” is subjective, but generally speaking, it should satisfy the following criteria:

  • The story will impact a great number of people
  • Is it truly interesting or compelling
  • It contains unique or never-been-done before components
  • It is visual

If you’ve passed any or all of these tests, your next challenge is to explain to the reporter that your idea is a news story and not a commercial. Nobody said it would be easy.

Offer solid, visual news ideas

When you are suggesting a story or writing a news release, make sure you emphasize the visual component. When the National Institutes of Health granted my former law firm a huge contact, the lawyer commented, “It took three years to complete the application process.” Instead of letting that be a throw-away comment, I started asking questions and learned the application weighed 32 pounds and was 12 inches thick. I used that in my materials to pitch the story to reporters. Several papers sent out photographers to capture the paper trail of work and the story ended up on the front page of several Midwestern Business Journals. Would the reporters have covered the story without the photo idea? Probably. But having the lawyer positioned next to the foot-high application helped illustrate the tenacity that went into completing the application. It was a solid, visual idea.

Give exclusives

Sometimes a story pitch shouldn’t come from a press release. Reporters don’t want to write a story that has been pushed out to a hundred other reporters. A discussion over coffee about industry trends or the big profile piece would best be established with a favored reporter at a targeted publication. If it is compelling enough, others will pick it up.

Give press releases utility

There is some debate about whether the press release has gone out of style. The form may change, but as a crafted, controlled way to share your message it has not. Lose the flowery “marketing-speak” and “legalese” and the media may actually use your quotes. Once when my prior firm added a bankruptcy attorney who was monitoring a big decision before the Court, we let the media know. When the decision was announced, we re-sent his release and two important industry publications contacted him for comment.

Above all, respect the media. If they don’t like your story idea, it may be that the timing wasn’t right. Don’t whine, stew, or fight over story rejections. If they make an error, politely let them know. Reporters don’t like to make mistakes. Most are happy to correct. Remember, reporters need sources and you need them to share your stories.


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