How to Pitch Like a Journalist
It’s the one question every person wants to know. How do the news producers and newspaper editors decide what to print and publish? Most people ask this question like there is a magical formula that scientifically reveals whether a story should be pursed or scrapped. If it were this easy to identify news stories, you can bet the formula would have been hacked and posted on the Internet by now. The fact is news selection is an art and just like any other profession involving creativity, opinions and experiences, it is subjective to where you stand.
If you want a story written about you or your business, you need to first identify what is different, new or unique about your story. News is based on the root “new,” which is something no publicist should ever forget. Are you helping underprivileged children in a way that others are ignoring? Is your business contributing to the local community in a unique way we might not expect? Are you about to accomplish a feat where others have failed?
The more you can clarify and focus your pitch, the better odds you will have of getting your story idea approved by the news organization. You can help discover your newsworthy element by asking yourself the following questions:
* What is different about my business?
* How does my business help the public and why is that service unique?
* Is there something timely about my business or product?
* Is there a personal story to tell about my business, like maybe a grandfather is passing the 75-year-old family business onto his grandchildren in a public ceremony? Or maybe the owner is battling cancer and running the business at the same time.
* Is there a new trend arising in my business field that will affect the pocket books of consumers? For example, is the rising cost of wheat starting to put a damper on profits for bagel shop or Italian restaurant owners? Will my business soon be forced to raise prices on the menus because the price of wheat keeps rising?
* Have any trade organizations recognized my business as a leader in innovation that will help shape the future? If so, what is that innovation and how will it change lives?
Finding a unique angle is not as difficult as it may sound. You just need to open your mind to timely events that impact and influence sales of your product or service. If you own a fashion or jewelry store, try to link your product to high-profile events like the Academy Awards or the Grammy Awards. If your business is geared towards a niche audience, like traveling business executives, scan the headlines in the business sections of various newspapers for possible tie-ins to current events.
Not properly defining the story is one of the biggest mistakes most publicists make. Your success on pitching depends greatly on how well you define that story because in many cases, you may only get one shot at pitching your story idea. You can focus your story by understanding and applying the five W’s (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How).
Who is this story about? Who is the character in the center of the story? If you are pitching an organization, business or nonprofit you must identify a person to revolve the story around because the best stories involve people. You will improve your chances of coverage by identifying a sympathetic character that viewers and readers can relate to.
What is this story about? What is unique about it? What is different? What is the conflict? What is the story you want to tell? By identifying the “What” you will have an edge in pitching the story because your story idea will be more focused.
Where is this story taking place? Does the location have any value or importance in the community? A diner in Iowa has little national news value, unless it is a Presidential election year when all of the candidates are pressing the flesh with patrons over ham and eggs. Take a moment to examine your entire surroundings before pitching the story because you might uncover something that increases the value of the story idea.
When does your story take place? Does it have any timely components? Will your story take place on a single night or day? Is your story relevant at a certain time of the month? All of these questions could make your story timely, which will increase the value of your story.
Why should anyone care about your story? Why is this story happening? Why are people coming to your event or why are people buying your product or service? Once you identify why your story is important to the public, you have focused your pitch down to the core and uncovered why your story is news worthy.
How is your story, business, service or product changing lives? How are you helping people? How will your business or product save people money or better their lives? Not every story has a “how” factor, but it is still important to ask yourself this question.
The more you understand the definition and value of “newsworthy” the better chance you will have of getting media coverage for you or your business. And once you are successfully pitching story ideas, you are better able to shape the message and spin the media into your favor.
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Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.