Pitching to the media: it’s tougher than it looks

It’s one of the most challenging components of PR, yet to the untrained eye, pitching to the media can look remarkably easy.

Of course, there are times when a story’s news value is so obvious it sells itself; copy, paste, send…et voila!

But it would be naïve to take this as the norm. In reality, you’re lucky if more than one in ten was this straightforward.

In fact, the data is stacked against you to land anything at all. A survey by Muck Rack found that only one-quarter of stories journalists publish come from PR pitches.

The reason it is so difficult is the number of factors that decide the fate of your story, some in your control, others not. The painful reality is you can do everything right and your pitch still fails.

But, what can you do right?

Hone your news sense

Interestingly, journalists go through the same painful pitching ordeal themselves every day. You think you’ve found your story only for your editor to shoot it down and send you back to square one, often accompanied by a response as terse as “no”.

Eventually you develop a sixth sense for what makes a good story, how to angle it for your readership and what the headline looks like. Develop this intuition yourself and you’ve laid the foundations.

Headlines are more than half the battle

This follows on quite nicely from the last point. For the newspaper and online news industry, a headline is the most important part of your story.

The same should be true of your pitch. The headline and opening line of an article is what journalist’s first think about when they consider a story; if they can’t see it in yours, they won’t write the story.


The importance of timing your pitch cannot be overstated. If you’re pitching your story in the middle of major breaking news, then you can’t expect it to penetrate.

You should also find out the shift patterns and timings of editorial meetings to figure out the best time to contact the media. For example, research has shown the majority of journalists prefer to be pitched early in the week and before noon.


Pitching a story that’s irrelevant to a journalist is a cardinal sin. Do it once and you might get away with it but repeat that mistake over and over again and you can guarantee you’ll end up in the spam folder.

But relevance extends beyond the journalist’s beat. You can reap the rewards by picking the moment when the voice of your business or organisation is most relevant.

For example, we work with a fund manager that’s positioned to perform well when markets are down. Going to the media with their commentary when markets are booming makes little sense, but when they’re down, that bearish voice cuts through.

Avoid an over-reliance on press releases

Press releases are great, but how you use them is important.

Our experience is that they work well with trade, local and regional publications, but they can dissuade a mainstream media journalist if they suspect it to be widely circulated.

If you send a release to a mainstream journalist, it should be accompanied by a personal message and offer of an exclusive.

There are exceptions of course, government being one or an organisation launching some groundbreaking research is another that springs to mind. But if in doubt, always go for a personalised email over mass distribution in one go.

Pick up the phone

A recent study revealed that journalists overwhelming prefer email pitches to phone calls.

It goes without saying that email should be your first port of call, but don’t discard a follow up call, particularly if you’ve given it enough time after your email.

Sometimes journalists simply miss it or get side tracked by breaking news and forget. It often takes a call to nudge it over the line.

Just make sure it’s not late in the day when they’re feeling the weight of a deadline.

These are just a few basic considerations; the list is limitless and often requires a tactical choice of just a handful. Sometimes ditching the short cuts and seeking professional advice to deliver a successful campaign, ensures you have the best possible chance of the media influence you’re after.


We’re not in Kansas anymore

As the culture manager of a successful strategic communications agency, it’s important that I keep up to date on all industry related news. As a dog, it’s also important that I keep up to date on all dog related news.

So that brings me to Kansas, USA, and the disappearance of a four-year-old Labrador named Cleo. For a week, her owners endured the insurmountable pain of thinking they had lost their dog, when in reality she had just gone home.

Not her current home though… in fact, she had travelled nearly 100 kilometres to her previous home in Missouri. The Missourian occupants came home to find the lab lying on the front porch.

The homeowners did what everyone who’s lucky enough to find an unknown dog lying on their porch should do. They checked for a collar, and in the absence of one, took the pooch to the local vet to have it scanned for a microchip. Cleo and her owners were promptly reunited.

But I can’t help but wonder how this would have gone down here in lockdown inflicted Victoria. If I were trying to cross the state line, would Dan Andrews have stopped me at the border? I’d need a mask but putting them on with paws is exceedingly difficult (thank goodness I manage with the help of my humans).

As the reality of a second lockdown dawns on five-million Victorians (and their pets) the message is: don’t be like Cleo. The message is: stay at home.

Maybe Cleo didn’t get the memo, or perhaps she was rebelling against it. If that was the case, and I had a chance to speak to Cleo before she traumatised her owners, I would tell her that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. It’s okay to feel sad. This is a stressful time for everyone.

That advice goes to any readers who may relate to Cleo’s rebellious urges.

Lockdown was difficult the first time, it will be difficult again, but we’ll get through it.

Ironically, Cleo has the quality that this lockdown demands of all of us. Resilience. Like a young Labrador trekking for 100 kilometres across the summer plains, let’s all push through this!

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