Is Pitching by Phone Dead? Media Outreach During an Unrelenting News Cycle
By Bob Brady
A reporter for a major national news outlet recently declined a PR pitch with “Sorry. We’re all COVID, all the time.”
This statement is pretty telling of how our current news cycle has been operating, and will continue to operate, for the foreseeable future. First, it was practically a miracle to reach a reporter on the phone to pitch them. Second, it’s as if the news media has been operating in a 24/7 crisis communications mode that is unrelenting and solely focused on the critical issues before us.
Which means if a story proposal isn’t tied into a few key topics – the coronavirus, politics, civil justice and maybe a couple others—then pitching success could be limited if attempting to score a major national hit.
What makes it even more of a challenge is that reporters, like others who used to work in an office, are working from home on their personal phones during the pandemic. Just finding a reporter willing to answer a blind call was nearly impossible before the coronavirus. Now, breaking through is an added challenge as their email inboxes become more and more jammed packed with pitch emails that are feeling the cold harsh “delete” button.
Despite the clutter and constantly increasing pace of the news cycle, there are a few ways in which we can engage media effectively to avoid joining the other trashed email pitches.
- Make Sure the Pitch Fits the News: If it’s all COVID all the time, pitches must tie directly into COVID. Conversely, if it’s a stretch to connect your pitch to the news at hand, it’s probably a waste of everyone’s time.
- Find the Niche Media Outlets: Not every pitch has to be picked up in mainstream outlets. Right now, trade publications, podcasts, and blogs are more important than ever to get stories told. Audiences of these platforms are like to be extremely loyal and knowledgeable, and reaching an audience of 1,000 people who are true influencers on a topic is perhaps more valuable than hitting a 100,000 who won’t care.
- Know the Reporter’s Interests: Taking time to research a reporter’s beat and recent media coverage, as well as how they like to be pitched, is helpful in avoiding a pitch becoming spam. In terms of COVID for example, one reporter may focus on the medical angle, while another focuses on human interest, and a third covers vaccine distribution. Reporter databases are extremely helpful in discerning the different beats and angles, but so is reading their news bio online, or even visiting their Twitter page.
- Develop a Relationship with the Media: It might be a little longer term then doing some research but building a relationship with a reporter will be well worth it in the end if the pitch turns into a story. This could involve a brief introduction over email, asking for a larger introduction phone call that doesn’t pitch anything. In a non-pandemic year, maybe going to get lunch even – face to face – like the good old days.
- Ask a Reporter What They Need: In support of building a relationship, asking a reporter what they need for their coverage in the future can be incredibly helpful. This means letting the reporter know resources, such as a client spokesperson, are available to them when they need it.
- Minimize the Legwork for the Reporter: In this hectic day and age, pitches should make the reporter’s job easier, not harder. This means providing reporters with the news hook, but also data and supporting materials, a spokesperson to speak with, interviewees to of course interview, and whatever else they may need. This doesn’t mean we package the story for them, but rather cutting out some of the time-consuming busy work.
With the current way news is operating, it doesn’t mean the phone called pitch has gone the way of the dinosaurs, or that a PR pitch can’t break into the news cycle.
It just means that we are diligent in our research, take the time to build relationships with reporters, and provide an email pitch to a reporter first.
When these pieces are in place, it also means that when we call a reporter, they know they can rely on us for a pitch that is worth picking up the phone for.