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Stepping Into a Reporter's Shoes

By understanding a reporter's needs and schedule, you'll have a better chance of getting your news in their publication.
September 25, 2007
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/184658

When pitching the media, many PR pros employ their own tools and techniques to grab a reporter's attention. These can range from a particular type of subject line to eye-catching formatting or an inspired greeting. Such techniques can work a lot of the time, but they never work all the time. This is due to a simple fact: Each reporter is different.

All reporters have varying needs, concerns, objectives and personal styles. That's why it's so important to understand the reporter's point of view. It does require some effort, but will be worth it.

For entrepreneurs who sell their products and services to a variety of customers, stepping into someone else's shoes may come naturally. The sales skills needed to close a transaction are similar to those needed to get a journalist to follow through on a pitch. The skill is using those sales techniques the right way at the right time. That's why you need a strategy for getting a journalist's attention and gaining his or her trust.

Understanding the Reporter's Point of View
Your pitch letter, sent via e-mail, is your primary vehicle for conveying your story idea. It needs to be presented and worded in a way that captures a reporter's attention and inspires action. To do so, you first need to appreciate what's important to them.

Audience: First, research the publication the reporter writes for. Who is it aimed at? What's the writing style? Try to image the typical reader. The reporter will be writing to satisfy the interests of this group. For instance, readers of regional newspapers generally favor the local, "company next door" angle, while subscribers to a business publication usually want issues related to sales, financial strength and "tools of the trade." Understanding these nuances will allow you to create a pitch that strikes a chord with the reporter.

Tone, style and subject focus: Next, research the reporter's prior stories. When reading their articles, notice what interests the reporter in terms of content. Do they look at the human side of a story or the cold hard facts? Take note of their style, tone and slant. Are the subjects described in positive terms? Do they generally take an antagonistic stance? If so, you may want to rethink your pitch altogether.

Timing: This also affects how receptive a reporter will be. If you're pitching a daily paper, afternoons will often be busy as reporters prepare stories for the next day. Weekly papers are often on deadline on Thursday or Friday, but it's worth calling first to check. For monthly publications, issue and deadline dates vary. Monthly publications often plan months ahead, so if your news is time sensitive, it's unlikely to be relevant to the publication.

Editors: One last point to keep in mind is that reporters answer to editors. You're not just pitching the reporter, you're also pitching the reporter's editor, and perhaps the editor's editor. Many factors and layers of decisions affect a pitch's success or failure.

Creating Your Pitch
Once you've done your background homework, you're ready to write your pitch letter. Keep the tone and style professional and friendly. Start with a short, personal introduction and move quickly to the body of the e-mail.

Keeping the particular reporter in mind, use information from past news releases or industry events as the basis of the letter. Describe the topic succinctly, pulling out the most newsworthy items from the end-reader's perspective. After all, this is the audience the reporter is writing for as well. Then, most importantly, describe why the topic is interesting to readers of the publication. Keep the reporter's style of reporting in mind. For instance, if you're pitching a writer who focuses on human-interest articles, draw on any compelling personalities from your own story.

Reference other articles by the journalist if applicable, describing how they relate and why your news adds to the overarching coverage. This shows that you're familiar with the reporter's work, and not just sending a homogenous spam e-mail to many outlets.

Lastly, always include a call to action. Ask the reporter their thoughts and interest in the story, and then recommend steps for following up. Remember to send the e-mail at a time of day when the reporter will be most receptive to your news.

The Follow-Up Call
Despite your best efforts, you often won't get an immediate response from the journalist. When you should place a follow-up call depends on the publishing schedule of the outlet and the type of news you have. If your news is time sensitive, you may want to call back the same day. If not, calling the next day is usually a better option.

Prepare mentally beforehand. Read over your initial pitch letter and jot down some key points that you want to convey. Avoid beginning with, "Did you receive my e-mail?" Try to offer new information or an interview with the subject of your press release.

If the journalist sounds abrupt or curt, don't take it personally. If you sense this right away, ask if there's a better time to call. Journalists are extremely busy and receive a huge amount of pitches every day. In fact, you may have to call back a number of times just to connect with a live person.

Once you have initiated a conversation, listen to what the reporter says, rather than pushing your own agenda. Keep your key points in mind, but be flexible. Sometimes a journalist may be looking for something that's not quite in line with your story, but that you can help with in some way.

Remember that your job is two-fold: to draw attention to your e-mail pitch and to build a relationship with the journalist. Sometimes you gain one without the other.