How to Pitch a Story to a Reporter Without Offending Them

The best way to get information in the hands of reporters without wasting their - or your - time.

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By John Boitnott

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When it comes to pursuing media coverage, a company is often laser-focused on getting a pitch into a reporter's hands and winning them over. In the process, it may be easy to forget that reporters are people, too. They're busy professionals who might feel annoyed or even repulsed by awkward email pitches or follow-ups.

Marketing teams can approach media outlets and get the desired media coverage without hounding them. Here are the do's and don'ts of reporter engagement.

Related: How to Spot Real News from Fake News Online: A Definitive Guide

What not to do

Let's start with what you should not do when it comes to approaching reporters, especially those you barely know.

Ignoring boundaries

Let's say you met a reporter briefly online or at a recent conference. From there, you added them on sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, and maybe the reporter added you, too. So far, so good.

However, if you jump right into pitching your company or sending a press release via a private social media chat, you'll most likely not get what you want. The same goes for trying a "cold" phone call out of the blue. These approaches are offensive, because you're not acknowledging their right to privacy. No reporter wants to be hit with PR pitches that way. You are assuming the reporter is using this channel for reporting purposes, when that might not be the case. And in any event, no one wants to feel used.

Telling reporters what to write

Another mistake is thinking you are in control of what news story a reporter should write. Doing so assumes you and your brand are more important than the reporter. No reporter wants to hear or feel that. They and the editorial staff at their publication are in control of their professional output, and it's up to you to determine how to provide them with value.

Delivering promotional content

Reporters are not salespeople, marketers or even influencers. It's not their job to sell your story ideas, products or services. Rather, their job is to tell newsworthy stories and share insightful, valuable information with their audiences.

Related: Be Careful How 'Fyre'd' up You Get About Influencer Marketing

Not taking "no" for an answer

If a journalist tells you that they are not interested in your pitch, they mean it. By the same token, if they don't respond to your first or second emails, they are also letting you know your ideas don't work for them. If you continue to push your pitches on them because you can't take no for an answer, then it may adversely impact your reputation in the media community.

Reaching reporters the right way

Now, let's look at some effective strategies and approaches to working with reporters.

Get to know who you're working with

Before your initial pitch, learn more about the media contact. Google them. Also, there are databases with reporter information like Cision where you can search reporters by name and read about their contact preferences for pitches, including format and focus.

Reporters might also have a website or list their niches on their social media profiles. You can also visit their publication and read what they've published. Then you can align your email subject line and media pitch to their preferences and previous work, including whether they or their publication are interested in publishing guest articles, breaking news, sector or trends overviews, or product reviews.

If you are following them on social media channels, take the time to scroll through their feed to see what they post, how they interact with those who ask questions and what type of visuals they share. Reporters will see you did your homework and appreciate the effort you've made to address their subject matter interests or preferences.

Related: 5 Tips on How to Pitch Your Startup to Get the Press You Need

Cultivate relationships

From there, you need to start building a relationship without asking them to do anything for you. Consider retweeting them and sharing their articles, or those of their publication. Comment substantively on their content and develop your relationship from there. Don't expect anything in return.

Focus on helping

Begin to introduce and share information that can help the reporter and his or her audience. You can also locate journalists on sites like HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and deliver your thought leadership when reporters actively ask for it.

Journalists also want to create stories that set them apart from their colleagues, partly so they can win followers and the respect of the industry. Help them do this by delivering new insights, data and perspectives on trending topics the reporter covers.

Another approach to press coverage is to offer writers alternative viewpoints around a trending story or topic. This is especially useful because reporters might be seeking a counter-argument to the popular narrative rather than just repeating what everyone else shares.

Be respectful

Always be respectful of a reporter's time and privacy. Optimize pitch distribution to reporters during regular working hours and avoid evenings and weekends when a journalist might want to be left alone.

Be patient

Overall, it's crucial to develop a strong sense of patience when pitching reporters, whether it's your first time or a follow-up. There are no immediate results with media coverage or public relations. It's a slow build that requires thoughtful planning and methodical tactics focused on reporter or publication needs. Taking your time and following these best practices will yield results.

Related: 5 Reasons That Reporter Isn't Calling You Back

John Boitnott

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

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