The information nonprofits have to share is important but getting the word out with a limited budget can seem impossible. This is where the media can help us share the stories that can truly make a difference – at no expense.  But how do you make your story stand out from the thousands of pitches hurled at the media each day? At times it can seem impossible but knowing a few tricks of the trade can help your story stand out.

There are many media (print, radio, television, digital) at varying levels (national, regional, local) with a variety of genres (health, city, lifestyle, sports) – it’s hard to know where to start. Each area has different needs and an effective pitch requires a unique approach tailored to your target medium. The following tips are based on pitching to a local broadcast news outlet; however they can be tweaked to support pitching to most media.

Research your media outlet

Before you pitch, do a little research about the outlet and the folks involved. Knowing the key players and how the outlet works can save you a lot of time.

The first thing to know is who to pitch to. Most of us are familiar with the reporters and anchors; we see/hear them on the news and work with them to coordinate interviews. However, editorial decisions are usually determined by others behind the scenes:

  • If you’re pitching a story to a specific program (morning show, news magazine, etc.) your best bet is to connect with the producer.
  • If you’re pitching breaking or hard news, press conferences or events, you’ll want to contact the assignment editor.
  • For feature items that are not as time-sensitive, connecting with a specialty reporter (crime, health, political, consumer watch, lifestyle, etc.) is the best place to start.

Make sure you are familiar with the program and the type of the stories the outlet covers. This will help you focus on targeting media that are likely to be more responsive and avoid annoying or offending your contact.

Finally, brush up on your current events. Know what’s happening.  Is there a big announcement coming out from the premier? Is severe weather imminent, occurring or recently occurred? Knowing the news can help you strategize when to make your pitch and when to follow up. Following up with a busy assignment desk in the middle of breaking news won’t produce favourable results.

Ensure your story is newsworthy

Now that you’ve done your research it’s time to look at what to pitch. The work of nonprofits is very important but isn’t always news.

It’s always great to have the facts and figures to support your cause but without a story it can be a tough sell. People don’t remember statistics as much as they remember how they feel. Having a compelling story to accompany any piece of information will help it get noticed AND be remembered.

Before pitching any story make sure it contains one or more of the following newsworthy elements:

1. Local – Does the story happen within the community? Province? Country? If you are pitching to a local outlet this element is essential.

2. Impactful – Will this story impact a broad audience or only a small group? The more lives the news affects, the more likely it is to be picked up.

3. Out of the ordinary – Did something unusual or rare occur?

4. Celebrity or popularity – Does the story involve a well-known individual?

5. Recent – What is the timeline of the story? Make sure your pitches involve recent events where possible. The more time passes, the less newsworthy the story.

6. Trends or current events – Does your story involve an upcoming holiday, sporting event or popular trend?

7. Conflict – Fighting, disagreements or war; especially between prominent or celebrity subjects.

Be selective of the stories you pitch. Establishing a reputation for providing newsworthy story ideas will ensure your contacts open your emails or answer your calls in the future.

Time your pitch strategically

WHEN you pitch a story can greatly impact your success.

Earlier in the day is usually best; by 9:00 a.m. morning meetings are taking place and often the day’s agenda is already set. Pitching in the morning also provides an opportunity for your story to be included as part of other affiliate programming.

Fridays tend to be the least favourable news day, especially in the afternoons.

Weekends are generally not as favourable as during the week. Newsrooms have fewer resources and viewership tends to be lower. Weekends can also be competitive when it comes to pitching events or softer news.

Be prepared

Now that you know who, what and when you are pitching, make sure you are ready to deliver. Before you start pitching, make sure your key players are briefed and on-board.

The easier you make it for the story to be covered, the likelier the pickup. It may be a great idea but if you fail to deliver the spokesperson or information then there is no story. Have all supporting elements on-hand and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice; this includes backgrounders, other key information, transportation, office space (filming), etc. Be available and respond immediately.

Go for it

Now that you’re ready to pitch, there are many ways to go about it. As you build relationships and get to know your media contacts, you’ll learn more about individual preferences.

In a busy news world, a personalized Tweet or email is a great way to start. Keep emails short and include your three key points at the beginning. Writing an email makes it easy for media to archive or include your story as part of a plan. You can include additional information or a media release/advisory at the bottom of your email but avoid sending attachments or PDFs and other non-copy friendly formats.

A follow-up phone call can go a long way but remember to be strategic with your timing.

Be gracious

Say thanks! Showing your appreciation helps build a positive relationship and will be remembered next time.

Was your pitch a flop? Don’t be too hard on yourself. News is unpredictable and ultimately out of your control. Always work on creating and maintaining positive relationships with your media contacts. If a reporter calls looking for a contact that might not directly benefit your organization, making the extra effort will be remembered next time you need a favour.

Good luck with your pitching!

Katie Ostler

Katie Ostler

Media Relations and Digital Communications Professional
Katie Ostler is a public relations professional specializing in media relations and digital communications. She has worked for nonprofit organizations such as Santas Anonymous, the Alberta Library and the Canadian Diabetes Association. She spends her free time hanging out with her new baby Charlie and husband Simon.
Katie Ostler