20 Ways to Craft a Winning Media Pitch
When pitching to the media, the key to a successful “sale” of your story is twofold. A winning media pitch transforms your topic or issue from what you find important to what the reporter finds newsworthy. You do that by fitting your pitch into a broader story “theme.”
For instance, in the 2004 comedy “Anchorman,” the news that a famous panda was about to give birth at the San Diego Zoo had the news team for TV station KVWN on high alert. A series of “Panda Watch!” news reports by anchorman Ron Burgundy, played by Will Ferrell, ensued. They culminated in a live, on-location news segment that provided the dramatic climax to the movie.
The birth of a panda cub would be as newsy in real life as it was in the movie – albeit without the irreverence and absurdity of the KVWN team. That’s because, as a theme, animal arrivals make for a great news story.
Not everyone is able to deliver a media pitch about the birth of a rare bear. However, there are many other stories to tell, and reporters who want to share them. As part of our media training courses, we focus on building effective and memorable messages. By focusing on one or several of these 20 media pitches, you can transform your message and your story ideas from newsy to newsworthy.
Crafting a Media Pitch 101
The way to a reporter’s heart, and their ears, is to provide details that make for a compelling story.
Here’s an example:
Your media pitch is about a local student’s third-place win in a national essay contest. Reporters are more likely to find a first-place finish more newsworthy. Therefore, throw out those extra hooks that make this story compelling. Highlight what makes this third-place win as great as a first-place finish. Here’s how that conversation could go:
Intro: “I have a great story of a local student who came in third in a national essay contest.”
Hook: “I know first-place wins are more newsworthy, but this story has an interesting twist. This student moved to the United States as a non-native speaker a year ago. That’s the exact time she began to learn English.”
Angle: “She credits the teachers and innovative language instruction at this town’s middle school as helping her to succeed.”
There is always more to the story.
The following list includes scenarios, situations, and subjects that reporters find newsworthy. Find the one that works best for your story and tailor a compelling message. The ultimate goal is to hear the three words from the reporter that should be music to your ears: “Tell me more.”
20 Newsworthy Media Pitches
1. Conflict – Reporters are professional storytellers, and conflict is a key ingredient in dramatic storytelling. This doesn’t have to be “War of the Worlds” level invasion. Rather, a contest of wills or an enduring disagreement can certainly fuel a story.
The pitch: Say, for instance, you represent a preservation group working to save an old building. A reporter is likely to become more interested if the group’s plan is facing a developer’s deadline.
2. Local – Make sure the issue affects the market you are trying to pitch. Universal needs and concerns may appeal to larger news organizations, but smaller markets tend to cover particular geographic areas.
The pitch: Find links to anything and anyone local before pitching a broad topic.
3. “Breaking News” – These are often unexpected tragic events or dramatic events, such as a plane crash, a famous person’s death, or a natural disaster.
The pitch: If you are a spokesperson for a relief agency, you could provide details of local recovery efforts for a global disaster.
4. Extremes or Superlatives – Reporters gravitate toward extremes and superlatives – the first, the last, the best, the worst, the biggest, the smallest – because they are equally fascinating to their readers and viewers.
The pitch: Look to see whether your story contains an extreme or superlative and highlight it.
5. New – People like new things, or the “latest and greatest” the world has to offer. Any launch of a new technology product should suffice as evidence.
The pitch: This category is no slam dunk, however, even if your news is new. During the media pitch, reporters still need to be told why it matters, now.
6. Clicks – In the past, news organizations could deduce reader or viewer interest through the number of subscribers or the size of the audience. In the digital age, a story’s news value also can be tracked by how many users click on it. More clicks mean more readers, and the possibility they will share those links on social media – thereby increasing the clicks. Those clicks not only generate advertising dollars but also reveal what readers want.
The pitch: Journalists look for stories that call for strong visuals, such as photos and videos. While a media pitch still needs to be newsworthy, don’t fail to mention if the story is a natural for visuals and likely to generate lots of clicks on social media.
7. Timely and Relevant – Timely stories about an upcoming event and stories relevant to the news organization’s specialty are often considered newsworthy.
The pitch: A good example would be an upcoming hearing at your statehouse about a topic that affects the state’s senior citizens. The story will be of greater interest to a news organization that covers local politics than one that doesn’t.
8. News You Can Use – Any story that provides practical knowledge to the reporter’s audience has a shot of getting picked up.
The pitch: Say a city changes the process of how people pay their taxes online. A reporter is likely to be interested in the change itself. However, if you also can provide information on how that specifically impacts readers – the new process shaves off 20 minutes of the typical transaction – you will likely attract more attention.
9. Scandal – The hedge fund manager rips off his clients. A town administrator pockets public tax dollars. An unsolved murder occurs in a sleepy, backwoods suburb. Frankly, scandals jazz up the day-to-day doldrums. Although you don’t want to be the subject of a scandal, you may have some expertise or service that has a bearing on the story.
The pitch: For instance, if you are an investment advisor, you could offer to talk about the services available for people who have been affected by financial scams.
10. David vs. Goliath/The Underdog – In many stories, there is a “big guy” and a “little guy.” Since the media often view their role as being the protector of the exploited, the little guy usually receives more sympathetic coverage. Similarly, readers and viewers tend to love the underdog.
The pitch: Go ahead and pitch that story of your neighbor who, after years of struggle, finally earned her college degree.
11. Incompetence – The corporate executive, politician, or celebrity who can’t seem to get it right will almost always draw the critical eye of the press. To fill out their stories, reporters might look for sources that could speak to aspects of the story.
The pitch: If you are a communications specialist, media relations professional, or PR firm, you could offer clients who are subject matter experts on say, falls from grace, public anger, or the impact on businesses or organizations affiliated with the executive or celebrity.
12. Surprising – Stories with unexpected hooks are potent bait to a reporter. Consequently, you leave word with a reporter that the results of your study reveal that eating ice cream while walking has more health benefits than walking alone.
The pitch: Who wouldn’t return the call?
13. Hypocrisy – There are few stories as delicious to reporters as powerful people betraying their own publicly-stated positions. A president of an animal shelter gets caught abusing animals. A pastor is caught pocketing church donations. A celebrity home organizer is cited for piles of debris in her backyard. These stories are almost guaranteed to remain in the headlines for several days or weeks.
The pitch: Are you a researcher who just finished a study on forgiveness? Are you an author of a book about hypocrisy? You have information to offer – the kind reporters will be looking to share.
14. Emotion – The details of every story differ, but there are basic archetypes, such as quests, happy endings, and redemptions. Journalists are adept at creating and recreating stories every day. Propose new ways to look at old stories.
The pitch: Your small gift store is celebrating its first year. A reporter may not find that interesting. However, you have a customer who comes in nearly every day. If you are celebrating her loyalty on that first-year anniversary, a reporter would be more likely want to share that story.
15. Milestones – Milestones mark significant events or developments in the life of a town or city, a person’s career, an anniversary, a sports team’s history, or a cultural or social issue. Reporters find these pitches newsworthy, but they are always looking for a fresh hook.
The pitch: Perhaps, you are the author of a new book that explores a local milestone. Or, you are the architect who designed a well-known building that is turning 50. Reporters appreciate milestones, but also love the stories behind them.
16. Inspirational – This storyline is similar to the David vs. Goliath/Underdog category. However, in this case, it tells the tale of a person who suffered hardships or struggles, only to emerge a better person.
The pitch: Perhaps you have a client who just opened a tutoring center. That might be newsworthy enough. However, a reporter could be more intrigued that your client struggled as a student, overcame those obstacles, and decided to open the center to help others like her.
17. The follow-up – Journalists often break a “breaking news” story only to scramble for second-day leads. These stories delve into the extra details or other sides they were unable to reach for the first one.
The pitch: Say there has been a horrible accident on the highway. The story may shift to damage to the roadway. Therefore, reporters look for sources to provide expertise on any part of that story – traffic safety, road closures, or alternative routes.
18. Profile/Personality piece – Readers love to read about people. Journalists usually are open to in-depth profile or personality pieces.
The pitch: Get a sense of the profiles or personality pieces that the news organization publishes. As a result, you can build a comprehensive and compelling profile of the personality before pitching to the media. Include challenges and other narrative twists to hook the reporter’s attention.
19. Trends – News organizations often “localize” national trends, fads, or novelty. One example is the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge, which went viral on social media. As a result, the campaign raised millions of dollars for ALS research and advocacy. Many news outlets wrote stories and aired clips on people in their communities who had accepted the “challenge.”
The pitch: As a spokesperson for a chapter of a large organization, you similarly could find ways to link your group’s national mission or events with local stories of interest.
20. Old story, new twist – Sometimes reporters revisit a decades-old story, such as a cold case. Or, they may be tempted by a pitch that suggests a historical event should be looked at in a new way.
The pitch: Journalists like to dip into the past, but they don’t want to write historical accounts. For that reason, the story also needs to be relevant to a reader, who, like the reporter will wonder, “What’s next?” With a cold case, for instance, you would want to compile relevant historical information, as well as new material or ideas of where the investigation goes next.
The proper pitch
What makes a good story? It’s a question the American Press Institute asks and one worth asking. Here’s part of the institute’s answer:
Creating a good story means finding and verifying important or interesting information and then presenting it in a way that engages the audience.
That approach takes two – you and the journalist. Journalists often receive hundreds of emails every day – with dozens of tips among them. You and your story stand out when you create a compelling media pitch.
So, take out that story you’re about to pitch. See if it aligns with any of the 20 scenarios, situations, and subjects we have offered here. You probably have several angles. However, before you make the pitch, ask yourself: What makes my story newsworthy?