Journalism tactics for telling your story and securing coverage

A reporter reveals lessons from a quarter-century of pitching colorful features to demanding editors—takeaways that can help PR pros break through and land stories in print.

Where’s the human interest in your story? That’s a key question I learned to ask in my 25 years as a journalist.

During that time, I would pitch story ideas, all the while learning my editors’ preferences. One time, an editor declined my offer to write about an emerging artist.

“What will your second paragraph say?” he asked.

He explained that he wanted human interest; he got plenty in response. I re-pitched the story, providing details about an 88-year-old dying artist who was bedridden and painting with an easel resting on his stomach. The editor approved the story.

Reporters must obtain approval for stories from editors, so knowing what and how to pitch makes a difference. Such valuable lessons are crucial for public relations professionals. As you build relationships with reporters, use these three tips to increase your pitching success:

1. Be prepared to answer the question, “What will your second paragraph say?”

In the lead sentence of a news release, PR pros often provide answers to the key questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? All this information is relevant, but news features require more. Simply providing data might land you a spot on a weekly calendar, but that rarely leads to a feature article. You might stick to the basics in your release, but give your pitch some life. Tell reporters all about an upcoming art exhibit in your press release. Then, in your pitch, explain that the leading artist is an 88-year-old in hospice care, that he paints in bed with his easel lying flat on his stomach and that he’s completed 40-plus pieces of art in two weeks.

2. Put details in context for the reporter.

Reporters receive hundreds of releases every week. Often, they select the pitch they can write quickly and with the least effort. Provide details; then explain how the details fit in the story. For example, tell the reporter that although the exhibit features 40 artists, only one has painted his submissions while in hospice care. Don’t leave those human-interest details for the journalist to discover.

3. Connect your pitch to trends and daily news when applicable.

Look for trends and news related to your story. Capture the reporter’s attention with the lead, then explain why your story matters. In the case of the art exhibit and the dying painter, you could include trends related to terminally ill artists.

Try to tie your pitch to larger stories that are already in the news cycle. Strategically newsjack, anticipate which stories would have wide interest and a long shelf life, and build a compelling case for why your pitch matters.

A version of this post first appeared on the Axia Public Relations blog.

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