The right way to pitch a national day or month
Journalists are starting to get annoyed. But it’s not time to abandon ship yet.
Every person working in comms has probably heard a client or colleague suggest a pitch around a moment in time. With a day to honor everything from fighting for equal pay to making your bed, it’s tempting to try to build a story around a designated day or month in hopes it hooks a reporter covering that topic.
While there will probably always be writers, bloggers and influencers looking for a unique, timely hook around these moments in time, we’re also seeing more members of the media express distaste for these types of pitches. CyberScoop’s Tonya Riley recently clarified that she won’t be covering any awareness month stories: “Will be easing back into work tomorrow, but my doctor says I have to send all Cybersecurity Awareness Month pitches straight to trash ☹️…sorry I don’t make the rules!” And Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman explicitly asked PR pros to avoid pitching stories related to International Women’s Day or Women’s History Month, declaring, “Fast Company delivers ongoing coverage of female leaders year-round.”
When pitching national days (or months), make sure you know your outlets. In other words, if a publication is covering women leaders regularly, a pitch around Women’s History Month is going to seem off. We’re also living in an era where actions speak louder than words, with companies getting called out on everything from the way layoffs are handled to internal discussion about politics, so it’s critically important that every proactive pitch around a moment in time is authentic. If you’re a company that generates the majority of your revenue from fossil fuel extraction, for example, you’re not the source reporters are looking for on Earth Day.
Putting the select media criticism aside, designated days can be an effective tool to anchor a story and drive creativity, especially when you consider the likely alignment with a company’s internal initiatives, blog posts and other owned content. Building a story around a moment in time can still be a solid strategy, but these three tips will help make it timeless.
Tell a bigger story
To maximize the longevity of your idea, use the moment in time to pitch, but look for opportunities to tell a bigger story by embracing radical curiosity. For example, before you pitch an interview with a veteran employee for Veteran’s Day, ask them to share personal anecdotes and opinions about timely news hooks. Maybe they’ll share a unique perspective on something like remote work or mental health benefits that can make a story resonate beyond their history of service. Every good storyteller is looking for humanity, emotion and personality to inspire creative writing, so encourage your designated spokesperson to get personal about something that’s already relevant in the news. You’ll likely have better luck enticing a reporter with a pitch about a veteran-turned-tech employee’s perspective on the importance of offering mental health benefits at work than a pitch that simply offers an interview with a veteran employee ahead of Veteran’s Day.
If your story-mining turns out to be largely fruitless and there are no unique anecdotes or perspectives to build the story beyond the moment in time, make sure to pitch several weeks in advance. It probably comes as no surprise, but reporters are busier than ever. In September, TechCrunch’s Mary Ann Azevedo said “I think I’ve received more pitches this week than I did the entire summer” and Forbes’ Alex Konrad tweeted he’d gotten his first pitch for 2023 predictions. With that in mind, pitch at least a few weeks ahead of your chosen date to get ahead of the inevitable competition.
If all else fails, get creative
Sometimes even the most strategic storytelling tactics can prove ineffective, but creativity is always a solid backup plan. Instead of sending a basic moment-in-time pitch, try thinking about it from a different perspective. For example, rather than offering a conversation with a working mom for Mother’s Day, look for stories about women who find the holiday triggering after suffering from infertility. Even if there isn’t a personal story to offer, simply acknowledging the dark side of a seemingly innocent holiday can be effective – just ask Parachute and Etsy, who were covered last year after sending a mass email offering subscribers the option to opt out of Mother’s Day marketing materials. Or take a page from wedding brand Zola’s playbook – ahead of an expected vote on marriage equality, Zola created a wedding-style invitation, which ran as a full-page ad in The Washington Post, with plans to send it personally to any U.S. senator who has not publicly spoken out in support for the Respect for Marriage Act.
Proactive pitches with a timely hook will never completely go out of style, but looking for creative ways to tell a more comprehensive story beyond the moment in time will make it feel more relevant to reporters and help you avoid their cringeworthy tweets about tone-deaf offers from PR pros.
Dora Scheidlinger is account director at Method Communications.