Understanding the who, not just the how, of pitching

The most beautifully crafted pitch on Earth won’t go anywhere if you’re sending it to the wrong person.

Building a list, figuring out whom to pitch, how many people at a given organization to pitch—these are all mysteries to PR pros with little experience and/or training. Pitching the wrong people at a media outlet makes the entire pitch fall flat. If you want to obtain fast results and build relationships with the right people, you must learn whom to pitch. It’s just as important as how. They go hand in hand. Here are a few rules of thumb that will, of course, vary by market and by the size of the media outlet. Broadcast 1. If you are pitching a television station and your story is breaking news or something timely, start by emailing the news desk or the assignment editor. Start with the major networks/affiliates offering evening news—CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox. 2. If your story is a human interest story, identify who covers those stories by watching the news several nights in a row or looking at archived segments online. If it is the same reporter each time, pitch that reporter. If it varies, I typically go through the assignments editor by sharing my idea and asking for an introduction to the right contact. 3. If you don’t use a media database such as Cision or Vocus, look for an online staff directory or pitching tips on their “contact us” page that might have valuable information on whom to pitch. 4. Never be afraid to call and ask questions about whom to pitch and how their decision process works. This is especially true for TV stations, which can be far more complicated than print media when it comes to responsibilities and assignment processes. When is their production meeting? When is the best time to pitch for the morning news show? Evening news? Who is the best person to pitch for breaking news? Morning shows? Weekends? Segments or shows related to your specific market? Do they have a staff directory or tips sheet that might be helpful? The more you understand about how they operate and who handles what, the more effective you will be. If you have local clients, you will need to thoroughly understand the local media. Take time to learn about their needs, instead of just pushing your own agenda. 5. Want to land a morning show spot? Pitch the producer for that specific show, not the news desk, station producer, or anchor. Same thing goes for hosted shows like “Dr. Oz” or “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Don’t pitch Ellen; pitch the show producer. 6. Watch the news, so you know who reports on human interest stories, controversial or investigative stories, individual communities, and more. This doesn’t only help you with how to pitch, but it helps you identify whom to pitch. 7. If it is a radio station, pitch a producer before you pitch a host. Smaller stations typically have one producer; large radio stations may have producers for individual shows and/or hosts who produce their own shows (instead of a separate producer). Newspapers 1. Look for beat reporters who fit your story and audience. Specify an industry, audience, or community level. You wouldn’t want to pitch the metro reporter if your human interest story is about a resident who lives in the outskirts, and you wouldn’t pitch breaking news to the “busy moms” reporter. Fit the story angle to the specific reporter who covers that kind of story. 2. Don’t pitch the editor in chief or the executive editor; they rarely handle day-to-day story assignments or pitch decisions. 3. Get familiar with the entire staff directory, as one story can be tweaked and pitched to multiple reporters. If you have a health care story idea, for example, it can be often be reworked to apply to different beat reporters, such as the health care reporter, the home/family reporter, and the community reporter. For example, a story on a new prosthetic device manufactured by a local company might be (1) a “new product” story for the health care editor on the product launch and use of specialized new materials to decrease allergens and irritation, (2) a human interest story on a local veteran using the prosthetic for the community reporter, (3) a business economics story on how the product launch is expected to affect the job market, and (4) how to convert a bathroom to be handicapped accessible for the home reporter. Each story angle would be changed to fit the story to their area of interest, but you can move the story to another beat reporter if your first pitch doesn’t land a placement or if they already ran something on your client/employer. The right contact for a pitch won’t always be the same beat reporter; it can change. 4. If it is a small community newspaper, the rules might shift. If you use a database such as Cision or Vocus, read the journalists’ job descriptions. Use common sense in choosing one contact who best fits your story. Don’t give up and blast everyone; take time to identify the correct person. 5. Writing an opinion piece for the newspaper? Send it to the editorial page editor or the Opinion section editor only. If it is related to a specific issue covered by a beat reporter—such as a piece on the real estate economy that you want the real estate reporter to know about—CC that reporter, but don’t send it only to the beat reporter. They write their own articles and can’t use it. If it is a small community paper or a business journal that doesn’t have a specific person handling opinion editorial, send it to the editor. Magazines 1. Local and trade magazines—always pitch the editor. As with newspapers, don’t bother pitching the editor in chief, deputy editor, or executive editor. 2. Major magazines often have multiple editors for different beats. Obtain a staff directory or use a media database to review their titles and topics they cover to identify the correct contacts. If you don’t have access to that information, call and ask. 3. If there are both editors and directors, such as a food editor and a food director, choose the editor. The directors are more likely to handle planning and logistics (such as food photography), instead of content. 4. Don’t reach out to the publisher. That person is more concerned with operations and advertising than with editorial. Extremely small publications might be the exception, if the publisher is also the acting editor. 5. Look through several issues to identify whether they use regular columnists (meaning they probably are paid staff) or whether authors are constantly changing (meaning they probably accept byline submissions that you will have to write). Either way you’ll pitch the editor, but knowing this should shift how you pitch. 6. Look for freelance writers who have been published in the magazine you are targeting. If their past writings fit with your pitch, go through them instead of the editor. If you are lucky enough to have them love your story, they might re-purpose it to work with several different publications. Don’t send it to the editor; freelancers will want to pitch it to the editor themselves as part of their sales process.

I’m sure I forgot a few things, and this is just my opinion, based on experience. If you disagree or want to add anything, please post a comment. Carrie Morgan is a 20-plus year public relations veteran based in Phoenix, specializing in digital PR. A version of this story first appeared on the Rock The Status Quo blog. (Image via)


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