How to Pitch to a Reporter

by Pari Noskin Taichert

(Hi all. I bet you thought I’d be posting about the marvelous Con Misterio. Well, I will . . . eventually. I’ve got to go through the pictures, find the links for the authors’ mugs — I like to give them the additional plug — and see if I can decrease the red eyes so that they don’t all look like vampires. Since I’m typing this late on Sunday night after just getting off the plane . . . I’ll save my report until next Monday.)

I originally wrote this article for my Bad Girls Press website. It’s targeted to a general audience — but the lessons are important and I hope you all will benefit from them.

How to Pitch to a Reporter

When you’re cooking dinner, nudging the dog from the kitchen with one foot and chasing the cat out of the garbage can with the other, the last thing you want is a salesman with a long-winded patter, even if you’d normally be interested in his product.

Think of your phone call to the news media in the same way. Any reporter, news director, or assignments editor with whom you speak is busy, very busy.

Put your ego aside. Don your mental running shoes and entice that person with a juicy pitch — one she can’t resist. To be successful, you have to frame your information so that it focuses entirely on her wants and needs rather than your own.

Don’t get it? Here’s an example of common mistakes people make when approaching a reporter on the phone.

Wrong:
Reporter:  Thompson.

SS: Hello, Ms. Thompson. My name is Sally Swagger and I’m the executive director of the Save the Pennies Foundation. Our purpose is to ensure that pennies remain in circulation — both for historical and practical reasons. Did you see that report on XYZ news last week about the government phasing out pennies? Well, we were simply aghast! Frankly, we feel the poor penny has been so long neglected and ignored that —

Reporter: Excuse me, I’m working on deadline.

SS: Well, this will only take a minute. As I was saying — aren’t pennies just lovely? We think more items should be bought with these beautiful copper Lincolns rather than using other coins. People waste so much by hoarding their pennies and that’s why . . .

******Do you think the reporter is still listening to Sally? Don’t bet on it. Chances are, if a reporter isn’t responding or asking questions — and you’ve been able to take more than two breaths in your pitch — you’ve already lost her.

What’s the lesson here?
Rather than blather, cut to the chase. Be prepared to quickly point out the something special that makes your event (or book) worth covering. For radio, you need to be sure it’s got a good audio component. For television, you want to make sure the pitch contains a strong visual potential rather than BOPSA (bunches of people sitting around).

Let’s say Sally’s lengthy intro is leading up to a description of a special Paying with Pennies Day where all the Foundation members plan to use pennies to buy everything for 24 hours.

Let’s replay the conversation.

Right:
Reporter:  Thompson.

SS: Hi, I’m Sally Swagger with Save the Pennies Foundation. Do you know what $1000 worth of pennies weighs?

Reporter (caught off guard): What?

SS: About 150 pounds. Our first Paying with Pennies Day is this Saturday. One of our members will buy his new car with nothing but pennies.

Reporter:  You’re kidding, right?

SS: Nope. He’s been saving for twelve years. We know he’ll need several wheelbarrows — and a couple of pickup trucks — to haul them into Bill ‘s Buick over on 12th Street. And another one of our participants plans to go to the Ritz for a champagne brunch. I wonder how many pennies that’ll take?

Reporter:  Hold on. (The reporter is now opening a computer file, or writing notes, or motioning her assignments editor over to her desk. Her eyes are twinkling. She’s got visions of her story hitting television stations across the country.) What was your name again?

See the difference?
Sally got right to the point. But even more important, she was ready with an attention-grabbing angle. She didn’t bother to talk about her organization’s purpose in the phone call; that can be covered in a short information sheet when the reporter or cameraman arrives to film one of the events. Since Sally wanted television coverage, she spotlighted the visual aspect early. She also was smart to present choices — that’s like offering two kinds of dessert.

Coverage in a scary world:
Right now, most news outlets are focusing on the war in Iraq, avian flu and other crises. Garnering publicity for your product/event/book may seem even more difficult. And you might be right. There simply isn’t as much radio, television or print space dedicated to non-tragedy related news. But don’t let that stop you.

Of the many people trying to get media attention, you’ve got an edge. You know what to do:
Be smart — work your pitch to meet reporters’ needs.
Be brief — don’t waste his or her precious time or attention.
Be prepared.

You’ll have a much better chance of attaining your publicity goals.

******* If any of you can give an example of a quick pitch you made to a reporter/reviewer etc. I’d love to read it in the comments. This would be an opportunity for us to help each other crack an increasingly tough nut.

cheers,

Pari

21 thoughts on “How to Pitch to a Reporter

  1. Chris Well

    For those (like me) scared to call a complete stranger, this same principle can be applied to your press release: Instead of focusing on “I exist,” find a hook or angle the editor can use. (And find a new angle every six weeks.)

    Reply
  2. Pari

    Hey, Chris,Thank you for stopping by — and for commenting.

    You’re absolutely right about press releases. I’ve got an article about them that’s been published in a few places on the web. It was when I was into alliteration (sp?) — Practical Pointers for Powerful Press Releases where I make some similar points. Here’s one url for it:aboutpublicrelations.net/uctaicherta.htm

    Have you had good success with your press releases? I’d be interested. That angle — the comic defense fund — sounds like it’d make media folk quite curious. And, if they’re curious, they’re almost hooked.

    Reply
  3. Pari

    J.T.,What are you doing online? I thought you were pulling a Hemmingway (I’m smiling here).

    At Con Misterio, I spend time with a wonderful author named Karen Macinerney. She’s worked hard on developing hooks for her niche mysteries and has had great success so far.

    Hooks for buyers take the same kind of oomph that hooks for media do.

    My problem — and I suspect it’s true for many of us — is that it’s difficult to be objective enough to find good hooks for your own work. I know I can be sooooooo creative for clients, but when it comes to thinking of fresh marketing approaches for myself, my mind is as clear and clean as chocolate pudding.

    Reply
  4. Naomi

    From a former p.r. flack and journalist to a p.r. professional, I can offer the following ideas for you:

    Westway Magazine (AAA’s regional pub): How small towns benefit from being featured in books. (Not only Wyoming and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, but also Clovis and Belen, New Mexico.)

    Southwest Airline Magazine: Mystery author takes readers to the most mysterious parts of New Mexico. (This needs to be developed further.)

    That leading academic magazine (I can’t remember the name of it right now–must be the heat–but it’s the one with listings of academic jobs): How academic publishers in the Southwest are finding success in publishing mysteries. (You are going to have to include other mystery authors here, too. You can pitch this to Publishers Weekly, etc.)

    Also to Publishers Weekly: On the back page of the magazine, they have author’s contributing essays about the publishing biz. You can write something about going to smaller cons (Idaho, Louisiana, etc.) vs. the biggies, Book Expo, etc. Might be kind of fun.

    Dairy/whipped cream trade magazine: I’m sure something like this exists. Something fun about your character, Sasha Solomon.

    That’s all for now. But if you get me on a roll, I can keep going and going!

    Reply
  5. Pari

    Naomi,Thank you.

    That’s just what I’m talking about. When you’re in the middle of a tall forest, it’s difficult to see the different kinds of trees.

    These are all viable and good suggestions. We’ve thought of a few, but what you did was come up with a bunch of possibilities that feel fresh.

    arigato.

    Reply
  6. Chris Well

    “That angle — the comic defense fund — sounds like it’d make media folk quite curious.”

    Actually, that press blast is still a few weeks off – we’re still working the “Top 5 Most-Discussed on the Web” (went out a few weeks ago) and the “Devil Wears Prada” (goes out this week) angles right now …

    Since the entire comics world is headed to San Diego for Comic-Con this week, it seems prudent to wait and do our “CBLDF” campaign a little later, so we don’t get lost in the clutter –

    Reply
  7. Pari

    Oh, Naomi,I love it. San kyu.

    Someday, perhaps, we should give more examples of well-intentioned language mishaps. I can think of two easily:

    Getting into an endless loop with a ticket salesperson at a train station in Hong Kong. She’d hand me the ticket and instead of saying, “Thank you” I said, “I don’t want it.” Ah, to speak a language with tones.

    The second happened in France while I was a foreign exchange student. I meant to say, “Oh, I’m full,” after a wonderful lunch. Instead I said, “Oh, I’m pregnant.” I was 15 and my French father nearly fell out of his chair.

    Reply
  8. Naomi

    Yup, Rob, his and thousands of others’. πŸ™‚

    And since you’re being published by a large publisher, I don’t think you’ll have to call yourself. But if you have any unique out-of-the-box angles, you can probably talk it over with your in-house publicist. You can approach editors on your own about writing essays about how you did research, develop your characters, however. I’m talking about Mystery Scene, etc.

    Reply
  9. Pari

    Naomi and Rob, thanks for the interesting conversation. Don’t be too scared to pitch directly to reporters. If you’ve got a good angle, they’ll be plenty nice.

    Elaine, I’ll remember his look of horror forever.

    Reply
  10. B.G. Ritts

    The mustache line makes me think of the Japanese Culture class I took 16 years ago at the local Community College several months after I started working for Konica. The two things I remember is to finish every grain of rice on my plate (to show the proper respect for the hard work that rice farming requires) and if needing to go to the American Embassy while in Japan to get in a taxi and ask to be taken to the American ‘trash can.’

    Reply
  11. B.G. Ritts

    All this language talk and I forgot my marketing idea:If you had a book including Zuni carvers, the dozens and dozens of Internet sites that carry fetishes would likely include the book in their offerings.

    Reply
  12. Beatrice Brooks

    Great post (as usual), Pari. I’m coming in late, but my best pitch was to a [Colorado] newspaper, shortly after my first diet club mystery came out. My header: Author Finds Food Feeds Novel Idea. The reporter was…shall we say underwhelmed? Then I threw Diane Mott Davidson [a friend and fellow Coloradoan] into the pot. WE got half a page – Authors Find Food Feeds Novel Idea :::grin:::Hugs, Deni

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *