(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.
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.
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.
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.