3 Things to Keep in Mind When Pitching – Straight From the Newsroom

Before I came to SHIFT, I spent three years working at a local broadcast station in Boston, at all hours of the day. Most recently I had the “pleasure” of walking into the newsroom at 1:00 a.m. to write scripts for the anchors and reporters for that morning’s news. In those three years, I learned a lot not only about how the news works, but about the people in front of the camera, and behind. As PR professionals, we’ll jump through hoops to get featured in a great story, but there are a few things to think about as you write those pitches and more importantly, perform call-downs.

Not every news outlet is the same – broadcast is much different that an online publication – but the same rules apply when trying to get featured. We had people calling or emailing into the station constantly, trying to get their story on the news. A large majority of the time, we didn’t run any of those offers. But occasionally, something sparked a producer’s interest and it made it into the shows.

News people only care about stories other people care about

Sometimes with a quiet client, it’s hard to really get reporters interested in what they have to say. But just like us, reporters have a job to do, and aren’t going to compromise what they are publishing to include something just because you might have a prior relationship with them. They need something that will grab their readers’ attention, because they want to stay on top of their competitors. In the news, it’s all about who is telling the most interesting story – who gets the most interaction on social media or who has an angle that nobody else has. Some of my producer friends check ratings for the day before the minute they wake up. Ratings are basically how many people watched the show, compared to the other local stations. Competition and being Number 1 keeps the news running. Us PR folks must be able to give reporters information that people actually care about in order to get featured. Your messaging might be important and interesting to them, but think about being a reader or viewer, would they read until the end of the article or change the channel?

Sometimes they don’t have a say in what gets published

Unless you’re talking to an assignment editor or very important producer, that person might not actually be deciding what ultimately goes on television or in the magazine. In the print world, reporters have much more freedom in choosing their stories and who to interview. But in the broadcast world, it’s the behind the scenes producers and assignment editors that are choosing what is newsworthy and worth sending a camera crew to. Sure, reporters can chime in if they heard of something interesting happening, but often they just show up, get their assignments and get back out the door. It never hurts to continue trying to pitch your story – reporters will often just need a go-ahead from an editor before they can dive right in.

Reporters are people too

You’ve heard this before, but I can’t stress how true it is. In the newsroom, I worked with dozens of reporters at 1:00 a.m. and 11:30 p.m., during blizzards and heat waves, on hard and soft news stories. Reporters might seem serious and like they have it all together on television, but you’d be surprised at all the chaos and non-work-related conversations that go on behind the scenes – from running across the newsroom barefoot because they’re late for their hit, or showing the floor directors pictures of what their cats did that weekend. You see the female anchors roll into the studio at 3:00 a.m. in sweatpants and without a trace of makeup on. Then suddenly 45 minutes later they’re camera-ready like they walked into a beauty pageant. You see the male anchors furiously touch-up their own makeup on the desk during commercial breaks or take selfies during the weather segments. It’s not all hard-hitting journalism going on behind the camera, and the news is only a fraction of reporters’ lives, just like how PR is only a fraction of ours.

Next time you’re locking yourself in a conference room to tackle your list of reporters to call, remember these three things if they don’t respond in the way you’re hoping for. If they don’t pick up, they might be dealing with a non-work-related catastrophe. If they’re not interested, it means the angle might not be compelling or newsworthy enough. If they say they need to check with their editor, that’s not necessarily a no, it means they need the go-ahead before they start working on it. And it never hurts to take an interest in a reporter’s life outside the newsroom, it could just land you an interview.

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