Journo blog
17.07.2017 Mistakes to avoid when pitching to journalists

Pitching a potential story to a journalist, whether it’s a straightforward press release or a more in-depth feature idea, is one of the hardest parts of the job for many public relations professionals.

While most reporters are perfectly pleasant and will treat you and your story with respect, others can be more difficult to deal with.

Journalists have many competing demands on their time including imminent deadlines and demanding editors, and often don’t have time to listen to a PR person trying to pitch something.

PR professionals have a different but equally tough set of pressures, such as coverage targets and clients with high expectations, and have to pitch press releases and story ideas to time-pressed and often harassed journalists.

All too often the two sides clash unnecessarily when really they should be working together for their mutual benefit.

To find out what journalists want and what they don’t want, we asked some of our contacts to tell us some of the mistakes PR professionals should avoid when pitching.

shutterstock_441503128 (2)

Sion Barry, business editor, Media Wales

Twitter: @sionbarry

There are no hard and fast rules, but having a feel for your target publication/journalist is absolutely crucial.

So, for example, if you are looking to get coverage say on research on starts-up on behalf of a client, a cardinal sin would be sending data on the south west of England to a journalist in Wales and vice versa.

Also be aware of devolution and don’t assume what applies in an English context will also apply in Wales Scotland and NI, and possibly some English regions too.

So, do your homework first and make sure there is legitimate relevance before contacting a journalist or sending an e-mail.

 

Douglas Friedli, editor, Wales Business Insider

Twitter: @DouglasInsider

The worst:

Pitching an angle which is blatantly aimed at selling the client’s products/services, rather than news value or expertise.

Runners up:

  • Not knowing the publication and therefore pitching the wrong kind of idea.
  • Pitching something that’s already been elsewhere.
  • Being really boring – heart not in it?
  • Just giving up when the journalist says the angle does not work, rather than seeing if there could be a better angle
  • Launching into a long phone spiel without first asking: “Do you have a minute?”

 

Stephen Exley, further education editor, TES

Twitter: @stephenexley

The big one that jumps out is PRs not doing their homework – sending out a press release to every email address they can get their hands on, or calling round lots of journalists with the same overly-excited pitch about a “really interesting” story. I receive a lot of calls from PRs who aren’t aware of what our magazine covers. A quick Google would have saved them a wasted phone call and short shrift from an irritable journalist.

 

Ben Glaze, deputy political editor, Daily Mirror

Twitter: @benglaze

Calling at a bad time really annoys me, so not first thing and not after 4pm if you’re a morning paper. I also hate it when they ask if I’m having a good day or good week.

 

Dean Herbert, reporter, Scottish Daily Mail

Releases which boldly declare something like ‘one in three people can’t tie their own shoelaces’ and hide the fact that it’s based on a sample size of eight people in the notes to editors (i.e. it’s worth paying for a proper survey company to give it some clout and credibility).

Quotes in a press release from the company CEO etc. which are completely irrelevant to the hook (which mention the company or product repeatedly).

Getting nervous-sounding teenage account execs to ring round to ask if something is being used. There is literally no good time of the day to call a news desk with that sort of chit chat.

Lack of case studies. If it’s consumer/medical sort of thing, some pre-packaged human interest (regional if going UK wide) and something to illustrate the story can prove to be the difference between glory and death.