I recently listened to a webinar entitled “Insider Secrets to the Perfect Pitch” by Batt Humphreys, a former CBS News executive with more than 30 years of experience in the industry.
Here is some of what I took away from the webinar, which was sponsored by Vocus/Cision. Much of this is not new, but it is important to regularly review the basics, especially the importance of the story and the pitch.
It’s all about the story. As the former newscaster Dan Rather said: “We’re all just telling stories here.”
What is a good story? Potential good story themes include:
- A unique business model (e.g., entrepreneurs)
- A breakthrough product, preferably in a new environment
- Good personalities (not necessarily the CEO)
- A connection to the community (e.g., giving back)
- A company’s core story, value or origins
- A company with longevity in the workplace
- Economic stories
Whenever possible, do your own research. Thirty-nine percent of respondents to a survey said that exclusive research helped make pitches stand out in the crowd. So look for ways to generate original data related to your topic.
Also, if possible, tie your story into a bigger topic. That can definitely increase its appeal and is one way to make a niche industry relevant to mainstream media. For example, a Big Data company got coverage for its research into oil and gas exploration that would help make the U.S. more energy independent. They didn’t talk technology, although it was essential to the story. They talked the impact of that technology on a broader issue.
Qualities of a Good Story
Whatever the angle, the story needs to be clear and concise, and connect with its intended audience.
- Clarity: The story should have focus, a direction with specific points designed to draw attention. Look for the hook that makes the reader stop and think.
- Conciseness: Make Hemingway your style guide. Keep the story to one page.
- Connection: Think about your audience. Whenever possible, provide information that will improve their lives or businesses.
Once you have your story, you need to pitch it. Some tips:
- Timing is everything. It’s important to know when NOT to pitch. Reporters and producers live by deadlines so try to figure out their deadlines and avoid them.
- Check the news before you pitch. You don’t want to pitch a lighthearted story on the day of a tragedy. (And, at all costs, do not even try to capitalize on a tragedy.)
- Make it easy for the reporters and producers. Give them everything (e.g., the news release, video) they might need to use your story.
- If the story has already been covered by one outlet, consider pitching to another outlet, or pitch another angle.
- If you do not have a relationship with the reporter or producer, the most critical thing is not to mess it up. You might need to wait for a really strong story before pitching.
- If you don’t hear back from your pitch, you can follow up with the reporter once or twice. But don’t belabor the point.
These are just some of the highlights from the webinar, which you can hear for yourself here.