Eric Ferrero has worked as a communications professional for numerous nonprofits, some very large, such as the ACLU, and others that are smaller and more regional, such as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P – FLAG).
Before contacting a reporter, Ferrero researches the articles he or she has written so as to familiarize himself with the topics and types of stories that are likely to interest that person.
“With the state of technology today, it is fairly easy to retrieve a reporter’s recent articles and know his or her work before you make the pitch call,” Ferrero explained.
“I can still get thrown off if a reporter is hostile, but that’s just the nature of the game. The key is not to take it personally. I could have reached the reporter at a bad time of the day,” Ferrero added.
Abruptness or curt responses do not rattle Ferrero, but pitching a story to a reporter who doesn’t cover the topic in question does. “That embarrasses me; it means that I screwed up the research.”
Other tips for successful pitching:
Set up Google News Alerts or other news feeds to stay up to date on how your issues are being covered.
Assume that the reporter is already on information overload and has probably not seen, or had time to focus on, your press release or press advisory. A personal follow-up by phone is essential. A quick call, even a message left on voice mail, alerts reporters to a specific event and reminds them that your organization is out there and active. If you leave a message, be sure to let the reporter know where he or she can find the press materials on your Web site.
Reporters will rarely have your press materials close at hand when you call. Be prepared to e-mail them or let the reporter know where to find the information on your Web site. A few reporters may ask you to fax the information, so you should have a one- or two-page document ready to fax upon request.
Calls in mid-afternoon or late afternoon are less likely to be answered or returned because of deadline pressure. Morning calls (nine to noon) and early evening calls (after six-thirty) allow more leisurely conversations.
The rhythm of each news medium is different. The news director at a medium-size radio station starts his or her daily planning long before the sun comes up. A local television station will typically make assignments for that evening’s coverage around nine or ten in the morning and start rushing toward a deadline as the five or six o’clock news approaches. If a newspaper reporter is filing for tomorrow’s paper, the reporter will typically not welcome pitch calls after four in the afternoon unless he or she needs a quote for tomorrow’s story.
Determine at the outset whether the reporter can talk at that moment. During the morning, you might say, “Do you have a couple of minutes?” In the afternoon, always ask, “Are you on deadline?” If so, ask for a good time to call back.
Assume that you have 60 to 90 seconds to pitch your event to the reporter. Get to the “who, what, when, where, and why” immediately. If the reporter indicates that more time is available, you can add more information as the conversation unfolds.
Double-check the reporter’s e-mail address or fax number, and be prepared to resubmit your information to serve as a backup or reminder.
For more, go to Strategic Communications for Nonprofits, Chapter 7, “Earning Good Media Coverage.”