Pitching Media: What’s big and what’s small?

While it is clear that pitching media is a bit of an art form, the tendency is to go big or go home. “New York Times or bust!”

One day, the pitch came in. It was from a local manufacturer who was part of a huge company in a huge industry. The focus of the pitch was on some local support the company had made in our little town. Contributions to youth sports, corporate sponsorships, that sort of thing.

It was good stuff.

I served at the time as editor and publisher of a group of weekly papers across the bay from Corpus Christi. At the time, Corpus had a pretty good daily newspaper and we had a good relationship with them.


The story went to Corpus Christi first.

When the PR guy called to pitch an interview about the business’ local community involvement, I refused to do the story. When he asked why, I told him.

“I’ve already read the story,” I remember saying. “Before today.”

I could almost see the confusion on his face through the phone. The silence was deafening.

“The story is a local story to my town. It happened in my town. Thanks to a business in my town. And you gave it to a competing paper in another town first.”

He mumbled something about how I need to understand circulation, and I told him I did. At the time, the Corpus paper sold roughly 5,000 papers per week in the market where I published. My little weekly paper sold roughly 14,000 copies a week in the market where I published.

I refused to run the story.

Pitching media

In her blog, PR Consultant Michelle Garrett provided advice from journalists on pitching media and how to improve. Advice there worth heeding.

However, there are other factors and size of audience is, well, situational.

Pitching Media

Getting the right outlet targeted when pitching media will increase the likelihood of success. “newspapers” by Gary Thomson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I’d argue that it isn’t the size but rather the make up of the audience. An example I’ve used in the past, when helping book clients, is do you want to reach 1,000 people who very well might buy your book or 10,000 who will never purchase your book? Which is better?

Maybe you have a product that is licensed and features characters from My Little Pony. Is that product going to make USA Today? What about a news webzine focused on “bronies” – male fans of My Little Pony?

Yes, in the case of the story pitched to me, the Corpus Christi paper was bigger, but the story was across the bay, in and about a town in which they had the lower circulation. So…

It is down to goals

In the anecdote I shared, the Corpus Christi gives you more overall people, but my paper gave the business access to more people in the market that mattered in that particular case. It is situational, though. There may be a time when a larger, more general population was the goal. Not in this case.

What do you wish to accomplish with your press release or the story you wish to pitch? Should you be focusing broad and shallow or narrow and deep? Are you looking for reputation boost, sales boost, or what?

Most important, are your goals realistic?

And remember, as I tell my clients that 100 people who might buy your product is a lot better than 10,000 who have no interest in your product.

Hard reality?

There are no guarantees. There are no guarantees. There are no guarantees.

About a week ago, I ran across a media pitching service via a paid advertisement. Curious, I clicked on it. $1995. Guaranteed placement with the New York Times…or your money back (real small letters).

I wrote and asked how they could guarantee a NYT or Wall Street Journal hit. No response. I suspect a lot of folks didn’t ask for their money back when the company failed to deliver.

There are no guarantees. Not really.

I mean, I can guarantee I’ll develop a media list, targeted and one that makes sense. I’ll make the calls and send the emails. But I just can’t promise that website a or magazine b will carry the story. Nobody can.

Even pitching my small paper guaranteed no coverage.

Hedging the bets

There are ways, ,when pitching media, you can hedge your bets, as it were.

First, target properly. The right media outlet. The right editor or reporter. The right time. The right, well, everything. And your target aligns with your realistic goal. And get names right. More than once, I was called the name of editors who left the paper years ago, and I was even addressed by the name of my competitor. This crap’s not hard to get right, so get it right.

Second, get to the point. Whether in email, direct messages, smoke signals, or by phone (I never minded phone calls), get to the point. I can be chatty, but I didn’t need a 10 minutes conversation before someone began their pitch. And if you need four or five paragraphs to make your pitch via email, you’ve probably not focused it enough.

Third, it is ok to follow up, once. Don’t assume I read your pitch. Don’t act like we talked when we didn’t. Don’t tell me I don’t know my market. Don’t lie to me. All these have been done and none ended well.

Fourth, be prepared. I may have questions. I may need to interview someone. I may need a photo, some data, or specifics. I may need to confirm a phone number, address, website. If I need any of these things, I’m interested and if you can’t provide them in a timely manner, I bet your your competitor can.

Finally, don’t make demands. The editor will determine where on the site or in the publication the story appears. When pitching media, you are being trusted to do your job, so trust the media to do theirs.