Five questions to ask before you pitch to national media outlets

A stack of newspapers sit on a wooden table

Early in our conversations with prospective clients, we come to the inevitable question about their expectations, particularly in the area of media relations. Just where would they like to see stories placed about their company or work?

Their answers can be enough to take the air out of the room. When a company that specializes in inventory management software, for example, starts ticking off media relations targets like the TODAY Show or The Wall Street Journal or even daily newspapers where they have neither offices nor clients, we get a pretty good sense from the outset of our relationship that we may not be on the same page. And at least one of us is apt to be very disappointed.

The fact is that many marketers, even those with a high level of savviness about so many aspects of marketing, often can’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to media targets. They default to a “bigger is better” mentality, but such thinking is almost always unrealistic.

That’s not to say that you won’t ever have stories that merit national attention. I’m proud of our folks over the years who have placed stories on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, TIME magazine and many other national outlets. But the fact of the matter is, these opportunities are realistically few and far between.

So, just when should you aim high and focus your pitch to a national audience? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Does the story have national significance?

Yes, that’s a high bar but it’s the barometer by which many national outlets measure story pitches. When our Colonial Williamsburg client began excavating one of the first African-American churches in America, dating back to the early 1800s, it spoke to a growing interest in the history of Black America in this country, and we saw strong interest from CNN, NPR, The Washington Post and many other outlets.

How timely is it?

One of our go-to tactics when it comes to national media relations is what we call “newsjacking.” By that we mean inserting our clients’ expertise into stories that are breaking. Do you have an economist on staff who can provide insights into the latest board meeting of the Fed’s governors? Do you have a civil rights expert who can offer a unique perspective on a high-profile court case? The trick with newsjacking is positioning yourself to being part of the story and not to dominate it.

Do you have unique content that can add context to a story?

Perhaps you have commissioned some exclusive research into consumer attitudes about buying trends (and please note: this is not research you conducted yourselves via Survey Monkey). This can be especially useful if you benchmark this data year-over-year so that it indicates trend lines. The research may not merit a news release in and of itself but sending it to key reporters covering the topic can yield some results.

Is your pitch too self-centered?

I know, the point about media relations is to get reporters to tell your story, but most outlets – and in particular national ones – will be put off by pitches that sound like promotional copy from your website. Think problem-solution. Here’s the problem that many people in the country are facing, and this is the unique way we are addressing it. One way to help placement chances is to include other companies (gasp, yes, even competitors) into the pitch.

Does it strike an emotional chord?

Many stories that get picked up by national outlets have a high degree of sentimentality to them. Ask yourself if your grandmother would be moved by it, or better still, your neighbor’s grandmother. One indicator could be found through your social media posts. If you are telling the story on Facebook, and it’s generating a lot of shares and likes – I mean, it’s blowing up your site – then it might be time to package it as a national pitch.

Finally, one final word about national pitching. It almost NEVER works with a news release. Pick your target outlet – and the target reporter and producer, after doing your due diligence – and send them a well-crafted email as to why the story would interest their readers.

Mark your calendars for March 15 when I pair up with Sean Ryan, the VP of Media Relations at Hodges, to discuss national media relations.

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Josh Dare

Josh’s career in communications spans more than four decades. In addition to providing strategic counsel and crisis communications direction to clients, he is the resident Writer-In-Chief, regularly writing op-eds and bylines on behalf of clients that have been published in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post, among others.

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