Ready, Set, Pitch!

Racepoint Global

Written by Megan Ostrower – Account Supervisor, Racepoint Global Boston & Cara DiFabio – Assistant Account Executive, Racepoint Global Boston

Media relations isn’t black and white. An angle that interests one reporter might not necessarily interest another; further, how reporters prefer to be reached differs as well – whether it’s through email, phone or social media. These points are just the tip of the iceberg when thinking about tactics for media relations. While there are a number of things to keep in mind, there is one constant no matter what your pitch approach might be: be human. It is called media relations after all.

Recently, we had the opportunity to attend the PubClub of New England’s Speed Pitching event which provided a great refresher on some of the basics to keep in mind when pitching journalists. The event featured three local broadcast and radio media including, Peter Barnes, co-anchor of the Bloomberg Baystate Business Hour, Mike Fahey, executive producer at WHDH and Marshall Hook, radio host at WHDH.

For those unaware of the event, PubClub of New England’s Speed Pitching event allows attendees to meet with each member of the media and spend two minutes trying to sell them on a client’s story. At the end of the two minutes, the media provides feedback on why they would or wouldn’t be interested in the story. They gave constructive tips that we, as PR people, can admittedly forget when we’re trying to sell the story vs. thinking about how our client’s voice can play into the bigger picture, and further, why it would be of interest to the specific journalist’s audience. Racepoint’s own, Cara DiFabio, had the chance to pitch Peter Barnes and Mike Fahey, and here’s what she learned:

In researching Peter Barnes, I came across segments of Bloomberg Baystate Business Hour. If you’re not familiar, these radio segments cover everything from local Boston business and finance to medicine and politics. For example, in a segment that focused on climate change, Peter and his co-hosts interviewed Tufts University professor Kelly Sims Gallagher, who helped write the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as former Vice-President and climate change activist Al Gore, who was delivering a guest lecture at the university. I decided to pitch Peter one of my Cambridge-based biotech clients. I did this for a few reasons: 1) it’s a local company, and Cambridge is a hotbed for biotech/biopharma innovation, 2) in a recent segment, Peter and his cohosts discussed biotech investment in Boston, and 3) the client has an interesting story that I thought would capture Peter’s attention. It did – Peter mentioned how he has seen my client’s recent coverage in local business publications and was interested in discussing the client further.

Researching Mike Fahey was a bit more difficult. He didn’t have any articles to read or radio segments to listen to, as he is an executive producer for WHDH. I checked out his Twitter, though he tweets mainly about breaking news. Instead of crafting a pitch tailored to him, I figured I would use my time with him to gain insights into what he was interested in rather than pitch a client that wasn’t of interest. WHDH is focused on local breaking news as opposed to business-focused news. I remember Mike saying if a cat was stuck in a tree, they would be covering it. He also mentioned how the station was interested in celebrities such as Celtics players or Mayor Walsh. If a local celebrity is attending your event or supporting your cause, lead with that – it will be sure to catch their attention. In the spirit of the event, I did briefly discuss two of my clients with Mike, but my hunch was right –they weren’t something that he would typically cover. However, I got some great insights in case I ever do have a client that wants to appear on local TV.

For many who are just breaking into the media relations field, it’s easy to feel intimidated at the thought of speaking with a reporter and trying to interest them in your client’s story. One of the main takeaways from the event was that reporters are people too, not just some email address and byline at the top of an article. It can be hard to think of them as such if your only interactions are only through a screen, and it’s easy to shoot off a generalized pitch without a second thought, but think to yourself, “would you like to be on the receiving end of that cookie-cutter email?” I wouldn’t, and I likely wouldn’t respond.

Here are a few additional takeaways:

Be human and build a relationship: Personalize emails so reporters don’t feel like they’re another contact on your never-ending media list and don’t be afraid to get to know journalists through a phone call or on social.

Do your research: Make sure what you’re pitching would actually be of interest to the reporter.

Brevity is key: Reporters get anywhere from 500-2,000 emails per day, make sure you have a compelling subject line and your email is succinct and to the point.

  • Don’t add in fluff – if you can’t understand what you’re trying to say, media won’t be able to either; for media who might not necessarily be as familiar with your client’s industry, speak in layman’s terms instead of using corporate jargon.
  • Be thoughtful about follow-up emails, too. If a reporter hasn’t gotten back to you and you’re taking a blanket approach to ‘circling back:’ “Hi X, just following up to see if you read my email.” It doesn’t do reporters any good to have yet another email in their inbox.

Hook into recent news: If your client’s story can tie into a more timely news trend, media are more likely to be interested in something they are in need of sources for, especially if your client has a unique perspective.