In a former life, I worked the assignment desk at two TV stations in Florida. Day in and day out, my phone line and inbox would be bombarded by PR professionals promising me a “really great story”. Problem is, almost all of those really great stories were not great. Heck, they weren’t even really stories. Rather, they were usually aggressive advertising and collections of carefully vetted corporate talking points mislabeled as stories.
At the end of the day, all journalists are simply trying to tell compelling stories. But fear not, PR professional hoping to crack through on your next pitch. PR pitches CAN also be stories. However, your pitch should align with the areas of interest that make for a compelling story.
As a base, and specific to local media outreach, your pitch should always account for the three most important areas: timeliness, local interest, and the human element.
Timeliness - When crafting your pitch, your very first question should be, “Why now?”
The reason it’s called news is because It’s new.
Oftentimes, when I was in the local news business, I would receive pitches for events or stories that had taken place days, even weeks or months, prior. That’s too late. While there might be a chance that some media outlets will decide to run a quick blurb on the event, the possibility of media coverage for an event significantly decreases every day that passes – sometimes in the 24-hour news cycle, every hour that passes. The best strategy is to prepare a solid pitch that nods to the newsworthiness of the upcoming event, and to then follow up on the day of the event. I always encourage clients to capture the event with pictures and video that can be sent to media outlets as soon as possible either during the event or very soon after it has ended. This may encourage them to send a reporter or photographer if they see that it’s visual and well-attended, or they may be able to use those pictures and/or video in a story or at least on their social media platforms.
If it’s a story idea not tied to an event, really hone in on the “why now” question and bring the story into the here and now. Another tactic is to find the “what’s next” element and craft the pitch as an exciting lead up to this upcoming moment.
Local Interest - The second question you should ask yourself before crafting a pitch should be, “Why would the readers, viewers or listeners who live in this specific area care about this story?”
Over the last two decades, local news has gone hyperlocal – meaning that the more pertinent a news story is to a specific geographic demographic, the more likely it is that the story will be covered. When I worked in local news, we always had to determine if the value of a news story was strong for where people were watching our newscast. People are interested in hearing about what’s going on in their “backyard”. The old adage of “location, location, location,” rings true for news just like it does for real estate. People like to learn more about the businesses coming to town and the people who live and work in their community. There is also an element of “hometown pride” that drives interest in news stories that are about positive things happening in one’s community.
When reaching out to the media, make it clear that coverage of this story idea will have an impact on the specific readers, viewers, or listeners valued by the media outlet you are pitching.
The Human Element – The third question you should ask yourself before crafting a pitch should be, “Who are my characters in this story pitch, and why will people care about them?”
The best stories are populated by colorful and compelling characters. If you are crafting a story idea for the media, then make sure you have identified and presented characters that will grab their attention.
We all like to feel a connection to those portrayed positively in the news. We enjoy cheering on heroes and rooting against villains. At No Limit Agency, we have a motto that people sell brands. That is 100% true and one of the points that sold me on the philosophy of the agency when I first joined. People also sell news stories. Putting a human face to a local business is the best way to compel someone to support their endeavor. We naturally want to spend our money supporting someone who went to our local high school, is involved in the local Boys & Girls Club, has a family that is ingrained in the community. When crafting your pitch, make sure to always have at least one front-and-center character who embodies the story idea or is a living example of the trend or angle you are pitching.