How to Successfully Pitch a Reporter
by Marcia Yudkin
When I was up against a book deadline and needed a couple of people to interview who had achieved business results from podcasting, I put out a call through a service called Help a Reporter Out (www.helpareporter.com). This free service functions very much like paid reporter lead services such as Profnet or Travel Publicity Leads.
Generally media people put out such calls either when they need interview leads extremely soon (like a deadline in two days) or when they have rather unusual interview needs that can’t be satisfied through the usual channels (such as looking for someone who has diabetes, owns pets
and is gay or lesbian).
Someday you may be in a position to pitch a reporter, so I’d like to help you understand what to do and what not to do in this situation, and
why, so you can seize the opportunity to meet
the reporter's needs and receive valuable media
coverage. Here is the meat of the request I made:
"Need phone interviews by end of the week with 3 podcasters who can cite specific, tangible business results achieved through podcasting. Tell me briefly the topic of your podcast, your URL, your results and your phone number. Thanks."
I received 30 replies. Of these, five stood out as excitingly fulfilling my criteria. At least half of the rest put themselves completely out of the running by ignoring my stated requirements, while several others were wasting their time and mine in their reply for other reasons.
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I’m not sure how I could have been more clear and explicit about what information I wanted from respondents in order to screen them. I said I wanted potential interviewees to tell me the
"specific, tangible business results achieved through
podcasting." Anyone who did not say exactly how they’d gotten new opportunities or earned money from their podcast got eliminated.
Perhaps they had a great story to tell, but they hadn’t pre-qualified themselves with me to tell it. Instead they said, in effect, “I’m the one you want. Call me.” One wrote, “We are number 1 in the world, business results are amazing. I am so busy I would rather speak on the phone.” As far as I’m concerned, that’s hot air and does not show willingness to help me with my story.
This may sound “Mickey Mouse,” but whatever details are in the reporter’s request are there for a reason, and it doesn’t work to ignore them.
If someone is working on a project and asks for
a 1/2" nail, it does not help to hand them
a 3/4" screw, no matter how helpfully you
I saw much the same thing happen when I judged a couple of business contests. The application form asked several questions that numerous otherwise appealing candidates left blank. These people were disqualified. The time and in some cases money they’d spent entering the contest was for naught.
Besides those who neglected to specify their podcasting results, a few people wasted their time by sending me contact information for someone who they said met my criteria, such as their boss, their client or someone they knew of from afar.
For someone on a tight deadline who receives sufficient responses directly from interviewees, this doesn’t work, either. From the underling or PR representative’s suggestion, I have no way of knowing whether or not their referral is actually available to talk during my time frame. If you know of someone who fits a reporter’s request, always forward it to that person and urge them to respond right away instead of replying on their behalf.
Another bunch of people wasted their time writing to me because they did not have a podcast of their own but rather provided podcasting services for a fee. I’d said,
"Tell me briefly the topic of your podcast," and they’d violated that portion of my request.
One of the top five respondents whom I emailed back right away to set up a time to talk by phone took more than 24 hours to reply.
"Sorry, your email landed in my spam folder," he said.
"Here’s when I’m available today." Unfortunately, by then I’d already completed the interviews I needed. Unfortunately too for another respondent who met all of my criteria: He initiated contact after I’d finished all the interviews.
My advice on getting publicity by replying to reporters’ requests boils down to this: Reply promptly. Explicitly address the stated criteria in your reply. Volunteer only yourself. Check for the reporter’s email or phone call so you can follow through on having caught his or her interest.
Paradoxically, by treating the media person as a prince or princess, you position yourself to become a star.
Copyright 2008 Marcia Yudkin.
All rights reserved.
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