Why Your Media Story Pitch Strikes Out
I spoke at Concordia University of Edmonton last week, following an invitation from my friend Lauren Sergy, who teaches a marketing class there. Lauren is a fellow speaker and trains executives and others to improve their presentation skills.
She asked me to speak about the news media, changes in it and how to deal effectively with reporters in 2019. After my presentation, I got a great question from one of the people who attended - how can we get the media to cover our story?
I fortunately had an answer and it starts with targeting your audience, instead of spamming reporters, because you'll get far better results.
Why Can't We Get Media Coverage?
Concordia University of Edmonton describes itself as “Canada’s pre-eminent small university”. It’s located in northeast Edmonton, just across the avenue from where I used to play Little League baseball some 50 years ago. After big wins we used to be treated for root beer at the A & W drive-in, where part of Concordia now stands.
The questions about getting the media to cover the university’s good stories came from a Dean who attended my session. I’ve heard different versions of her question for many years. Usually it goes this way; “We have a lot of great things going on here, but it seems all the media cares about is bad news, what the politicians are saying and the latest trivia about the Khardashians.”
I can sympathize.
There are two problems here. The first is cutbacks in editorial budgets, which basically means fewer reporters. Local news coverage, with a few exceptions, is now basically meat and potatoes stuff. The latest on a political scandal or an election, what the Mayor is saying at City Hall, the spring pothole season and overnight shootings and stabbings. There simply are not enough reporters to work on feature stories that talk about the great things taking place in our educational institutions. I remember the days when the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald used to have Saturday Features sections with some great local editorial content. Those days are gone, along with the Features sections. I will say however; local TV does continue to cover some feature stories well.
The other issue is, news is not supposed to cover what is expected to happen. Universities have large budgets and by nature, they are supposed to do some great things that go above and beyond giving people an education. As an example, they’re supposed to do great research, so is it big news if they come up with something? Or is it just what they were supposed to do?
Stop Spamming and Start Targeting
I did tell the university presentation that there are a few things a university, or any group for that matter can do, if they want to get their story covered.
The best thing they can do is do is a Google search for stories like theirs. Look for local coverage first and see is there are particular reporters who are covering those stories. Newspapers in particular still assign reporters to specific “beats” such as the Legislature, or City Hall, or even story areas such as health, education and crime.
Those reporters are almost always looking for new story ideas, especially ones from their beat. Rather than spamming all reporters with tons of story ideas, try to build a relationship. Get together for lunch or coffee with a reporter from a beat that matches what you do. Get to know the reporter and find out what stores they’re looking for, what form they like to get them delivered in and how often they want those story ideas.
The other piece of advice I gave was to do some work in advance so you have a finished product to give to the reporter. Find interesting people for them to talk to in advance and think about what video or photos the media can use. Too often people who do story pitches to the media say something along the lines of “Barbara would be a great interview, you should really talk to her about her project. You’ll have a great story.” In most cases the reporter will immediately know they won’t have a great story unless they find somebody to talk to who may be affected by Barbara’s project, or in other words, why the project makes a difference to their audience. Then they need to think about the time needed to find these people, line them up for interviews and nail down locations.
Do the work in advance. Reporters appreciate it when you respect their time. It’s much like taking your taxes to your accountant and you have everything stuffed into three folders and two shoeboxes.
Let Them Do Their Work
A final word of caution. Whatever you do and whatever you think about how good a story is, the reporter may not agree. Just because you think it’s the best story of the year, the reporter may look at it differently. Not every story pitch is a winner.
Even if the reporter does cover your story, you may not like how they did it. Just because you pitch a story and the reporter agrees to do a piece on it, the reporter may take a different angle to the story than you hoped, or find a way to tell the story differently than you would. That’s their right. I would suggest when you meet the reporter the first time to let him or her know that you understand they may report the story differently than you have it in your mind and you’re ok with that.
If it’s a newspaper story, you may not like the headline. That’s not the reporter’s fault because editors write headlines, not reporters.
Regardless of what happens, you’re far better off to target the reporters you plan to offer stories to and build relationships, instead of spamming reporters with a boatload of story ideas. If you do it that way, you’ll just be like everyone else.
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