“Can you give an example of how a media pitch call might sound? Perhaps you could provide what might be a “typical” script. Assume it’s an annual event-related pitch you are making to more than one media outlet, and that you don’t know the reporter personally.”
~ Matt Davis, Kids Help Phone
Let’s start with some pitching prep first, then we’ll get down to the actual conversation.
Before you call any reporter, you need to have a few things very clear in your mind:
1) A “newsy” hook — why should your story be covered now? The Oregonian newspaper has what I think is one of the most helpful definitions of what’s news. You’ll see at the very bottom that hosting a fundraising event is probably considered news – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on the elements in this list to really make your event standout. The bigger your media market, the harder you’ll need to work to make your event sound special.
2) Why should this particular reporter care? Sometimes you end up calling a general assignment reporter and that’s fine. You can go with a more straightforward pitch. But if you want your story in the Business Section, you need to pitch a business reporter and your story should have a clear business angle. Fundraisers could appear in virtually every section of the paper with the right angle and press release content (include quotes from elected officials if you are trying for the “Local” section or talking to the government beat reporter, or quotes from business leaders if you are trying for Business Section, etc.) If the reporter has previously written about your topic or organization, definitely mention that (i.e., You wrote a great story about this in May, and I think this would be an excellent followup . . .)
3) What else can you offer besides the press release? Will there be good photo opportunities? Can you put the reporter in touch with several people to interview (people who donated to your silent auction, people who will benefit from the work that the fundraiser will help pay for — whoever can provide quotes that will support the story angle)? Any behind-the-scenes tours of particularly cool venues or backstage interviews with big keynote speakers or high-profile guests?
Now, practice getting your pitch down to 30 seconds, with the first sentence being the most important. Most reporters will have no problem interrupting you and telling you they aren’t interested if you don’t grab them fast. (You’ll hear something like “It’s not right for us,” “Timing isn’t good,” flat out “No thanks,” or “I don’t know. I’ll call you back.” – which usually means no.)
So what the heck do you actually say to a reporter you’ve never met?
Getting started is this easy:
Reporter Named John Smith: “Hello, John Smith”
You: “Hi John. My name is Bob Evans with Save the Squirrels. I have a story for you.” (Note, you aren’t saying, “I have the best story ever” or “a story you’d be an idiot to pass up” — keep it as a straightforward suggestion.)
OR: Hi John. My name is Bob Evans with Save the Squirrels. I’d like to pitch a story to you really quickly if you have a minute.” (Yes, it’s OK to call what you are doing pitching. That’s the term for it. The reporters know that’s what you are doing, so it’s no big deal to say it).
Reporter: OK. (Or I’m right in the middle of something . . .)
You: (If they say something like OK, launch right into it! If they say they are busy, but don’t blow you off entirely, say, “I’ll make it really quick, I promise” — which you’ll be able to do because you’ve practiced your pitch!)
Then go for it — no need for small talk or a bunch of background, just get to the point:
Our local squirrel population has been decimated, and on Saturday, we are holding a special Dog Walk & Festival at City Park to raise money for a breeding program. Dogs love to chase squirrels and dog owners all over town are reporting high levels of depression since the dogs have nothing to chase now. We are expecting at least 100 people and dogs at the festival and we’ll have all kinds of fun contests, including a Dog/Owner Look-a-Like Contest and an American Idol-style howling contest where the fire department will sound the truck sirens to get the dogs going. It’s going to be lots of fun, with great photo opps, and all of the money will go directly to solving our local squirrel problem.
Reporter: Do you have any numbers on the problem?
You: Yes, a university study showed that our squirrel population is down by 50%.
Reporter: How do we know the dogs are depressed?
You: Dog owners can tell and vets across town are being asked for anti-depressants.
Reporter: Any vets actually giving out the pills?
You: Yeah, I can put you in touch with one or two. Do you want me to email you the press release for the festival and some vet contacts?
Reporter: Sure. I’ll see what I can do.
You: Thanks John. Let me give you my cell phone number . . . .
It’s really that simple. But notice how the reporter went off on a tangent with the dog depression? That happens all the time! Remember that THEY decide where the story really is. You can always try to steer them back to your angle, but ultimately the reporter will decide what to write about, or whether to cover it at all. Respect that, and don’t get pushy or critical about their decisions. A story about vets prescribing anti-depressants that mentions your festival is better than no story at all! And now you know the reporter a little better and can come back next time with an even more focused pitch for John Smith.
Reporters tend to be skeptical by nature, so don’t be put off if they quiz you or don’t seem particularly excited. Work your pitch and follow-up with whatever the reporter asks for. Remember, you need each other. Reporters need good stories, and you need the publicity. Build those relationships, give reporters what they need (good stories!) and you’ll get some great press in return.