This year, more than ever, media coverage and attention are given to pitches that are timely and newsworthy. COVID-19 has dominated the headlines since March. In June, stories of protests added to the crowded news cycle. Now, the presidential election – and the accompanying coverage is in full throttle.
Without tying a pitch into what’s going on in the world, it stands a big risk of being lost in the shuffle. With that in mind, unless you have something relevant to offer, don’t pitch in times of crisis.
In addition to a competitive news cycle, there are less people to read the pitch. Pew Research Center shows 36% of the largest newspapers across the United States experienced layoffs between January 2017 and April 2018. Looking specifically at news media, jobs across print, broadcast, and digital fell nearly a quarter from 114,000 to around 88,000 in less than 10 years. With nearly six PR pros for every journalist, research from Go Fish Digital found journalists receive an average 30 or more pitches a day, of which about 25% of them are not relevant.
Rest assured, not all the news is negative. While earning media coverage is challenging, it can most definitely be done. For further advice on tying a pitch into current news, as well as overall pitching, I spoke with seasoned television producer Katherine Shepherd of WLEX-TV in Lexington, Kentucky. I’ve had the pleasure of pitching to and securing segments with Shepherd for many years. She is a wealth of information for those who write and send pitches to the media.
Q: What grabs your attention in a timely pitch?
A: During COVID-19, we’ve been covering the closing and re-opening of businesses. What I look most for in a pitch of this type – changes the business has made to ensure customer and employee safety. As a producer, I know businesses will be making changes. For example, a gym owner I work with called to tell me the changes he had made, including switching the type of lights in the facility. If your business is doing some type of change that is unique – like, changing the lights used is something that would be newsworthy and interesting.
Q: What grabs your attention in a normal, evergreen pitch please?
A: The shorter a press release is, the better. I hate having to read through five paragraphs before I get to the main point. A few sentences are perfect. Clearly define what you are pitching – food, some type of service, clothing, makeup, a book, so forth. I receive a lot of national products, so if the pitch you are sending is local to your area, make sure that’s at the top.
Q: What turns you away in a pitch? What are the don’t-do items?
A: Do not send a long, drawn-out press release that takes 15 minutes to get to the point. I’m busy, and I get bored easily. Make sure the pitch is worth having on a show. What makes it unique? If I don’t think it’s going to be entertaining, the viewers most likely won’t either. Before you send a pitch, regardless of how creatively you present it, if you know it’s not really a good product or service, don’t waste your time.
Q: If you don’t know the PR person or the business, what can be put into a subject line and opening paragraph that makes you open the e-mail and keeps you reading?
A: Subject Line - What’s the business or product? A PR person for a woman who created toilet seats for cats e-mailed me with a subject line along the lines of, “How to train your cats to use the toilet.” The first couple of sentences were all I needed. It had the name of the product, what it did, and where to get it.”
In today’s congested news reel, it can feel daunting to put together a successful pitch. However, there is nothing that strategy and revaluation cannot solve. Keep ideas short, concise, and distinctive. Do not get lost in the shuffle. Once the attention of the pitch is lost so is the cause.
Debra Locker is the president and owner of Debra Locker Group, which she founded in 2008. The award-winning, boutique agency specializes in the luxury lifestyle market. Clients are featured on “The TODAY Show,” in SHAPE, Marie Claire, The New York Times, Huffington Post… to name only a few. Locker is the co-author of “Women of Courage.” The book is a compilation of stories from women who have found wellness and happiness following struggle. Prior to launching DLG, Locker was the PR director for the International SPA Association. Before her PR career, she was a television reporter and producer.