As part of a regular series in our blog we will be consulting journalists, editors and other media professionals about how they prefer to have news pitched to them. In our inaugural post we asked John Kennedy how he prefers to be approached by email. Next week we ask John about News Releases and how he decides which news goes in print and which goes online.
John is the editor of Ireland’s leading technology news website siliconrepublic.com as well as the weekly e-Thursday pages in the business section of the country’s biggest selling daily, the Irish Independent and the Digital Ireland monthly supplement. John also features occasionally on Dublin’s Newstalk 106 FM, where he discusses technology issues. His broadcasting experience also extends to discussing technology-related issues on the BBC World Service, RTE Drive Time and Today FM’s Sunday Business Show. In 2005 he was named Technology Journalist of the Year at the Irish Internet Association’s Net Visionary Awards.
Do you prefer to be pitched to by email or phone?
Start with an email and follow up by phone. Because there are fewer journalists around these days, journalists have less resources and yet there are infinitely more stories to be written. Time is a critical issue and therefore I and other editors need to make snap decisions.
Don’t rely on email all the time, conversations clinch deals. And the old adage, real selling only begins with ‘no’. Often the real potential of a story or pitch is unmasked half way through a conversation – the penny drops – and even the person making the pitch can be made aware of an angle or idea they hadn’t even thought of.
The other problem, few PR professionals even bother to pick up the phone anymore except to ask: “Did you get the press release?” An instant turn off.
The best route is a well presented email, with background on the person or company. Follow this up with a call and be convincing.
In most newsrooms journalists have to pitch stories to editors – often nabbing it in the first 12 words. If the journalist isn’t even convinced, it will never fly. And in today’s environment with fewer journalists and stressed out editors pressed for time, you need to drive home why the story merits coverage.
Another thing that is really missing these days is not only people pitching editors, but ringing up to shoot the breeze, share knowledge and actually having a working relationship with a journalist. We won’t hesitate to put the phone down on the ‘did you get the press release’ brigade, but if you’re a good contact who shares knowledge and insights, you’ll be given generous time.
How do you prefer this email to be presented?
Facts and figures first, then the pitch. Be clear, don’t oversell, keep it real. Really research the story angle and basically interview the client yourself first to ensure that all the bases are covered. There might be an excellent anecdote in there, there may be links to great technology companies like Apple or Intel, also make sure there’s no skeletons in the closet. Does your client have a media history – good or bad – you should know it. Also, make sure you might have some clippings or links you can attach to the pitch that may back up your argument and why the subject / person is worth covering. You need to build up the journalist’s enthusiasm for the story, they’ll pitch it better or the editor – who is always scrambling for ideas – might decide to make it a cover story. It’s all down to the premise … and the promise.
What are your pet peeves when it comes to being pitched to?
There are so many. I’ll just list some points:
- When someone pitches a story to you that’s already been pitched elsewhere – this really gets on editors’ nerves. You want your product to be special, your product is better than anybody else’s – how dare anyone come on the phone to you pitching a story that’s either been rejected elsewhere, has already been covered or is being worked on elsewhere. Exclusivity is KING. Don’t waste people’s time
- This is very closely related to the first point – don’t come to an editor about a topic that’s already been covered in a newspaper, even if you’ve come up with an alternative angle. You are trying to keep momentum, but we can always sense desperation. Don’t waste our time. Make it exclusive or bugger off.
- If it is a subject that basically everyone is going to cover – like financial results, a jobs announcement, the latest gadget – we’re realistic enough to know everybody deserves the same access – but don’t be overly generous in terms of interviews and executive time unless you’re prepared to do it for all. Simply put, treat everybody the same.
- Related to previous point. Don’t pitch some lowly executive as an ‘exclusive’ interview if you’ve given the CEO or a VIP to a rival product. You are entitled to choose your avenue, but as I said, every editor views their product as their priority, second best is not an option. If you’re going to go exclusive, be exclusive.