CBS, CNN, WSB & Creative Loafing insiders share how public relations people should pitch

by Ashley Wilson

Yesterday, Write2Market hosted a panel (Harnessing the New Media Newsroom) with four experienced journalists from national and local media.

During the lively and somewhat irreverent panel (you know how straightforward journalists can be) I was tweeting tips and tricks that stood out to me about how to interface with the fluid media newsroom environment. As PR pros, we are constantly turned down by reporters and journalists–or we simply never get a response back. So where do we go wrong?

TJ Lane, the Emmy and Peabody award-winning moderator of the panel and also a Senior Account Supervisor of Write2Market, got the journalists to dive deep.

They shared that the newsroom has changed tremendously over the past twenty years, from a trashcan brimming with press releases under a continuously running fax machine, to endless emails full of pitches from public relations pros. But one thing remains static: Journalists are under tremendous pressure to tell stories that get eyeballs. A journalist’s most scarce resource is TIME.  So don’t screw up a potential relationship by not following these guidelines that are straight from the mouth of media:

1. Know who you are pitching to. What topics do they specialize in? And for god’s sake – get their name right in the email. It’s not that hard.

2.  Make sure the subject line of your email pitch is engaging. Does it resonate with the journalist and make them want to open the email? Here’s a secret that I heard from John at CNN… he actually opens ALL of his emails.

3. Slow your roll. Hit your pitch in the first several sentences of the email. No reporter has time to read paragraph after paragraph of fluffy copy. Annalee said “Try to get your point across in 140 characters or less… like Twitter.”

4. Don’t send your pitch to multiple people in the same newsroom. Most newsrooms are tight-knit and share content with one another. They actually forward on emails to the correct person when they see a good story.

5. Make journalists feel special. Do you have something exclusive for their network? Let them know it. This also helps when building a relationship with them. Maybe next time when you send an email, they will remember your name and be more likely to open it.

6. Save the journalist a step– always put your pitch or press release in the BODY of the email. And interestingly enough, some networks aren’t legally allowed to accept B-roll. Send relevant photos instead. If they want B-roll they will ask.

7. Understand the feedback–if a journalist likes your story, they still have to go through an internal pitch process to editors. Beware: breaking news might happen and your story will be pushed to the back-burner, but if it’s a good story that doesn’t mean it’s dead.

8. Time your follow up.  Our panel said to wait 2-3 hours minimum after a pitch if it’s not time sensitive. Some media pros even want a whole day.

9. Make sure  your interview subject is available. Nothing makes a reporter more irritated than promises that cannot be kept.

10. Lastly, our panel said the conventional press release is in fact, not dead. As long as it is relevant to their station, topic and interests.

I want a send a shout out of thanks to our journalist-panelists, who shared their insights with all of us and help us do a better job. Show them you were listening–pitch them the way they asked!

  • Annalee Penny, a consumer reporter at CBS Atlanta with a specialty in consumer spending stories.

  • Bryan Leavoy, an Emmy award winning news producer and digital content manager at WSB-TV.

  • Thomas Wheatley, news editor of Creative Loafing magazine.

  • John Murgatroyd, field producer at CNN headquarters in Atlanta