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Talking to Reporters,
Making Your Pitch

Getting on the phone - pitch tips to remember

Although the following tips are for soliciting immediate coverage, much of this advice applies to building on-going relations with reporters over the phone. Whether you are calling for an event, or calling to follow up on materials you sent to a reporter, you will want to consider the following:

  • If you don't know the reporter, you will have less than 30 seconds to get his/her attention. Get to the point quickly. Answer the question: "Why should this reporter be interested?" and tailor your pitch accordingly. For example, look into regional angles, the public health or the science angles of a story as opposed to a straight "environmental" pitch.
  • Before calling the media, write out and practice your pitch on someone who is not a member of your organization to see if they understand what you are saying and think it is interesting.
  • Respect deadlines. Media calls are best made in the morning or early afternoon when most reporters are not on deadline. Always ask if the reporter is on deadline before you begin. If they are, aks when a better time would be to call. Exceptions to the rule are radio and TV talk shows. Call when the show is not on the air.
  • Tell the reporter why you are calling - "I saw your story on... and thought you might be interested in something my organization is doing about this problem," or "I'm calling to let you know about a new report on XXX."
  • Have your talking points and the appropriate information in front of you, including statistics and spokesperson information so you don't sound disorganized. Be specific. Don't say, "We are doing interesting things." Instead say, "We have a new report that found higher levels of air pollution in the Cleveland metro area in 1999, than in the previous decade.
  • Tie the story to something timely or newsworthy - "As you know, the U.S. Congress is considering cutting back on clean air regulations. If this happens, it will mean XX for (the media outlet's geographic area)..."
  • If you don't know the answer to a question the reporter raises, tell them that you do not know but that you will try and find out for them and call back.
  • Don't make up answers or speak off the cuff. Anything you say is on the record so choose your words carefully. Say something like, "I'm not sure about that. Is it alright if I find out and call you back?"
  • If a reporter is on deadline and is brusque, don't let that shake you. It is essential in this situation that you respond courteously to their situation by offering to call back, ask when would be the best time to call back, find out if you can fax the information, etc. Others may be brusque even when not on deadline. Don't take it personally.
  • Offer to provide additional information and background materials. These should expand the portrait of your organization and its activities, as well as the positive role played by the entire sector.
  • If the reporter asks you to fax something, confirm their fax number. Many organizations change their fax numbers frequently. Follow up with a fax immediately.
  • When not working on a same-day press briefing, make a commitment for the next step: set up an interview, send/fax follow-up materials, call the reporter back with more information after a certain time period, etc.
  • Share what is working about your media "pitch" - and what isn't working - with your colleagues. It may take a couple of calls to get your pitch down, and when you find what works, share it.
  • Be prepared to have conversations with reporters who know a lot about the issue. If you finish your 30 second pitch and cannot answer reporters' inquiries, you won't be able to sell your story.
  • Reporters want to be sure you know what you are talking about. Remember that your pitch should be simple, interesting, short, and clear. But, your knowledge should go to a deeper level.
  • Keep a log with good notes about your press outreach. Record reporters' interests, key questions; note what the next steps are. Does the reporter want more info? Do you need to make a follow-up call in a few days? Record any follow-up activities on the log.
  • If a reporter says no, respect it. Do not keep harping or bothering him/her about the same story or angle. No doesn't mean "don't ever call me again." It just means don't call again with the same pitch/story. Don't be afraid to call another time with a new story, or very interesting new angle, breaking news, etc.
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