Finding Your Pitch in Today’s News Environment

Kathy-Vass-croppedBy Kathy Vass, Executive Director of Public Relations & Social Media

Public relations professionals in a recent survey cited understaffed newsrooms, a lack of beat reporting and fewer veteran journalists with a historical perspective as reasons they believe it has become harder to pitch stories.

The survey found that more than half of respondents (51%) said media relations is getting harder. About one third (32%) said it’s about the same, 3% said it’s getting easier and 14% said they aren’t sure.

At Jackson, we do a good bit of pitching in the B2B space and a fair amount in B2C. We’ve had considerable success this year pitching in diverse manufacturing and industrial sectors such as mining and cement and post and parcel. We were even successful in placing a six-page client white paper in a leading trade publication for which we won a Mercury Award from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

While there is no substitute for a trending topic and relevant content, sometimes it really is a matter of timing and good fortune. At Jackson, we’re still big on editorial calendar research and staying in regular contact with editors and reporters. And we make sure we’re submitting articles that are educational rather than promotional, with a goal of establishing thought leadership. These well-placed articles lead to great social sharing content and help our subject matter experts make the go-to list used by editors and reporters when seeking interviews with industry professionals.

Pay-to-Play is Less Discreet

Survey respondents pointed to pay-to-play as another reason pitching has become more difficult, especially when it comes to trade publications. It’s always been a worst-kept secret that advertisers get better coverage in trade publications than non-advertisers. Many PR pros taking the survey said they believe pay-to-play is becoming less discreet.

While that may be true in some cases, I can honestly say we haven’t experienced that. For example, we’ve been able to secure several placements this year, including a full-page bylined article (with photo) in a leading trade publication in November without our client being an advertiser. Again, the article was timely and relevant to readers. Maybe the editor had a hole to fill, but luck counts. Remember that it’s a numbers game and consistent pitching will yield results.

Consumer Pubs a Tougher Sell

Everything discussed above works well for us in the B2B world, but admittedly it’s a tougher sell in the B2C space.

One reason PR pros believe pitching to consumer mediums is harder today is because of understaffed newsrooms where beat reporters are no longer easy to identify. Covering a beat allows a reporter to build up expertise on certain topics and develop a good collection of sources. It stands to reason that you’ll have a harder time pitching a business story to a lifestyle reporter who is now responsible for the business beat. Whatever the beat, it’s key to find the local angle for your trending topic.

PR and communication professionals say, too, that a lack of substance in the news is making it harder to pitch. It seems it should be easier to pitch in today’s 24/7 news cycle where assignment editors not only have to fill hours of airtime but social media feeds, as well. The problem, say PR pros, is that news outlets appear to be primarily covering the extreme headlines and sensational stories to compete. The old newsroom adage, “if it bleeds, it leads,” now fills the entire front page and newscast.

Whether B2B or B2C pitching, we rely on relationship building with editors and reporters, and we pay attention to pitching profiles. If an editor would rather be contacted by email, we don’t call them. If they only are interested in receiving technical articles, we don’t send press releases about a client’s participation in a trade show.

We also try to send pitches that quickly and succinctly introduce the author and summarize the story, explaining why the story is timely, important and of interest to readers of the publication.