Building a list, figuring out who (and how many) contacts to pitch at each outlet… these questions are challenging for PR pros with little media relations experience or training. Reaching out to the wrong people make the entire pitch fall flat like yesterday’s can of Diet Pepsi.
If you want to obtain fast results while nurturing solid media relationships, understanding WHO to pitch is just as important as the pitch itself. They go hand-in-hand.
Here are a few fast rules of thumb. They don’t apply to every single market, since the size of the reporting staff at any given media outlet impacts each role and what is included under their title, but it is a decent place to start when you walk into a market cold (metaphorically speaking).
Who Do I Pitch?
- If you are pitching a television station and your story is breaking news or something timely, approach the news desk or the assignments editor first. Start with the major station networks offering evening news in the market – CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox, which you can identify with a simple Google search.
- If your pitch is a human interest story, identify who specifically covers them by watching the news several nights in a row or looking at archived segments online. If it is the same reporter each time, pitch that reporter. If it varies, I typically go through the assignments editor by sharing my idea and asking for an introduction to the right contact.
- If you don’t use a media database such as Cision, Trendkit or Meltwater, look for an online staff directory or pitching tips on their “contact us” page that might have valuable information on who to pitch. That’s also where you can easily find an email address for the news desk.
- Never be afraid to call and ask questions about who to pitch and how their decision process works. Especially for television stations, which can be far more complicated than print media when it comes to responsibilities and assignment processes. When is their production meeting? When is the best time to pitch for the morning news show? Evening news? Who is the best person for breaking news? Morning shows? Weekends? Segments or shows related to your specific market? Do they have a staff directory or tips sheet that might be helpful? The more you understand about how they operate and who handles what, the more effective you will be. If you have local clients, you will need to thoroughly understand the local media. Take time to learn about their needs, instead of just pushing your own agenda.
- Want to land a morning show spot? Pitch the producer for that specific show, not the news desk, station producer or anchor. Same thing with hosted shows like Dr. Oz or The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Don’t even bother trying to pitch Ellen, invest time identifying the current show producer.
- If your clients are local, consistently watch the news, so you know who reports on human interest stories, controversial or investigative stories, individual communities and more. This doesn’t only help you with how to pitch, but it helps you identify who.
- Radio stations typically have a show producer that handles pitches, but smaller markets often have a host produce his or her own show. Check their website contact page or call to ask.
- Pitching a newspaper? Look for specific beat reporters that fit your story and audience. Drill down to an industry, audience or community level. You wouldn’t want to pitch the metro reporter if your human interest story is about a resident that lives in the outskirts, and you wouldn’t pitch breaking news to the “busy moms” reporter. Fit the story angle to the specific reporter that covers that kind of story.
- Don’t pitch the editor-in-chief or the executive editor – they are leadership and management staff who rarely handle day-to-day story assignments or pitch decisions.
- Get familiar with the entire staff directory, since one story can be tweaked and pitched to multiple reporters. If you have a healthcare story idea, for example, it can be often be reworked to apply to different beat reporters, such as the healthcare reporter, the home/family reporter and the community reporter. For example, a story on a new prosthetic device manufactured by a local company might be (1) a “new product” story for the healthcare editor on the product launch and use of specialized new materials to decrease allergens and irritation, (2) a human interest story on a local veteran using the prosthetic for the community reporter, (3) a business economics story on how the product launch is expected to impact the job market and (4) how to convert a bathroom to be handicapped accessible for the home reporter. Each story angle would be changed to fit the story to THEIR area of interest, but you can move the story to another beat reporter if your first pitch doesn’t land a placement or if they already ran something on your client/employer. The right contact to pitch won’t always be the same beat reporter – it can change.
- If it is a small community newspaper, not one for a major market, the rules may shift. If you use a media database, read their job description, then pick one contact that best fits your story. Don’t give up and blast everyone – take time to identify the correct person.
- Writing an opinions piece for the newspaper? Send it to the Editorial Page Editor/Reporter, or the Opinions Editor/Reporter only. If it is related to a specific issue often covered by a beat reporter, such as a piece on the real estate economy and you want the real estate reporter to know about it – carbon copy that reporter, but don’t send it to just the beat reporter. They write their own articles and can’t use it. If it is a small community paper or a business journal that doesn’t have a specific person handling opinion editorial, send it to the editor.
- Local and trade magazines – always pitch the editor. As with newspapers, don’t bother pitching the editor in chief, deputy editor or executive editor.
- Major magazines often have multiple editors for different beats. Obtain a staff directory or use a media database to review their titles AND topics they cover to identify the correct contacts. If you don’t have access to that information, call and ask.
- If there are both editors and directors, such as a food editor and a food director, choose the editor. The directors are more likely to handle planning and logistics (such as food photography), instead of content.
- Don’t reach out to the publisher – they are more concerned with operations and advertising than editorial. Extremely small publications may be the exception, if the publisher is also the acting editor.
- Look through several issues to identify regular columnists – meaning they probably are paid staff – or if authors are constantly changing – meaning they probably accept byline submissions that you will have to write. Either way you’ll pitch the editor, but knowing this should shift HOW you pitch.
- Look for freelance writers that publish in the magazine you are targeting. If their past editorial fits with your pitch, go through them instead of the editor. If you are lucky enough to have them love your story, they may re-purpose it to work with several different publications. Don’t send it to the editor, since they will want to pitch it to the editor themselves as part of their sales process.
I’m sure I forgot a few things! And this is just my opinion, based on past experience. If you disagree or want to add anything to this list, please feel free to post a comment.
(Originally published Jan. 3, 2014; last updated Nov. 22, 2019)