How to pitch your story to the media
From how to write the perfect email subject line, to what exactly happens the inside the newsroom when journalists choose stories to run, this article will show you how to give your story the best possible chance of being published.
Guest post by Grace Koelma
As a small business owner, you're often searching for the next big opportunity, and you're so busy chasing after it that you forget how important consistency is. We learned the hard way that sometimes opportunity comes knocking on your door, and when it does, you'd better be ready!
After four months travelling with a toddler, running multiple business ventures while changing location every few weeks, and trying (and failing) to keep our blog and vlog up to date, we had three editors ask me to write articles in the space of a month. All of those articles coincidentally went live in the same week, and one even landed on the New York Post!
It was all very exciting, but the truth is we were caught off guard.
Dare List Family was a little neglected, we didn't have clear calls to action, and hadn't worked out a follow-up strategy or social media plan.
So here are a few tips I've learned as a blogger and freelance writer, and also from my experience as a journalist in a busy national newsroom, having personal interest story pitches land in my inbox every day.
(I'm sharing the behind-the-scenes of my personal process, so all the work linked to is my own.)
1. Make sure your blog/website is fully up to date
It might sound obvious, but can't stress consistency enough. It shows that you care about your message, audience and platform, and that you take yourself seriously. If you can't commit to regular updates, automate it. Spend two weeks crafting posts and scheduling them in advance. You don't want to be caught off guard like we were when the media came knocking!
2. Reach out to smaller boutique publications
If you're just getting started as a writer, or don't have an established portfolio, there is still a chance for you to be published. In one of my many ventures, I run a boutique, niche publishing platform called The Mulberry Journal, and we publish amateur bloggers and writers to give a voice to educational reform and alternative schooling. Not into that niche? No worries!
There are hundreds of small publishing websites in your niche accepting freelance submissions, just don't expect to be paid much or at all! Remember, links back, exposure, and just being published somewhere are a form of currency too - it's not about the money when you're beginning your media outreach.
3. Mention where you've been featured - harness 'Journo FOMO'
As someone with a great story to tell, your greatest weapon is tapping into what I like to call 'Journo FOMO'. Being able to say to future media publications that you've been featured here, here, here and here is a pretty exhilarating feeling, looks impressive (because it is!) and something journalists and editors will sit up and take notice of.
I sat in hundreds of newsroom meetings, so I'll let you in on a little secret about how they work.
Journalists come prepared with a handful of stories they like enough to pitch to their editor. It's a journalist's job to know what the other news outlets are covering. If their competitor has covered a great human interest story, chances are they'll want their slice of it too.
In a nutshell, once you crack bigger news sites with your story, don't be surprised if you get follow up emails from editors from other mastheads, wanting to interview you as well. And THAT'S when things start to get fun!
Here is a real life example of an email I got 2 days ago, off the back of 3 other articles that were published by competing news sites. #journofomo
4. Now is the perfect time in history to pitch your story. Here's why...
There has been a big swing from traditional serious news towards 'infotainment' in the last few years. If you look at the top stories on news sites today, you'll more than likely find 70-80% will be human interest, 'infotainment' style stories, or as this article terms it, reality news. And this is good for you, because it means news outlets are almost always looking for the next big story that will 'kill it' on social media.
Your email might land in their inbox at the perfect time, so make sure it's crafted perfectly to get their attention and make it easy for them.
5. Why journalists like a 'story package'
Journalists are some of the busiest people in the corporate world. They work insane hours, are fuelled by coffee, and keep 30 tabs open at once (hence why the IT department was always servicing computers in our newsroom!)
They check their inbox almost addictively, always waiting for the next scoop to land there, because when it does, their job is SORTED. What do I mean by this?
IF your subject line is catchy enough (more on that below), your email will only be in front of the editor or journalists eyes for a few seconds, before they click delete. So you've got to wow them quickly.
This means you need to know exactly what kind of value you can give the news outlet. This is tricky when you don't know what kind of stories they've got 'in the pipeline' and what they're looking for, but chances are they're always in the market for a remarkable human interest yarn.
I haven't got time to cover how to create the perfect 'story package' in detail right now, but I'll cover it in a future post. If you want to be alerted of future posts on this topic, pop your email in the box below.
6. Don't write a perfect email and undersell it with a terrible subject line
Journalists read the emails in their inbox with a 'is this a good story?' bullshit filter. So if you write an eye-catching headline for your email subject, it will appear to already be a story and chances are they will click on it.
What NOT to write in the subject line:
I have a story you may be interested in
I'm just writing to share my story
Feature in [name of publication]
Dear editor, what do you think of this story idea?
7. The hardest thing of all - make your story remarkable
This is last, because it's the most difficult thing to master, but in terms of not wasting your time, it really should be the first thing you focus on. You can follow the above 6 steps to the letter, but if you don't have a story that stands out, and is remarkable (ie. literally makes the journalist call out to their desk mate to come over and read) then work on that first.
So, how do you make yourself interesting?
It's a complicated question, and because it's so personal and industry specific, no one quite has a hard and fast rule yet. But Seth Godin gets pretty close, in his book Purple Cow which is all about finding ways to make your business or personal brand stand out in the crowd.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Look at what others are doing in your niche and do it in the opposite way.
- Ask family or friends what they think makes your business or brand different? Sometimes they see your uniqueness or strengths better than you can.
- Be a story others would be interested in reading about. To do that, start browsing human interest or small business success stories online, and see which ones you click on. Ask yourself why you clicked, which words jumped out, and how it made you feel emotionally when you read it? (excited, inspired, motivated, bored)
- Set limits or rules on yourself that make your story different. Ie. if you're walking around the world, differentiate yourself by only walking at night, or wearing just your underwear.
Did you find this article helpful? Have questions?
If you have any questions on these tips, or would like to ask me specific questions for your niche or brand, sign up below or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org