This is a guest post by Brandon J. Mendelson.
I have successfully pitched stories and thoughts to local and national media outlets, ranging from the Albany Times Union, where I volunteer as a blogger, to The Christian Science Monitor, MSNBC.com, E! Online, Newsweek, the LA Times, and others. Working as both a blogger and journalist for the past eight years has provided me with some insight on how to pitch successfully. Proceed with the knowledge that you will only succeed in pitching if you persist. If you do not, these tips are useless.
1. Tell Me About Your Blog. Briefly.
In the comment section for this post, can you describe your blog in a sentence? Two? If you can’t quickly describe your blog, to anyone really, the reporter or editor will move on.
Exercise: Pretend you are leaving a voice mail and only have so much time for your message. What do you cut?
2. How Do I Contact You?
Your email signature is useless. Include at the end of your email the best and preferred method of contact.
3. What’s The Hook?
Find a relevant hook. Daniel’s blog focuses on blogging tips. In Massena, New York, the GM plant is closing. How about a pitch that explains why your blogging tips could help the recently laid off employees make money?
Find a local hook. Local outlets want local news, simple right? So find a way to tie your blog to something going on in local markets. Do some research before contacting a reporter or editor.
4. No All Purpose Emails Or Press Releases
The press release is dead. Sending one to a reporter that has not asked for it is deadly. Ditto with blanket emails. Make every email personal. Yes, it takes time, but you want to have your blog talked about, right?
Remember: If there is a designated editor for the area you are pitching, contact the editor before the reporter.
Within your email, you may include a link to your press release and previous press for further information, but …
5. No, I will Not Click On Your Link
Do not just send links. Your email must be self contained. If there is interest, you can provide further information later or include links at the end of your email. Linking out says you’re lazy and the odds of a busy, layoff fearing reporter taking the time to visit your website if there is no interest are low.
Also: Do not contact reporters for every announcement. Wait until you have something groundbreaking. Try the Brandon test: Talk to your offline friends and ask for their opinion. If they’re interested, you may proceed in contacting reporters.
6. The Follow-up
After a week, you may send a brief note to inquire about your pitch. If you do not hear anything, the second week you may call. Do not call until you’ve waited the appropriate amount of time. If you are unsuccessful, move on. You will meet many dead ends, the important thing is to keep moving forward.
And of course, never, ever assume that your email was all you need to do. Some journalists are old school and want you to call and follow-up.
Make friends. This will be the difference between getting your story covered and being ignored.
Media breeds media. Once you have an outlet reporting about you, it lends credibility to your blog and allows you to advance to bigger outlets.
Look at it like this: I am twittering my way across America to fight breast cancer. You can find details by following me on Twitter @BJMendelson. The New York Times won’t cover this story, and it is unlikely television reporters will at first. They want to see who I am, how other outlets treat me, and if I can present myself in an intelligent way. So you start small. Contact smaller blogs and local newspapers, then move to medium blogs and regional newspapers, then to large blogs and city papers. This is the same for television and radio.
Once you have built to a critical mass, one of two things will happen:
1. The New York Times or Oprah will come to you
2. You will be well positioned to go to them.
FYI: Don’t call the Oprah people, they are not fans of the cold call as I learned.
8. Punchy Email Subject Lines
Many people won’t even have the time or will to open your email. If you use a punchy or catchy subject line, however, your chances increase.
Try to be descriptive and succinct at the same time.
9. Make It Personal
Sometimes your own story makes what you’re pitching interesting. What from your background ties you to the outlet or community? I am a former Alfred State College student. So when I contact media outlets in Western New York, I mention this.
Never email general email accounts.. Find out who covers what, look at their previous stories, and if you can’t tie in your pitch or find a local connection, make a pitch about how your blog ties into that outlets area of coverage.
This is not a perfect list. Far from it; however, my intention is to be helpful to my fellow bloggers and relieve some of the stress induced by bloggers for my fellow journalists. Pitch well.
Brandon J. Mendelson is a graduate student attending UAlbany and a published American humorist. He has been quoted in the LA Times, Newsweek, the Associated Press, and on MSNBC.com among others. You can follow him on Twitter or on his blog, The Graduate Student Survival Blog.