Media Pitching: It’s Personal

Can’t figure out why you didn’t land that pitch? There’s more to successful media relations than a well-crafted email. 

March 3, 2016

“No way they’re going to pass on this,” I say to myself, my fingers gliding over the keyboard.

The pitch is writing itself it’s so good. My confidence getting this story placed swells as I go through the checklist:

  • Does my target audience read this publication? Check.
  • Is this the right publication for the story? Check.
  • Did I do my homework and confirm that the journalist covers this subject? Check.  


  • Have I worked with or spoken to this journalist before? No.

The particular pitch I’m thinking about had a life like so many others. It had potential but didn’t land anywhere – a lost opportunity.  

“Why didn’t they like it? Is it me?” I ask myself. “Can’t be me, they don’t even know me.”

Maybe that was the problem.

If you’re like me, your media relations training probably looked something like this:

  • When you have a story that’s of public interest and serves your organization, ask the media to cover it.
  • Follow rules like these when preparing your pitch.

Though this is all sound advice we should refer to, it’s transactional and technical. There’s a missing ingredient – the interpersonal.

Today’s journalists step into ever-shrinking newsrooms.  They’re expected to fulfill defined tasks like covering numerous beats while also fulfilling implied ones like developing social media followings. The news doesn’t breath, it hyperventilates, making journalists do everything in their power not to pass out.

There are four PR professionals to every one journalist. Arm those PRs with email, Twitter, news wires, you name it, and it’s an overwhelming bombardment on journalists. What makes a pitch break through the clutter?  I recently surveyed a group of journalists covering everything from professional sports and video games to politics and wine to find out. I wanted to see what life is like on their end, and, hopefully, find out ways we can do better at building mutually-beneficial relationships. 

“I get several dozen email pitches a week,” says Andy Martino, a reporter for the New York Daily News. “I don’t read a single one.”

Martino isn’t averse to working with PRs. In fact he speaks highly of the New York Mets’ Jay Horwitz, a 36-year media relations veteran. “Jay takes time to get to know journalists, apart from pitching or any specific agenda, and helps us get access to authentic stories he knows we and our readers are interested in,” Martino said.

One of the first things you should do as a PR is contact journalists that cover your industry simply to introduce yourself, says Trevor Baratko, an editor with the Loudoun Times-Mirror outside of Washington, D.C. “I can’t promise I’ll reply, but at least you’re on our radar making it more likely we’ll be open to hear you out in the future.” 

Don’t try to sell infinite sunshine, either. Journalists are trained to see through puffery. Being honest and sincere during your interactions goes a long way towards building a healthy relationship. “We understand you have a job to do,” says Ebenezer Samuel, a reporter for the New York Daily News. “When you’re genuine in communicating with us, it helps us because we have to objectively report the news, not your organization’s one-sided messaging.”

Social media is a great place to start engaging with journalists. Posing questions that look at one of their recent articles from a different angle can initiate a dialogue between you and the journalist. For example, Samuel and I have had many conversations via Twitter about his reporting on the video game industry, an interest he and I share. Because we had familiarity with each other, he was willing to speak with me for this article.

Asking to meet with a publication’s editorial team is another way to get some face-to-face time with journalists covering your industry. Don’t expect to get immediate coverage from these meetings. Whether you are informing a publication about future projects or introducing them to a subject-matter expert from your organization, these meetings are simply to plant seeds of potential interest. 

Our profession creates a healthy tension between our organizations and the media. We try to control the message when it’s the journalist’s job to get us off message. Though this may depict the relationship as adversarial, successful media relations people understand one thing – it’s all human.

Sean Casey is a public relations manager at Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J. 


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