How To Contact The Media
Pitching your story to journalists and editors can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. International Broadcasting Trust’s regular media briefings with editorial decision makers have given us valuable insights into how editors work, how journalists select stories, how to contact the media, and how to pitch your story to them.
Not every editor works in the same way but there are some key lessons to learn. Here are our top 12 tips for how to contact the media:
1. Avoid generic press releases
First, when thinking about how to contact the media, identify the media outlet or outlets that you want to target. Do not fire off generic press releases to dozens of news desks. These will not be read. Make sure you know something about the media organisation that you are contacting. Watch or read or listen to their output. What topics are they interested in? What is their approach to these topics? Do you genuinely think that your story will be of interest to them? Try and identify the decision maker in the organisation. It could be a news editor or planning editor or specialist reporter. Find out that person’s email and email them directly.
2. Be concise
Be concise, keep your pitch focused and stick to one issue at a time. Sum up the story in one sentence. Then give more detail by mentioning what is new about the story or the angle, what access you can offer, potential interviewees, timing, exclusivity. Think about the media outlet and how it would normally approach this sort of story. News editors are short of time so make your formatting clear and easy to read.
3. Stick to the facts
Support your story or pitch with facts and statistics if applicable. Stick to what you know and never exaggerate. You can always get back to reporters after finding out more information. Remember that reporters and editors will want to test the accuracy of what you say. Do not spoon feed them. Expect a critical response or a questioning tone.
4. Identify the human story
At the heart of every piece of good journalism is a human story. If you are considering how to contact the media to pitch an issue based story, think about who is most impacted by the issue. The journalist will want to speak to that person. Can you help put the journalist in touch? Is that person willing to talk to the media, to give an interview and have their photo taken or appear on video?
5. Ensure that you have informed consent
Consent is crucial and this needs to be informed consent. Think about how the person will be affected if their story is made public. Are they in a position to give informed consent?
6. Remember that journalism is not PR
Remember that if a journalist covers your story they may seek other points of view. They are not in the business of public relations. You should expect them to report objectively so that audiences can make up their own minds. Journalists will never guarantee you a name check for your organisation so you may find that the issue you care about is covered but your own organisation is not named in the piece. This is a risk that you take.
7. Talk about the pictures or video
Journalism is about a story and words are essential but nowadays so are pictures. Reporters need images to illustrate their articles. TV journalists need video. Can you supply them with pictures or video? Do you own the copyright to the material that you are supplying them with? Think about if you were a journalist what images you would use to illustrate your story. Mention these in your original pitch and attach a few key photos if you have them.
8. Highlight the unique access that you have
Access is key and if you can offer journalists access that no one else can offer them that will be a big incentive for them to collaborate with you on the story. This could be access to a country or an area affected by the issue you’re highlighting. It could be access to an institution. Or it could be access to an individual or community. Journalists are short of time and the more you can do to help them set up a story and get access the more likely they are to choose your story rather than one from someone else.
9. Offer exclusivity when contacting the media
Journalists are in competition and they want a story that their competitors do not have. One of the first questions a journalist will ask you is ‘who else are you pitching this to?’ Try and single out your first choice media outlet and offer them exclusive access. This will make it much more likely that they run the story.
10. Make use of social media
Social media is a great way of getting to know more about the media outlets that you are targeting. Follow them on Twitter and look closely at the sort of stories they post. This will give you a much better idea of how to make your story a good fit for them. Follow individual reporters or editors to see which stories and issues they are highlighting.
11. Build relationships when you contact the media
When you contact the media with your initial pitch, the journalist may have no idea who you are, and they may have never heard of your organisation. Think of this pitch as the beginning of a relationship. If they turn you down, respond politely and try another time with a different story. Remind them who you are and what your organisation does. Try and talk on the phone or meet for a coffee. Build a relationship. Journalists thrive on personal contact and relationships. They prefer to deal with familiar sources who they have learnt to trust and who they know can deliver.
12. How to contact the media: don’t give up!
Journalists receive hundreds of emails and pitches. They may miss yours the first time you send it. Follow up a few days later with a polite email to check that they received the first one. Try and build relationships with journalists so that they know who you are and respect the access that you can give them.
At International Broadcasting Trust (IBT), we work with the media to ensure that audiences remain engaged with global issues. We provide our members with regular access to influential journalists and editors so that they can maximise their impact in a rapidly changing media landscape.
If you have found these tips useful then think about joining IBT. We connect charities working on global issues together with journalists and editors. Our recent briefings have been with BBC News, ITV News, Channel 4 News, Mail Online, BuzzFeed, LADbible, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, CNN, Thomson Reuters Foundation and Devex.
If you work on global issues do think about signing up for IBT membership. We can help put you in touch with key decision makers.