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Know the Outlets Your Utility Is Pitching

image credit: Photo 68406890 © Eldar Nurkovic |
Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner, Freelancer

I hold 34 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

  • Member since 2016
  • 1,042 items added with 541,812 views
  • Feb 1, 2023

For nearly seven years, I’ve been the main “gatekeeper” for my employer, ultimately determining what gets published by our weekly newspaper – and, perhaps more importantly -- what does not.

In that time, I’ve received all sorts of pitches that not only didn’t make the grade but weren’t even close to being considered.

For example, I regularly get pitches for people who want to submit stories for publication. These stories often don’t follow general journalistic guidelines, are thinly disguised advertisements and/or are so poorly written that it’s embarrassing.

Other times, the subject matter is something that doesn’t fit our model. The paper covers the Philadelphia area. That means I don’t care what’s happening in Denver, Seattle, Miami, Boston or anywhere else more than slightly outside the 215, 610, 267 and 484 area codes unless there’s a local connection.

When it comes to our opinion pages, we get people who submit 4,000-word op-eds when we rarely run anyone longer than 1,000 words. Or they write things that are so inflammatory or potentially libelous that they’re rejected immediately.

I don’t care if you’ve written poetry. We won’t publish it. Same for the award-winning essay your eighth grader wrote. And if some other media outlet gave you an award, we’re not going to give it free publicity since most media awards are revenue-driven shams.

And when I get these kinds of pitches, I can’t help but be irritated, which may subconsciously prejudice me against you the next time you pitch, even if it is something that might be of interest.

This brings me to the point of this post: Be familiar with the media outlets you’re pitching.

Yes, I realize that you’re probably making the same pitch to dozens and maybe even hundreds of media outlets and don’t have the time to vet them all. But you should determine what are your top 50 outlets and perform some reconnaissance scouting.

Granted, that will take some time, but if you’ve got interns or lower-level employees with some bandwidth, they can easily compile reports on what those outlets print/air and what they don’t.

It’s also a good idea to get in touch with your key outlets and have a conversation about what they want. Few people do this and just assume the media outlet is dying for their content.

Speak to a reporter who has covered you before or an editor responsible for assignments (make sure not to do this on deadline) and ask what interests them. Not only will you have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t, but that personal contact goes a long way.

Remember that the key to successful pitching is knowing what interests the media outlet. Your goals and the media outlets are usually not the same things. When those goals merge is when you are likely to get coverage.

So, when you are pitching, always be thinking about the outlet’s audience.

That means doing your homework. Personalizing a pitch – generic pitches are spotted a mile away – is helpful. Properly address the email and include content on who you are.

Make sure your story idea is unique and timely. Too often, pitches arrive after someone sees a similar story. News flash: We’re not likely to run essentially the same story with different names.

As always, keep your pitch short and sweet. It only takes me a paragraph or two to know if I might be interested in something. Just sketch out the bare bones of your idea.

Having a good subject line on an email helps. After all, a bad one gets you deleted immediately. Keep your subject line short, punchy and to the point. Don’t be too cute.

Be sure to thoroughly proofread your pitch. Using even the free version of something like Grammarly will catch embarrassing mistakes and wordy or unclear sentences.

As for follow-ups, they’re fine, so long as you do it once. If a journalist doesn’t respond after two contacts, they’re not interested, so move along. Wait a couple of days before following up.

When your hard work pays off and your story makes a broadcast or a print edition, follow up with a thank-you email.

Be sure to share their story online via your utility’s social media and website. Journalists are increasingly being evaluated by how many people are reading their stories, so help them out to further cement your relationship.


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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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