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Media Pitching 101: A Reporter’s Perspective (part 1)

March 9, 2010

She’s a former TIME magazine bureau chief, current American Way columnist and adjunct journalism professor at the University of North Texas who shares the what and what-not-to-dos of pitching from a reporter’s perspective in this two-part series. Cathy Booth Thomas will now take our questions.

1. What’s the worst pitch you ever received? Best pitch?

The worst pitch ever was actually a series of pitches from a truck rental company — just after Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida. They sent me two pitches a day (and several copies of each pitch) over my fax machine. When I got back from reporting to my office, I was out of paper and none of the faxes I had asked other people to send had gotten through. I was furious. I swore never ever to do a story on that company.

The moral for today (when faxes aren’t so important): Most journalists today work alone, with no help. They do not appreciate being bombarded by the same company every day, especially during a disaster. Even by e-mail. Tailor a pitch to the reporter and don’t bombard him/her with mass mailings!

The best pitch I ever received was made in person, over lunch, by someone who had helped me repeatedly get difficult stories out of his boss. We’re talking a major airline after 9/11. For the anniversary issue on 9/11, he offered me the exclusive story of the two flight attendants who had stopped the shoe bomber. A true exclusive and a great human story. Whenever that PR person called me after that, I listened to him.

2. Does pitching work?

Oh yeah, pitching works. It’s what we thrive on. But often the pitch has to be honed by repeated tries. Or, it’s only used because a pitch from one company fits with another idea or a pitch from another company. Sorry! 🙂

I have used some crazy pitches. One, for instance, came from a tech company on RFID technology (the strips that electronically follow goods through the supply chain). Well, this company kept sending me updates on their new technology and products – not really as pitches – just info updates. It took me about two years of pulling together material they sent me with material I collected from other sources to come up with a powerful business section lead on RFID and its wilder uses (tracking humans, etc.). It was a really good piece, and after that experience with the company, I was willing to listen to their PR person whenever she called.

3. What is the best format for a pitch (ex. a short e-mail vs. news release with lots of details)?

Either one. If the story is not worth more than a few lines, don’t fill it with puff. Give me more only if it’s truly interesting. Also, don’t go into long pitches in a phone message. E-mail me. Most writers report during the day and dream up ideas at night, so e-mail is best.

 

Cathy Booth Thomas tackles the following questions in the next post:
4. Are social media outlets such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter valuable to a reporter?
5. Do you have any pitching pet peeves?
6. Which types of topics always make good stories?
7. How can a PR professional maintain a relationship with a reporter?

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