Part 4: Getting media savvy – How do you pitch a story idea to a journalist over the phone?

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So you’ve racked your brain and come up with a great story idea that you just know a journalist will love. You’ve done your research and know which journalists are most likely to go for it, plus you’ve got a great photograph to go with it! The hard part’s done, right? Wrong.

Unfortunately, pitching stories to journalists is a daunting task, and it will most likely take a few practice runs for you to get it right. The key, as with everything media-related, is to be thoroughly prepared!

If you missed the previous parts of our media know-how series and want to get up to speed, you can catch them here:

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So, before calling a journalist to pitch a story, make sure you have everything you want to say worked out beforehand. It’s often a good idea to make a list of the main points you want to get across and have them in front of you as a point of reference. However, try not to read from your notes because that will sound scripted and impersonal and the journalist will have zero interest. If you’re really nervous, read through your pitch out loud before calling the journalist or ask a friend to let you practice it on them. Take a look at this article on public speaking if you’re really nervous and want some helpful tips that, if anything else, will make it sound like you know what you’re talking about!

Once you’ve finally dialled the necessary digits, make sure you speak slowly and clearly and listen to any questions the journalist asks. If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them that you will find out and get back to them. Never make anything up! Journalists are generally happy for you to get back to them with correct answers as opposed to giving them ‘roundabout’ or plainly inaccurate information.

If the end result is that the journalist isn’t interested in your pitch, it’s usually best not to push it. If you annoy them now, you might get blacklisted and ruin any future prospects with them. Often because they’re so busy, journalists will cut you off part way through your pitch and ask you to send them an email with all of the relevant information. We’ll cover this in Part 5.

But first, here is a basic template you could use to form your phone pitch:

1.    Introduce yourself and say where you’re calling from.

2.   Introduce your story idea and explain why it’s newsworthy – “I saw your recent story on [mention a recent story the journalist has done on your issue]… OR as it is [mention another newsworthy angle e.g. a specific time of year]… I thought you might be interested in hearing about…
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3.   If possible, draw on statistics or examples.
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4.   Tell the journalist a bit about yourself, how you got involved in your business or explain the issue or event that you are calling about. Let them know what you’d be able to speak with them about.
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5.   Ask if they would be interested in setting up an interview, having you write an advice article or providing a case study (depending on what you are pitching), and if they’d like you to send them some more information.

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Remember, journalists receive countless phone calls and emails from people just like you every day, so don’t be disheartened if you keep getting turned down. All it takes is for one journalist to realise that your story idea has potential, and then you’re set. If you’re really struggling, it could be that you’re targeting the wrong media outlets or don’t have the right angle, so maybe it’s time for you to revaluate your DIY PR strategy or reassess the newsworthiness of your story.

In the final part of our media series we’ll look at how to get journalists to read your emails as opposed to sending them straight to junk!

What’s the most daunting business or personal phone call you’ve ever had to make?


2 thoughts on “Part 4: Getting media savvy – How do you pitch a story idea to a journalist over the phone?”

  1. Sound advice, save for one thing: journos get hardly any phone calls.
    I’m a working journo and PREFER phone calls, but PR people and business people nearly always default to email.
    I suspect that is because I am in a small minority of folks who prefer calls. And when those calls arrive, I often have a lot of questions to ask, which means calling me is not always a comfortable experience. There’s no malice in that. I’m just trying to test the ideas being put to me so I can figure out if there’s a story to be done or not.

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