CDC's Injury Center 20th Anniversary:
Tips and Tools for Working with the Media
All About the Pitch
Pitching a story basically means selling your story idea to a media representative. Using this guide will help you generate ideas relevant to your community to engage the media. Before pitching your story, think about which of the following criteria it meets:
- Prominence: Involves well-known people.
- Impact: Explains how many people are affected by the news.
- Surprise: Underscores the departure from the norm (doesn’t happen every day).
- Timeliness: Emphasizes the current news.
- Something New: Includes “firsts” events, projects, or initiatives.
- Trends: Highlights surveys, changes, or new statistics.
- Something Useful: Answers the “How will this affect my life?” question.
- Experts: Involves credible doctors or public health specialists.
After fine-tuning your story angle, pitch your idea to media sources most likely to cover your story. To get a clearer idea of what media sources will likely be interested in your story, scrutinize the kinds of stories covered in your area’s newspaper and TV newscasts. Understanding how journalists cover the news will help you bolster your story angle. To improve your chances at gaining coverage, you can also offer to arrange interviews with sought-after experts, exclusive photograph opportunities, and other elements that will help to strengthen your story. You can pitch your story by telephone, letter, or e-mail; however, it’s best to start with a telephone call. The following steps will help prepare you to approach the media:
- Start with a Good Story Idea:
Journalists need to immediately spot the news hook of your pitch. Your idea should be timely, affect the journalist's audience, or focus on new information, such as a recent study or novel initiative.
- Make it Clear:
Provide additional information to connect the journalist with sources who can tell true-life stories, facilitate interviews with local experts, and provide introductions to others who can contribute to the story, such as partners and health officials.
- Know the Journalist's Audience:
Tailor your pitch to the media outlets and journalist’s audience. For example, if the radio station targets adults 25 and older, and you are pitching a story about a free child safety seat inspection at which information on preventing child injury will be distributed, your pitch should be geared to parents of young children who may listen to the station.
- Find a good time to call:
As a rule, journalists are more receptive to pitches in the morning, before evening deadlines loom. They are less likely to take unsolicited calls after 3 p.m. when facing deadlines.
- Make a 15-second pitch:
Persuasively state why the journalist's audience will care about the story. Be sure to mention any deadlines or dates of events. Offer to send additional information if the journalist seems interested.
- Follow through:
If the journalist asks to talk at another time, agree on a time to call back. Send any promised information immediately. The following pages include a sample media pitch script you can use as a guide when pitching stories by telephone.
Writing a Pitch Letter
- Be Brief:
Limit the letter to one page. Make the letter easy to read and appealing by writing succinct sentences, short paragraphs, and using bullet points.
- Start with the Story Lead:
Many effective letters provide the right frame-work or slant for the story. Put that information in the first paragraph.
- Provoke the Reader:
One way to accomplish this is to begin the pitch letter with an intriguing question or startling statistic.
- Don’t Oversell:
Remember, you’re not writing an ad. The letter must spell out why the story should be covered and the resources you can provide to formulate the piece.
- Tie the Pitch to a Journalist's Interest:
Research the kind of stories the targeted journalist covers and reflect this knowledge in the pitch letter. This will make you appear "involved" in the journalist’s activities. Even if the journalist declines your pitch this time, the person may be more amenable the next time.
- Attach Support Materials:
A brochure, news release, photo, or even an article published in a non-competing media outlet (for example, you can send a trade magazine story if you are pitching to a newspaper) may be enclosed to provide additional background, if appropriate.
- Wrap up with a Promise to Call:
State that you will call to discuss the story idea and any additional information you can provide.
Pitch Letter Evaluation Tips
- Keep track of the topics of pitch calls and letters, how many you make or send out, who you call or send them to, and how many stories were produced in what media outlets.
- Analyze articles or stories that come about as a result of pitch letters and record the author and the media sources.
- Estimate the number of people exposed through print, radio, TV, and collateral coverage.
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