Newsrooms the world over seem to change week to week. Not only are there fewer and fewer people working in them, but there are less of them in general, thanks to a drop in consumption of traditional media formats.
This means it can be difficult to get organic coverage of your business or your story in a newsroom where resources are scarce, and where timelines are ALL the time (rather than working to the older deadlines of broadcast and print) as reporters file stories and updates online and via social media, and where assignment editors are having to incentivise teams to cover more each day than the one-story-per-reporter-per-day of old.
How does a newsroom work, anyway?
Here’s how things generally work in newsrooms though, regardless of the sands of time stripping out elements such as morning meetings, midday check-ins, and filing to deadline.
Many newsrooms have two areas of focus – the day-of news, which is exactly what it sounds like; and feature items, which usually take longer to cultivate and have a timeless element when it comes to when they run. Unfortunately most PR pitches are feature items which are, nowadays, at the mercy of the day-of news resources. This means a pitch you’ve been working on for weeks or sometimes longer, can be cancelled or postponed at a moment’s notice because a big day-of story happened, and all the newsroom resources were reassigned to cover it.
One example of that is a pitch Curve worked on a couple of years back, where we had a specific week we had scheduled the CEO of a busy new cannabis business to be available for media interviews. We had several of them lined up, plus we were going to do week-of and day-of repeat pitching just to make sure we had any last-minute reporter or camera availability sewn up.
Our pitch week turned out to be the same week as a horrible news story where two teens from Vancouver Island went on a terrible shooting spree, which then turned into a cross-Canada manhunt. Understandably, all the newsrooms in the country were suddenly focused on this huge story, as the search for the two continued. Also understandably, our booked segments and interviews were mostly cancelled.
You can’t help what happens in the world of news, and that’s why we always tell our clients that PR is the coverage you pray for, and advertising is the coverage you pay for. You can have every single media outlet in the world lined up for an interview, but if there’s a big news story that week, you can end up losing every one of them.
So how do I get my story to the newsroom?
For the most part, newsrooms will connect with their assignment desk in the morning – whether that’s for a full online or in-person meeting, or more usually nowadays, reporters are individually assigned a story remotely and they either work from home, or they meet a camera at an interview location.
1) Find a specific person to contact
Reporters, producers and assignment teams do get to pitch story ideas to their editors – and if you have a specific day you want a story to go out (say for example a press conference or the day something is opening or launching), the best thing to do is to find a specific person who has covered that type of story before at their outlet, and reach out directly to them with lots of lead time.
They will always tell you they’ll try their best, and that they can’t guarantee anything if news happens, but at least if you’ve connected with them personally, it’s harder for them to say no, and it gives you a chance to repitch it on a day when nothing is happening.
2) Be flexible with your schedule
A better idea is to give a reporter a range of days when you are available, so it gives them more options if something happens on one of those days. In the case of the Canada-wide manhunt, it lasted the entire time the CEO was available. Luckily he was very understanding about the difficult situation, and he was pleased we were still able to get him an interview on a national radio show.
Probably the best option of all is to work one-on-one with a reporter for a “timeless” story for which you are able to be interviewed at any time, and which can run at any time, giving the reporter flexibility when it comes to setting something up.
The downside is that you can’t offer the pitch to multiple news outlets, as some don’t like to run a story if their rival has already done it; plus you never really have a “launch” date that coincides with the piece running. If that isn’t a big deal, then this is the ideal scenario.
3) Make your story as compelling as possible
If you do have a story that MUST run on a certain date, you have to make it as compelling as possible to ensure as much day-of coverage as you can. Think of your story as that big day-of news event. What is the absolute number one thing people need to know about it?
If you’ve heard the expression “burying the lead,” this is where it comes from. You DON’T want to hide the main point of the story when you’re pitching it – so make sure your press release, or your call to the newsroom, or your direct email or social media pitch to the reporter gives ALL the details, in as FEW words as possible, in the FIRST sentence. Reporters are busy – they won’t read past that first line – I guarantee it – so you have to make every word count.
If your first pitch didn’t stick, it’s worth following up just to check they got the email and that it didn’t get caught in their spam. But make it friendly and quick – don’t become a thorn in their side. You don’t want to be “that person” who is constantly bothering the writers or editors, because if you are, they will ignore all future pitches.
Also, don’t call every phone extension in the newsroom to make your pitch, one call after the other. Those phones are likely all within a 10 metre radius, and they will know what you’re doing, and OOPS, you become “that person” again.
One final thing when it comes to newsrooms in 2021 – and it’s actually a depressing one: check social media before you pitch, just to make sure the person or the outlet you are looking to reach out to is still there, that there haven’t just been layoffs, and that they are still doing local news.
It’s a really sad thing to say, but it happens so often these days, that being aware of what an outlet may be going through… or may have just been through, is just respectful, polite and shows you care. If bad stuff has happened, don’t pitch. If everything is fine, pitch away – because tomorrow or next week, more changes may be on the way.
Read more: Operate Like a Newsroom