The Arch Way: Pitching
Pitching your story to the media is important whether you are a PR firm, a medical/political/financial or other expert or a company trying to get your story into the news. Remember, stories are always about people. You have to grab a journalist’s attention quickly — that could be Twitter, Instagram, a coffee meeting etc… Usually, for TV news pitches, journalists have to be able to pitch your story in the morning or afternoon meetings so planning is key. You are most likely to get your story published or on-air if you can find a character (a person affected/impacted) to weave the story.
Here are 10 tips to pitch your story effectively to the media.
1. PRINT – print a hard copy of your press release on a standard letter size paper and add our organization’s letterhead with date, contact info, address, phone, email, website and social media.
2.URGENCY – if you want to encourage a quick response, add “For Immediate Release” under the date. You can explain the timeliness of your piece — perhaps it is “national xxxx day” or it’s election season etc…
3. CONTACT – add the name of an individual person, their title, phone number and email in addition to a generic business contact
4. CONTENT – your content should be clear, concise and accurate. Your press release should be informative, important and interesting. The first sentence should be able to stand alone as a summary to the story and include the “5W’s and H” quickly (who, what, when, where, why and how).
5. STYLE – if you are not sure how to write or what to write, list all the facts in order of importance and then write your story as if you were speaking to another person. Keep your writing simple, short and punchy. It is best to use one thought per sentence. Use the active voice (who did what). And remember, stories are about people for people. Don’t populate your press release with too many statistics but use key data to explain the bigger picture.
6. BRAND – don’t assume the news organization knows your organization. State what you are, what you do, and where you are based. Identify people in your organization, where they are located, and how quickly people are available for interviews. You will usually want someone from an organization (“official”) and someone impacted as well (“character) who can weave the story through emotion. There is a difference between a marketing pitch and a news story pitch.
7. FACTS – triple check your facts, spelling, grammar and content. Besides a hard copy mailing, you can also use social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIN to get your story out there. Your press release should be 2 paragraphs, at most and less than one page.
8. PRESS KITS – while there is no ideal formula for a press kit, a box of goodies can often do the trick to grab someone’s attention but it has to go with your brand. Product companies will usually offer a few samples along with some branded content to a newsroom along with the press release. But ultimately, the story and pitch has to be news worthy, relevant and timely.
9. B ROLL (video) – television news outlets may ask you about “B roll” if they choose to cover your story.
- If you have access to a professional video camera, shoot at least 5 minutes of video
- Make sure you ‘white balance’ (this means put a piece of white paper in front of the lens so that your camera can identify white and hit the ‘auto white balance’ button). If you don’t, you may end up with video that’s blue or another color!
- If you shoot with your smart phone, shoot horizontally not vertically
- You should shoot as many ‘still’ shots which means keep the camera or phone in one position and just record the surroundings
- Each ‘still’ shot should be at least 10 seconds long with at least 20 different shots
- Avoid ‘pan’ shots — moving the camera around because they can be hard to edit
- Try to shoot a variety of shots like wide, medium and tight — it’s for sequencing
- Wide shots tell us ‘where’ – they are good for opening and closing the piece — think large crowds, exteriors of buildings, open spaces etc…
- Medium shots tell us ‘who’ — usually they involve action like people packing, children eating, employees working etc…
- Tight shots tell us ‘what’ — they are close-ups of the company logo, keyboard typing, lab testing, handwriting etc…
- Rule of thirds is important — imagine drawing two vertical lines and two horizontal lines into your lens / screen view. All the points where these lines intersect are ‘interest’ points and should be more dynamic and bring interest to the screen
- Natural sound (nat sound) are equally important in a TV piece — think the pressure cooker steaming, people clapping, water gushing, sirens blaring
- Store all your video clips into a folder with the name/date (in case you have to send it via ‘WeTransfer’)
10. SOTS (soundbytes) – every story needs a voice to narrate the story. Soundbytes are what journalists rely on to tell the story from a unique perspective. Usually, you will need at least two viewpoints to tell the story — i.e. an official and a character. The official voice (the event organizer, the president of the company, the cop, the lawyer, the founder etc…) provide the facts, details and numbers. The character(s) (victim, volunteer, parent, child, taxpayer, customer) will be the ones impacted by the story and provide the emotional voice in the story.
- Shoot your interviews with the proper eye level (the subject should like slightly to the left or right of the camera at a 45 degree angle not directly into the camera)
- Place the framing without much headroom (i.e. the person’s head shoot almost be touching the top of the frame)
- Don’t shoot someone with a window behind them because they will be backlit
- Instead, shoot them with light on the face or if it is an outdoor shoot, position them with the sun/light hitting their face to a certain degree so they are bright on screen
- If you are shooting with your smart phone, get a portable microphone and ask them to clip it to their shirt (near their heart) and do a sound check (ask them to count to ten)
- The first part of your interview should be to ask the subject to say their full name and title and spell it (journalists will use this to font/label them on screen)
- Keep interviews simple and conversational. You don’t need to use fancy words or complicated jargon. Explain your story with the basics: who, what, where, when, why, how
- If you are doing the interview online using Zoom – pin the subject’s video so that they are the only thing that gets recorded and ‘hit’ the record button. Make sure they are well framed and looking directly at the computer web camera and have good eye level (your eyes are on the same plane as the camera and you are not looking 45 degrees up or down). Ideally, you want your subject to have a clean, plain background
- Stories tend to be about people for people so think about rule of 3s (people remember specific things) and the emotional connect
- Analogies are a good example to drive your narrative forward
- Always finish up by saying “who wins?” and “what is next?”