We spoke to Jim Hill, freelancer for publications such as the Metro.
What do you think is the best way for a PR to make their pitches stand out?
Firstly, a picture speaks a thousand words. It should always be backed up with an image to capture the imagination! Images are so important to newspapers as well as magazines, so see if you can get something to illustrate it – even if it’s not a photo, then some kind of graphic.
Also, I think contact by email is probably best. This means the journalist can see it in front of them and put it on file. Then, it’s usually good to follow up with a phone call. As a journalist, you’re quite rushed when you’re at your desk sometimes – phone calls come and go and then you can get swamped. Whereas if it’s on an email, I personally tend to keep it and file straight away. When the PR follow ups with a call, I can just open the email and it’s there. For me, I’d then tend to put it on my to-do list if relevant.
Another tip is to keep your pitch short and concise. If it’s too long, then the journalist is likely to just skip it, so make sure your story highlights the most important and interesting bits.
Lastly, let the journalist know if it’s an exclusive story or it’s being pitched to the wider press. Some newspapers would rather cover a story if they knew it was just going to them, so make it clear if you’re approaching them first.
Any no-no’s for pitching?
Yes, pitching a complete non-story if it’s a product with no storyline. And long-winded emails with no image, where you should wade in to find out what the story is – we don’t have time for that! So, the key is to be clear in the first line what the most interesting part is.
Also, at the subject line stage, a lot of emails get deleted. So, it’s like writing a news story with a headline – hook them in immediately to get their attention.
With consumer journalism changing, it’s been said that news-writing bots will be the future, what are your thoughts on this?
For certain types of blogs and websites it’s so formulaic that it makes sense a robot could write it. It’s clickbait. But I think there will be a resistance to that – certainly I don’t click on those things. If it is just all keywords in it, that just annoys me! It can be made up just to get likes. I think this might happen on some sites, but it might drive people back to the newspapers. It can be a differentiator if something is written from a journalist at a newspaper because there are certain rules. Every story should be corroborated by three sources, whereas a piece from a blog can be written by one person purely to get clicks. It might do the newspapers a favour.
Are there any other ways you see journalism changing in 5 years’ time?
Yes, I believe mobile phones will continue to have a big impact especially now, seeing as you can assume everyone is carrying around an incredibly sophisticated smartphone. We all have access to a good-quality camera and video recorder in our pockets, so when things happen, they can be captured in the moment. People are now getting stories first before the newspapers, so there should be ways of gathering this kind of news.
So, there you have it. We say thank you to Jim for his insights and encourage you to try a few of these strategies when reaching out to journalists to secure national coverage.