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Pitching Journalists Who are Too Busy for Pitches

Agony of DefeatIt’s no secret that today’s journalists are overworked. Newsrooms are operating on fewer and fewer people, which means most reporters are ridiculously strapped for time and have to be very selective about which stories they take on. In turn, PR professionals are having a tough time reaching media contacts who simply don’t have the bandwidth to pay attention. This has been the case for a while, but it became very clear to me recently when a reporter sent the following message in response to my suggestion that she have a brief conversation with a client to discuss a story idea:

Under normal circumstances I’d say sure, but we are so understaffed these days that I am trying to limit my meetings to ones that have a 99% chance in turning into instant stories. I cover way too much stuff, and don’t have time to write half of what I uncover. I feel like my mind is a sieve. Hopefully things will settle down when the economy improves and magazines start restaffing.

It’s safe to say this reporter’s words express what thousands of journalists are feeling. They are under so much pressure and such tight deadlines that even if they see value in a PR person’s story idea, they can’t afford to pursue it unless they’re certain it will pan out and be worth their time.

That said, certain pitches still resonate. How can you reach out to overly busy journalists and still have a chance of getting through? The key is putting yourself into the shoes of a reporter and pitching accordingly. Here are some tips:

-    Include important details, but avoid information overload – Pitches that are many paragraphs long and include large blocks of information will likely go ignored, especially now, when many reporters are filling two or more roles in the newsroom. That said,  you stand a better chance of getting noticed when your pitch includes genuinely useful details such relevant statistics to back up your message and names, descriptions and contact info of sources. Keeping a pitch brief and to the point – but being sure to including these types of important details – can get a busy journalist to spare a few minutes on your message.

-    Show you understand the reporter’s situation – Some PR professionals seem to think that journalists are always waiting by their phones and inboxes to receive the next great story idea from a publicist. In reality, most reporters don’t have the time to care about or even notice most pitches. If you make it clear to your contact that you understand they are busy - but really think they could benefit from your information (and genuinely believe it!) - they’ll be much more likely to hear you out.

-    Be transparent – If a journalist likes your story idea, but needs information you don’t currently have in order to move forward, be honest. Don’t lead them to believe you can definitely get what they need just so you can keep them interested. Be straightforward and let them know you’re not sure, but that you will look into it and get back to them ASAP. If you can’t get the information the story might not happen, but at least now you’ll have a solid contact.

-    Make sure your news is newsworthy – Even the best PR people have been guilty of pitching a story or two that wasn't very newsworthy. It happens. In times like these, though, fluffy pitches with no real, useful information won’t get you anywhere. They might even get you blacklisted by overworked journalists who are tired of getting bad pitches. Take a step back and think before you pitch. Even though reporters are busy, they’ll probably still make time for real news that their readers (and editors) will care about.