Posted by David Oates 3 years, 8 months ago

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If you have ever seen the way a newsroom operates, you know that it can be chaotic, unpredictable and stressful. I have not personally worked in a newsroom, however my colleague has, and she always shares stories about firsthand experience including “dos” and “don’ts’” of pitching a story to the station.

Every station is different so by experimenting with ways to contact decision makers, learning from countless rejection and experiencing awkward moments or pitches gone wrong, you only become a smarter, stronger PR pro. However, take these below tips into account and avoid newsroom pitching blunders.

1. Know who you are pitching.

There are different people who do different things at the station. There are Morning Show producers, mostly putting segments together with outside guests coming in-studio to be on air. There are assignment desk reporter – these are the individuals who field pitches and public inquires and decide whether or not it is worth passing to a Producer or News Director.

Do your research, especially when pitching the producer a story; use their name in the intro and look at the past stories that have covered during the segment they produce to a.) make sure they have not recently done the story, and b.) it is relevant to their viewership. You can also try pitching an anchor; these individuals usually have emails on the website and have more public information available. For example, if you know there is an anchor involved in a particular cause or has an interest that relates to the story you are pitching, it might make sense to start with them first in order to make a personal connection, and they will then bring it to the producer for approval if its relevant.


2. Be efficient with gathering information.

You want to get to the right person or the decision maker, usually by email first, but you don’t want to go on a wild hour-long internet search to find it…and don’t, because that is a waste of time. Call the news station’s general phone line (NOT the newsroom/breaking news number) and say something like, “Hi, I have a story idea I think your morning show producer might be interested in – what is the best way to get in touch with them?” They will gladly provide you the proper contact info.

Calling might be scary or intimidating, but often it is the fastest way to figure out the best person to reach. If your call is unsuccessful you can try LinkedIn to get info on them, which can lead to other info like Twitter accounts, etc., since producers’ emails are usually not on the website.

3. Timing is everything.

Typically, the Assignment Desk fields inquires and pitches 24 hours a day; they sift through emails (deleting most of them) and passing relevant ones to the producer/s assigned to the shift. A team meeting signals the beginning of each new shift to talk about stories for the show including breaking news, guests needed, etc. Sometimes guests are scheduled in advance but that can change depending on breaking news of the day. You might find that sending an email at an unconventional hour might actually get better response. Remember, newsroom pros operate on a different time schedule so learning their timing can be advantageous. The assignment desk editor at a local station I regularly pitch likes emails between 6am and 9am and then a follow-up call the next day if he does not respond. Often emails at high-volume times can easily slip through the cracks.

If the conversation permits, or you get someone in a non-crunch time period, ask when is best to send them pitches and how they like the information. This way you avoid hitting them at a crazy busy time and they will likely appreciate you asking.

4. Be quick and precise.

Going back to the chaotic nature of the newsroom, no one wants to sit and listen to you ramble for five minutes about how great your story would be and why they should cover it, or a long bio on the expert they should interview. If you can sum it up in one sentence great. I understand that is easier said then done and it might take a couple tries to consolidate, but in the end sometimes less said is more. Try writing down what you are going to say if you are not great on the phone, or practice ahead of time. For example, if you are offering an expert source for a breaking story, you might try calling the assignment desk (newsroom) directly “Hi, I have an XYZ expert that can speak about the recent XYZ and the controversy it is causing. Can I send details on what he/she can talk about that is relevant to your viewers?”

Just get the crucial information out about what or who it is and why it is applicable (if relevancy is not obvious). Don’t ask how their day is going or other small talk on this call.

Wow, just talking about the inside of the television newsroom is exhausting!

Remember, keep these above tips in mind when trying to get yourself or a client on local television news. Every newsroom operates a little bit differently but learning the who, how and when of the station can help streamline your efforts and get you the exposure you are seeking.

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