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Pitching Stories

Don’t Ignore The Local News Media And Then Expect Them To Listen To Your Side Of The Story When A Problem Arises.

By Thomas J. Roach

A responsibility shared by almost everyone in public relations is pitching stories. The first practitioners in the early 20th century were hired for the sole purpose of placing news stories about their clients. Today, no matter how large or small an organization is, if it has a public relations staff, they are probably working to get positive news coverage for the company.

This column has reminded readers many times that it is unwise to ignore the local news media and then expect them to listen to your side of the story when a problem arises. The best way to fend off a publicity problem is to build rapport with the news media and the community before the problem arises.

We still call these stories press releases even though they are now also communicated through radio, television, and over blogs and other online media. One thing that all press releases have in common is that, even though they are written in objective news style, they still attempt to present the company in a favorable light. They are usually good news stories as opposed to the bad news stories that make up most of the daily news.

Some common topics for press releases are announcements about new products or services, or about people being hired or promoted. Because press releases are good news stories intended to serve the needs of the companies that send them, editors are hesitant to use them. A news outlet’s credibility is compromised if it looks like it is being used for private gain. Also, everyone in the news industry knows the public is more interested in bad news than good news.

Yet, most news outlets are dependent on press releases. Although the prestige daily newspapers like the New York Times will not print a press release, they might use it for a story idea. Small town newspapers will print releases and may be dependent on them for over 50 percent of their content.

So, much as they might dislike it, editors read press releases and schedule the best ones for publication. The best way to get them to use a press release is to write it using strict AP style and to make sure that it is newsworthy. Stories about jobs or the environment are cinches to get printed in the current news climate.

Another key to getting a story published is a good pitch. A pitch is a brief argument on why a story is worth publishing. It can be verbal or part of a letter or, at least, in the subject line of an email.

Here are some suggestions on how to pitch a story:

  • Keep the pitch short. Good stories can be overlooked simply because it took too much effort to determine their worth.
  • Put a condensed version of the pitch into the subject line of the email with the story. The best way to do this is probably to write what you think the headline might look like, and don’t forget the verb.
  • Point out the local angle. The more local the story, the more compelled the news editor is to use it.
  • Stay off the phone. Even small news outlets may get hundreds of press releases a day. Editors would spend all their time on the phone if they took calls about press releases.
  • Don’t embargo the press release. An embargoed press release comes with instructions on when it can be published. News outlets process too much information to have time to keep track of embargos. Unless you are offering them a newsworthy exclusive, most editors will discard an embargoed release.

Once the story is published, don’t forget to link it to your social media. A link to an outside source is better than actually posting the story in a company blog. Stories from outside sources have more credibility than those that are self-published.

Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Calumet since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..