TOP Talk

Course Correcting a Dead End Story Angle

Posted November 02, 2017 By Matt McCarthy

Topics: Earned Media Relations


Hey, it happens…

You’ve got a great client with a great story to tell but despite your best efforts, the media you’ve reached out to is just not interested in covering it. But just because the journalist you pitched said no or is not getting back to you, it does not mean it is the end of the road for your pitch angle.

Here are some common remedies to breathe new life into your pitch that seems to be going nowhere and ultimately secure coverage.

Is it a bandwidth issue?

Lots of times, especially with trade publications that have limited staff, they just don’t have the time to interview your client and write a story, even if they think the topic is interesting. If they turn you down for an interview try going back to them by offering a contributed article on the topic. Most trades and increasingly, business news outlets are accepting contributed content. With print media ever dwindling and more content going online-only, many of these outlets have the digital real estate to publish more content, they just don’t have the manpower to do so.

While a contributed article can mean more work for both you and your client, it does present some distinct advantages. First, it allows you to control the message. Although the articles need to be vendor neutral they can focus on the view your client wants the reader to focus on. Second, it positions your client as an expert in its field to the reader. It also shows the editor that you are willing to work with them and provide content that makes their site more interesting to readers. This can lead to follow up contributed articles and even regularly published content opportunities.

If not a standalone story, perhaps a source within a larger piece?

One of the best ways to get a client noticed is to latch onto a current trend or hot news topic with an angle that shows why your client or their solution is relevant. This is always a good tactic, but it can be hit or miss with the execution. If journalists are unwilling to do a standalone story on your client, try offering them up as an industry expert.

By doing this, it helps get your client involved in a larger industry article that can lead to more credibility for your client and its products than a standalone article on them. The readers will see them as thought leaders and will more likely see your client and its technology as trusted and worth a closer look.

Have you done enough homework?

You have the right pitch and you may feel you have the right editor but you may want to double check if you pitch is falling on deaf ears. You may have found the editor through a Cision search or you may have pitched them based on your past experience working with them, but times change and it is possible they may have switched beats and are no longer a relevant target for you. Cision is great but we all know, its data can be outdated and should always be double checked before a pitch goes out.

Make sure your personal knowledge of media targets stays current as well. For example, I have pitched a certain editor for several years. When I first started pitching her, she wrote about business intelligence at a tech publication. Her role changed several times when she was at that publication and she now works at a new outlet covering banking issues. She’s still a relevant target for me but the clients I pitch her have changed as her beats have changed.

If you know you have the right outlet but not getting a response from the editor you pitched, take a closer look at  the publication to see if there are other editors covering the subject you are pitching. Often times outlets that cover a specific market may have multiple editors there that have overlapping beats. This is a “safety net” publications create to ensure relevant news gets covered even if the primary editor is out or tied up working another story.

Fully understanding outlets and the editors you are pitching can help you pivot or reset when when needed by getting your pitch into the inboxes of the editors who will care most about your news.

Are you working the phones enough?

Pitching starts with the email but it often takes phone work to close the deal. Editors are very busy (see bandwidth issue above). They often don’t have time to read every email that comes into their inbox and it is very easy for your pitch to get lost (if it ever got to them to begin with).

So, we as PR practitioners need to do our due diligence and make those follow up calls to the people we pitch. It can be intimidating because sometimes journalists will be rude to you, but keep in mind that you are a resource to them that is helping them to better understand and cover their markets.

Technology will advance and they will keep inventing new ways to digitally communicate with each other, but the old fashioned phone call still does the trick to land that all important interview. By talking with your media target you will gain valuable information that you can’t get from email alone. You may find out that the editor you pitched is not the best fit and they can refer you to a better editor in their office. You can find out what they are currently working on and even if it doesn’t fit for the client you called them for, you may have another client that fits the bill. You may find out that the best way to pitch them is through social media channels, not email. You can also find out why your pitch doesn’t resonate with them and can take that knowledge and use it to improve your next pitch to that journalist. The point is, if you think you have hit a dead end with a pitch and you have not followed up with a phone call, you still have a lot of work to do.

In closing, journalists are very busy and before we can call it quits on a media pitch we need to make sure we have exhausted all avenues available before heading back to the drawing board.

Matt McCarthy

About Matt McCarthy

What Motivates Me: Finding and telling a good story. Each client has one, you just need to work with them to find it.