How to pitch features ideas to journalists

Last month, I wrote about editorial features, what they are and why this content is different to news stories. And how to approach researching features you or your organisation could make a positive contribute to.

Now I’m turning to how to pitch your editorial feature idea to a journalist. ‘Pitching’ a story idea (or ‘selling in’ as it is often called in Public Relations) is a skill in itself and requires a well thought out approach, as well as sometimes a thick skin.

My last blog dealt with the importance of doing thorough research about your target media to look for opportunities, establish their style and the differences between publications, and noting deadlines.

I will assume you have done all of this before you make the first call to a journalist. The key to success with features is really knowing the publication’s readers, so careful advance research is a must and may put you ahead of your competition.

Once you have your target list of publications, their features lists (or at least an idea of what they are including, when and what their deadlines are) find out who will be writing the most important feature – from your perspective – on that list.

Other than perhaps national newspapers, not many publications have a big team of feature writers. So the task may fall to a trusted freelancer, a staff writer who normally tackles news or perhaps even the features editor (who is responsible for all features content) him or herself.

Phone the writer who is responsible for that feature, making sure it is convenient for them to speak for a few minutes, and ask what angle they are taking for the piece. Also ask if you can help in any way (and how). You might like to double check that all important deadline date, too!

This is where you might score points against a rival company or organisation that may also be aiming for inclusion in the feature. You might propose an angle for the story that the journalist had not thought of, which appeals.

Having spoken to them, and established what their needs and wishes are, make sure it is both in your interest and realistic to fulfil them before their ultimate deadline.

Then quickly email the journalist back with a succinct message explaining what you can offer as part of their feature. I made some suggestions about what might be valuable content in my last blog on this topic.

Remember, it is your job to make the journalist’s life as easy as possible, provide added value for their readers, please their editor and ensure they hit their deadline with ‘good copy’. All of this will add to the positive PR that you will gain.

Put yourself in the writer’s shoes and ask what ‘good copy’ would look like from their point of view (rather than yours). Would it be extra quotes from someone well-informed, with a different perspective on the subject? A case study from a happy customer? Some authoritative recent research, perhaps?

Can you provide a good quality, high resolution photograph or an informative graphic to illustrate the feature?

It should go without saying that once your suggestion of help to a journalist has been accepted, all contributors must deliver the goods on time. Failing to do that will mean you can effectively cross that journalist and publication off your media list next time you have a contribution in mind.

Again, think if you can fulfill the wish list before promising – it can take quite a bit of time to arrange interviews to suit various dairies, organise good quality photography and so on.

If, for any reason, things change (for instance, someone suitable is no longer able to provide an interview before the deadline) be sure to let the writer know quickly and suggest alternatives.

Once you have supplied the copy and other information, do follow-up with a final phone call to ask if this was all received. Does it actually meets the writer’s needs? Do they need anything else– if so, how could you, your company or organisation help?

Make sure you follow-up by getting hard copies of the publication itself and distributing it to everyone who has made a contribution to the feature.

Once you have seen the final results in print, it is a good time to write a quick email of thanks to the journalist. You might ask how you could make a contribution to another feature or news story they are writing in the near future!

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