How to lose a reporter (or his or her attention) in 10 seconds

January 11, 2018

Many of us in the communications, public relations and marketing world spent countless long days (and nights) at a news desk at various newspapers across the country before we decided to stop playing Lois Lane.


Maybe it was to spend more time with family, maybe it was in hopes of a slower-paced workday, but whatever the reason, we hold those brethren who stayed behind to fight the good fight in the highest esteem. As such, we don’t want to waste their time. Here are some surefire ways to make sure your email ends up in the recycle bin. In other words, here are some things to avoid:


  1. Being lazy. Yes, this is certainly something that you should avoid in general – both in your personal life and your professional life – but it’s probably the No. 1 thing to avoid here, as well. I wouldn’t care how incredible your pitch was if it started,” Dear [Prefix Appears Here] [Journalist Last Name Appears Here].” That happened. Seriously. And recently. I forwarded to my editor, we laughed and I never even read it. No reporter thinks he or she is the only reporter for whose affection you’re vying, but just read (and re-read) your pitch email so that you’re not telling a WaPo reporter why a New York Times reader needs to read about your client.
  2. Telling too much of the story, or not enough. It’s the story of your life, right – trying to master the perfect pitch. Everyone has opinions and some styles work better for some than others. Don’t fret on this too much as it’s best to develop your own style, but be mindful: There has to be something that is attention-grabbing. On the other hand, don’t write the article for them as you would write that. Another benefit of this is that it will force you to be mindful of different reporters’ preferences, which will also help deter you from sending the boiler plate pitch email.
  3. Forgetting to WHAM them. When I was working as a managing editor of an online daily newspaper, every reporter (including myself) had to deliver on-air news on three radio stations that the parent company owned. A bunch of print reporters had to relay the news in a compelling way to keep the listener’s attention for a full 60 seconds. I’ll pause as you finish laughing. As part of our ongoing training, we would do weekly reviews of our on-air deliveries that would score our reports on a WHAM scale that was graded on Why and How it Actually Matters Every good reporter should be asking this question before pitching and story, and every good strategic communicator can answer this question before ever pushing “send’ on a pitch email.
  4. Lacking excitement or expertise. Even the best pitches don’t always get answered immediately. Sometimes, the reporter wants to know more before committing to it or taking it to his or her editor. You need to know how to answer their questions. Chances are, they’re trying to get to the WHAM of it. You need to know what to tell them quickly and accurately. Don’t be afraid to let your excitement seep through, either. I didn’t say spill out all over the place. But being passionate about your client’s work in an authentic way is a good way to at least get the email read all the way through. Reporters can sniff out fake enthusiasm as well as they can sniff out food in the break room.


I’ll probably spend the rest of my career trying to perfect the pitch email, and I’m certain I’ve sent my share of less-than-stellar pitches, but steering clear of these lazy (and completely avoidable) mistakes is an easy New Year’s resolution to which you can stick!


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