10 Steps to Pitch the Media

Proposing a story to journalists and editors doesn't have to be difficult. The important part is knowing how to time your pitches and what angles to take.

April 1, 2011

First things first: A pitch isn’t the same as a press release. A press release is a self-contained news story that you provide to a number of news outlets, which, if you’re lucky, reporters will rewrite so that your release fits their style and space — and you can run the release as-is on your own Web site.

A pitch, on the other hand, is the planting of an idea; an invitation to a reporter to write a story, or to an editor to assign one, with you as a key — but not necessarily the only — source. It most likely takes some angle on your local market and the role you play in it. And while you send a press release to all your local or regional media, you make your pitch to one journalist. It takes some careful studying of the news media on your part to know whom to target, understand what journalists are interested in, and when to make your pitch.

Here are 10 ways you can sell a story to the media and get some free, positive publicity:

1. Scrutinize the Media

Read, watch, and listen to your local and regional news. Do the media outlets have reporters who specialize in real estate, or does coverage fall to a general business reporter? Is there a home or style section in the newspaper or regional magazine? Are there patterns in their coverage, such as home sales statistics one week, office space availability the next? Do they do stories about specific neighborhoods on a rotating basis? Learn the news your media reports, their editorial calendar, and the general rhythm of their coverage. Determine ways you can plug in your real estate business. Especially note recurring slow news days when there seems to be a lot of non-local fill-copy in print or on air. The periods a little bit before those slow news days are prime for your pitch.

2. Build Your Target List

This isn’t your media list with just names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. Take note of reporters whose styles you like or who seem more informed about real estate than the general assignment reporter — or on the flip side, a young reporter who has skills but needs good contacts, such as you. Get a sense of what certain editors like to cover, and note that in your contact list. Make a personal contact with reporters at a meeting or community function to put a face to the byline, and plant the seed in their minds of using you as a potential news source.

3. Find Fresh Angles

Some topics tend to repeat themselves, and reporters struggle to find new ways to write about them. This can be particularly true in feature stories in homes and living sections of newspapers and magazines, where assignments are often pegged to the seasons. Give a fresh angle for one of these stories, and you could become a reporter’s hero.

4. Set the News Hook

Why is your pitch a news story now? Even features have a time factor, like the seasonal home article. But if your pitch is for a hard news story, the reporter will want to know what makes it timely. If you can peg your pitch to reports of national trends or recent events, you make the reporter’s job easier, since editors want local takes on national stories anyway.

5. Give Context to Statistics

Real estate sales are up. Real estate sales are down. The news media will run those reports along with a generalization on why sales are up or down, quoting some government or research organization’s figure in support of the reasoning. But do the reasons sales are up or down nationally or in your state really apply to your town? Statistics on real estate are reported on a scheduled basis. Pitch an idea ahead of the release of those stats to give insight on what’s happening locally.

6. Put a Human Face on a Story

It doesn’t have to be your face. Yes, your pitch should put you and your business in the story. But a news pitch is not a sales call. Suggest other sources besides yourself for the story idea, because the reporter is going to need them. Even if the reporter doesn’t take this pitch, you build credibility by showing you understand the reporter’s needs.

7. Don’t Make Your News Pitch a Sales Call

Be straightforward and factual in your pitch and explain why it makes a good news story. The same issue needs to be addressed for a pitch as it does for a press release: why your story is important to the reader or viewer, not just you. An editor knows you and your company benefit if you’re in the story, but that’s fine as long as you help do the job by putting out a story that people want to see and read.

8. Don’t Duck Bad News

In fact, a great time to pitch a story is in the face of bad news. While reporters struggle to find someone who will talk about the issue, you come forward with your take on how to get through hard times. We all hope the worst of the housing crisis is behind us, but downturns of varying degrees regularly turn up in commercial and residential real estate, influenced by the economy, politics, tax policies, and other forces. If you pitch a story on how to respond to the latest crisis, you’ll get good news coverage, and reporters will start calling you.

9. Pitch by E-Mail

E-mail gives reporters an easy reference they can file away if it arrives on a hectic day. And that can be any day. Avoid sending an e-mail pitch on Fridays, particularly to newspapers where editors and reporters are putting the final touches on Sunday feature sections. Mondays aren’t so hot either, as they catch up with all their e-mail from Friday and the weekend. Tuesdays are often best.

10. Keep It Concise and Casual

This is a one-on-one communication. You want to get to the point of your pitch, but you also want to come off as friendly and easy to talk to. After all, that’s the point. You want the reporter to call you for quotes. Follow up your pitch with a second e-mail or a phone call a couple of days later, and ask the reporter what he thought of the story idea. If he doesn’t like it, ask why, not in a confrontational tone, but as a way to hone your future pitches. A journalist needs good sources and will likely help you become one if you show an honest interest in what makes a good story. If you establish a good relationship with a particular reporter or editor, you can call in your pitch. Always ask if a deadline’s approaching, and if one is, ask when a better time to call might be.

Follow these tips, and you should be seeing your name in print in no time.

Jennifer Wezensky is president of JW Public Relations, a national boutique PR firm based near Kalamazoo, Mich. Wezensky created the new PR Toolkit for Real Estate Professionals. The toolkit is the most comprehensive, journalist-written and reviewed guide on how to develop and implement a low-cost PR campaign, with valuable articles as well as customized press release templates, example press releases, sample public relations plans and news angle ideas for real estate pros. Visit www.jwprtoolkits.com for more information.