What opportunities are journalists looking for?
Updated: Feb 16
Journalists are opportunistic, they are ‘switched on’ to finding stories, so if you are pitching to a journalist, it’s good to understand how to appeal to their opportunism.
However, I want to share how this opportunism really works because it’s presented in a very misleading way in drama. In tv shows and films, journalists are presented as getting an inkling of an opportunity for a story. Then roaming the city or an increasingly dark and forested landscape on their quest for information, punctuated with drinking neat vodka whilst tapping pensively at a laptop in the small hours.
In real life, journalists rarely get permission to leave their offices and in the small hours are either working shifts (in their offices) or trying to get some sleep before the alarm goes off.
And this is especially true on local newspapers and sector press where staff levels are very low. In bigger organisations there are more journalists but as they work shifts it’s critical that they are present to relieve team members and then handover to the next shift. This makes them largely office-bound. So, if you pitch journalists what you believe to be a great opportunity to come out and cover your launch they are, unfortunately, very unlikely to show any interest or turn up. It’s not that you don’t have a good story, it’s that this is outside the realm of opportunities they can take.
If you are considering a launch do not do it with the purpose of attracting media coverage. You are unlikely to get return on investment of your time and money. A better strategy, if you want to have a launch for other good reasons, is to hire a good professional photographer to take some incredible pictures and submit the best 3 (include portrait and landscape shapes) with a short press release so that the local paper or sector press can use it as a picture story. This can give you the splash you want.
A better way of understanding journalists is to see them as opportunistic within a limited range of opportunities! If you, as pitcher, understand these opportunities and you offer something which fits one of them then you are likely to have success because this will appeal to their opportunism.
Let’s take the example of a monthly magazine with a large circulation which you want to get into. If you look at these magazines, either online or print, you will see they usually list Regular Features among the contents section and if you check through a few copies, you’ll see these features appear every month. They can be things like ‘A Day in the Life of’ or ‘Q and A with’ or ‘Focus on’. Or perhaps you want to take part in a local radio show. Many BBC mid-morning shows (those that start after Breakfast shows) often include an interview with a local business person to get their take on the local area and relevant issues. For example, the head of a science park talking about the rise of innovation in the city and the investment it’s attracting from around the world.
If you have a media outlet you particularly want to feature in, you will multiply your chances of success by pitching for one of these regular features, one of these existing opportunities, rather than inviting the journalist to do something which is outside the realms of possibility for them. I strongly recommend you focus on a very few media targets so you can pitch not just a strong story but one which fits with an opportunity.
What can happen, especially with some of those beautiful magazines which cover a particular location and are packed with adverts, is that almost as soon as you send in a press release you are contacted not by a journalist but by the advertising team. If you have no budget or appetite for advertising it can still be very useful to make the most of this cold call because advertisers are far more likely than journalists to want to chat on the phone and they can often share with you the themes that are planned for every month. If you know these themes you can then create future stories and pitches which match them which again appeals to the opportunistic journalist who is switched on to finding material that will fit that theme. You can also ask them about how to get included in one of the regular features.