Tips on pitching to journalists during a pandemic

Nine months on from the first outbreak of Covid-19 here in the UK and the virus remains the most-talked about news item. Whether it's radio shows discussing tiers or newspaper articles investigating possible PPE corruption, coronavirus continues to be the biggest story worldwide.

Given that, you might be wondering exactly how your brand can cut-through the noise. The good news is that despite all this uncertainty, there are still plenty of opportunities for your brand to be featured in the press. This could be directly related to the coronavirus, speaking to journalists about how your business has pivoted or the implications of being excluded from any grants. Or it could be on a completely different topic. Yes, there's a deadly virus going round but there's still appetite for other stories. From trade titles to consumer magazines and radio shows to podcasts, journalists are still covering non-COVID 19-related content.

However, with a fast-moving news cycle, a different working environment, and many titles seeing budgets and staff numbers tightened, it can be even harder than ever to pitch and build relationships with the media. However, as a journalist writing for the nationals and a media consultant, I know some of the key ways you can overcome this.

Be sensitive

First off, be mindful of the kind of pitches and press releases you're pushing out. For example, a journalist I know received a report on the favourite tunes played in stores when all shops were closed. Be careful about sending out tone-deaf releases. Is it relevant right now? Think of the usefulness of the release. How does it fit into people's lives in this new normal? Also, be mindful of people's situation. Writing emails or press releases about how people are making the most of the time on their hands may not go down well with readers, never mind a journalist, handling double the workload because their children's school is closed.

On the subject of being sensitive, be mindful that when you're in touch with a journalist that their work situation may have changed. Journalism was already experiencing a tough time prior to COVID-19; now parts of the industry are bordering on survival. This year we've seen many titles close (goodbye Q magazine and Sunday Times Travel), budgets tightened and many redundancies meaning some titles are surviving on shell staff. Remember to do your research. Does that title you're pitching actually still exist? Is it online-only now? Also, now is not the time to follow up non-urgent pitches the next day, or chase with persistent phone calls.

Be helpful

When you are in touch with a journalist, what can you do to make their life easier? If they want to feature you, can you respond to their emails straight away rather than 12 hours later? Can you make sure you already have images to hand (more on this later), that your press release is not missing key info – like quotes, prices, website links, date of launch. It sounds simple, but many press releases omit key information which can lead to to-ing and fro-ing with a journalist or the reporter deciding to ditch you in favour of a company that's easier to work with and provides all the information in one go.

Journalists want to hear your human-interest stories

I bang on about this a lot in my course and webinars: journalists want to tell stories. And for the most part, these concern people. This can be someone overcoming a challenge, opening up about an illness or a condition, a funny dating story and so on. You might think what has this got to do with my business? It has everything to do with your business. For example, say you're pitching a profile piece about your business. The journalist doesn't just want to know about how your revenue shot up from £10,000 a year to £1m. They want to know about you – the person behind the business, their journey and what adversity they've faced. Not that this year they won a contract in the USA or manufacturing ramped up. You need to make your pitch and story relatable and give journalists a story readers would be interested in.

Remember the need for great pictures

Images can make or break a piece so make sure you have a stock of brilliant images of you, your company, your products and branding. I've worked as a journalist for 13 years now and I can tell you that this is one of my biggest bugbears. We need a selection of high-res quality landscape and portrait shots. Still Iwell-known companies and PR agencies raking in millions will send me blurry pictures, or black and white snaps, or just low-res images that don't work. Everything is about making the life of a journalist a bit easier. If they're having to wait for you to book a photographer, or having to go back and forth with you over images, they might decide to choose another company to feature in that piece or they'll decide not to work with you again. Either way, you don't want to be blacklisted by a journalist. So make it easier for them. Be a pleasure to work with and we'll be keen to work with you again.