Newspapers Will Never Write About Your Story

It’s true, no matter how good your PR pitch, a newspaper is never going to write about your story. Neither will a magazine, website, newsletter, journal or blog. And a television or radio program isn’t going to cover your story either. If anyone covers your story, it’s going to be a reporter (or blogger, producer, podcaster, etc.). People write stories, not publications.

This may seem obvious, but time after time, PR teams develop media lists based on the target outlets they’re going after, rather than the individual sources they plan to target. Clients want to see big name outlets on that media list, so they feel better about the investment they’re making. I get it, but it’s the wrong way to develop a media list. I’m sure many will disagree with this point, but I’ve rarely seen a first pass at a media list that only included the most appropriate journalists for a particular story. It’s usually a list of best-case outlets, with equally recognized journalist names. What client doesn’t want to believe their story is good enough for BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal or CNN?

Targeting the right media contacts takes a lot of work. Far more work than is involved building a targeted list with PR software products offered by Vocus, Cision, PR Newswire or BurrellesLuce (to name a few). These tools make the initial work easy, but targeting goes far beyond this initial effort. These solutions should never replace a research-intensive effort to develop a good target list, but rather provide a jumping off point for more intensive targeting and refinement.

To set yourself up for the greatest success, your media list development should include the following steps:

  • In-depth analysis of target audiences and media consumption – where do your target audiences get their information? This may not be a traditional media outlet. They might get their information from friends, Twitter or an RSS feed.
  • Clear identification of messaging goals and story options. What stories will you use to convey your message to these target outlets? Are there particular timing elements that increase/decrease your chances of success? A busy news week may hamper your efforts if there are a lot of breaking news stories. Likewise, tie-ins to such events can increase your chances of coverage. Finally, how can you vary your story angle to be most appealing to each individual outlet’s editorial focus?
  • Who is the best contact at each outlet? Who regularly covers the types of stories you’re writing about? I often see multiple contacts listed for each outlet on an initial media list. This screams “we’re not sure who the best contact is.” If you don’t know who the best contact is, you haven’t done your research. And don’t believe everything you read in the “pitch tips” you have on file, there is too much change going on right now to predict the viable shelf-life of such information. Read at least 10 of your target contact’s recent stories and develop a feel for what they write about, how they write about it, and what they include for information in the story.
  • Contact your peers. Somebody knows the best way to approach the journalist you’re targeting. If you see favorable coverage of a company by a particular journalist, reach out to the PR person that placed the story. What worked for them? Many won’t want to share this information, but you’d be surprised how many will, particularly if you’re not a competitor.
  • Use all resources available. For example, monitor Twitter feeds for the contacts you’re targeting. You can learn a lot about the journalists interests and current pursuits this way; providing you with valuable information for developing your pitch to best appeal to each contact.
  • Consider reaching out the journalist themselves. Why not contact the journalist to learn more about what they look for? Ask them if they’d be interested in a story like the one you’re pitching. If not, what would make it more interesting next time around? Of course, before you do this, review all information you can provide on the outlet’s website, the reporter’s blog, and any past interviews they’ve given on the subject. It’s also a good idea to know how a particular journalist decides what to write about. Most journalists provide some form of pitch tips on their websites. And most complain that PR professionals don’t read them before contacting them. Read them.
  • Prioritize your contacts. Everyone isn’t going to cover your story. Prioritize your contacts starting with the person you’d most like to cover your story. If you use this approach, and the contact wants an exclusive, you’ll be in a much better position to provide one. Get away from the mass pitch approach. Target journalists on a one to one basis, starting with the ones that are most important to the success of your campaign. It’s important to set client expectations with this one, help them understand how the process works.
  • Limit your targets. Clients may be impressed with a 100-outlet media list, showcasing every possible outlet you can generate coverage in. I think they’d be more impressed if you gave them a media list showing the ten most important outlets, especially if you planned to focus most of your energy on those. In any endeavor, a focused effort on fewer objectives will yield better results faster. A focused media relations effort targeting the 10 most important media outlets will generate more ROI for the client than a mass distribution pitch. Always.
  • Tailor your pitch to each individual contact. This doesn’t mean you change the name on each pitch. I’m not suggesting you tweak a template for each contact, and I’m not suggesting you should ever use “cut and paste.” Journalists are wise to this approach, show them some respect and take the time to write a pitch just for them. It’s only fair if you expect them to spend time writing about your story.
  • Share your information. Help your team become more effective. I’m amazed by how many agencies have poor systems for collaboration around media relations. If you don’t have enough seat licenses for your PR software, and you can’t afford more, use a different system to share information. A shared Google Spreadsheet can do the trick, but an affordable CRM system could be even better. If you work in media relations, this investment should be a big no-brainer.
  • Track your performance. Beyond providing a clip report to clients, track your media relations performance like you would a sales funnel. Starting with your targets, work to “close” an opportunity with each outlet – make it specific to a campaign. Set close dates and project your results. Aggregate your results over time, and you’ll be able to provide current and future clients with more accurate and predictable coverage estimates.

These are just a few suggestions for targeting media contacts. Target the individual contacts most likely to write about the story you are pitching and you will generate far greater results. Sure, it takes a lot of time to target media this way, but no more time than it does to follow up hopelessly with journalists that aren’t interested in your story.

(Photo Credit: jurek d)

About Jeremy Porter 214 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.


  1. This reminds me of that saying “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”

    But I think you’re on the mark. The editorial board might have guidelines on what they run and don’t run, but those decisions are usually what leads you to pitch them in the first place — i.e. I’m not pitching my flatscreen TV story to an auto mag, no matter how well I know the writer.

    It’s strange how marketers and PR hacks are trying to learn relationships all over again. It’s like the recoil from being able to “blast” their “message” everywhere at once left them with a long-term case of dimentia.

  2. This may be a restatement of some of the above but you should also tailor the PR not just to the journalist but to the journalist’s audience. Rather than pushing to the journalist you can create a demand by tailoring the story so that it is pulling into larger movements of ideas. This also requires monitoring of the discourse.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. A large chunk of my day job (news aide) is screening calls that come into a daily newspaper and taking messages because the editors simply don’t have time for an unsolicited pitch — especially soft news or a blatant attempt by a client to simply get its name in the paper. I especially cringe when we get calls updating a media list or directory with 50 or 60 names on it! You can always tell the interns by the way all sentences end with a questioning cadence. Do PR firms go to central casting to find young women with the “perkiness” voice?

    >>The editorial board might have guidelines on what they run and don’t run, but those decisions are usually what leads you to pitch them in the first place — i.e. I’m not pitching my flatscreen TV story to an auto mag, no matter how well I know the writer.

    My experience is that many PR people really don’t even know which section of a daily to pitch to and they don’t bother to look at the paper to figure who covers which beat. Then again, these calls may be from the “fearless” intern who was given the hot potato to pitch.

    >>Target the individual contacts most likely to write about the story you are pitching and you will generate far greater results. Sure, it takes a lot of time to target media this way, but no more time than it does to follow up hopelessly with journalists that aren’t interested in your story.

    Words to live by. Why do so many people in PR ignore this? How difficult is it to figure out the name of the automotive writer by using a search engine?

  4. ‘hem. Well don’t throw things at me but in the online space you can simply buy eyeballs using advertorial placements to tell your story directly, and you don’t have to worry about pitching anyone, or getting misquoted. I’m not saying it’s a full substitute for earned media, but there’s a whole series of content strategies that can be enacted once you have the freedom to do corporate storytelling on your own timetable and with a few controls in place of your own.

    If you think that people don’t read well-written advertorial, I can tell you that you’re very very wrong, and we have research to prove it…and I can also tell you that most of the public assumes a commercial influence in everything they read, so “source” is less influential than it used to be.

    {–ducks to avoid flying objects hurled at her head–}

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