Why journalists want a time-sensitive pitch

Searching for a way to rise to the top of a reporter’s inbox? A story that has missed its window of opportunity is destined for the trash.

Journalists are inundated with pitches from PR pros daily.

Sometimes these pitches are for story ideas that can be written and published at any time—evergreen pitches. Other times, story ideas are time sensitive, dealing with a new release, current event or holiday.

Journalists hate getting pitched a story that ideally should have been published days before. They want to write the story because it is relevant—but the time might have come and gone for it to get traction.

Also, when a PR pro pitches a time-sensitive story, his or her source may not be prepared for the quick turnaround required. Though the writer is fully ready to get going, they are stuck waiting for an interview. So, why even pitch it in the first place?

Here’s what journalists say about what it’s like being on the other side of time-sensitive pitches:

Meet your deadline

John Sturrup, communications consultant at Be Your Best Today, and former managing editor, says that he would get contacted by PR firms and practitioners on a regular basis.

“I have had situations where the press release has been delivered and the follow up by the PR firm was too late for the publication deadline. An editor is literally inundated with press releases, so sometimes they don’t even open the envelope or email. It can be overwhelming. So, if there is not a follow up by the firm to make sure it has been received, [that] can mean the difference of it being run or not,” Sturrup said.

Sammi Caramela, staff writer at Business News Daily, adds, “I was once pitched a time-sensitive topic that allowed me four days to write. However, the source I was scheduled to interview continuously delayed their responses until Friday afternoon, about one hour before my deadline. While I was still able to submit the piece, it was difficult to fit the quotes with the rest of my draft in that short period of time—and I was forced to look elsewhere. Expert commentary often shapes an article, and it’s crucial to consider the journalist’s time. It’s not unusual that we are balancing over five articles at once, and if we feel we can’t rely on a source, we likely won’t consider them in the future.”

Travel writer Janet Groene says that about 25 percent of the pitches that she receives are too late to run, even for a daily blog.

What belongs in the pitch?

Groene suggests that before pitching a journalist, PR pros should look at their contacts’ profiles to assess their needs. Groene also notes that for her business, it’s easy to forget that the travel public need time to plan a trip, so pitching things way ahead of time is recommended.

Caramela agrees with this sentiment, saying, “When pitching any type of story, PR reps should allow ample time for journalists. Often, writers are tackling multiple timely articles a week and need time to schedule interviews and outline their stories.”

Caramela adds that if a story is especially time-sensitive, the PR rep should make that clear in their pitch so there are no misunderstandings. They should also provide any available information off the bat and, if applicable, offer an expert source for further insight.

One of the things that, as a journalist, can be the most frustrating when it comes to timely pitches is using Help A Reporter Out (HARO). If you are responding to a HARO request, in the response, make sure you are ready to include answers to the questions posted in the query, your client’s full title and any other information the journalist needs. After all, the reason they are posting an urgent query is because they have next to no time to finish the article. Emailing them asking if they’d like to set up an interview with your client will most likely resolve in no response from the journalist, simply because they don’t have time to field pitches like that.

How much notice do journalists actually need?

Journalists try to give as much notice as possible when acquiring sources from PR reps for stories. This not only ensures that we have time to write the story to our best ability, but also that we can actually include the client in our story.

“If at all possible, I would recommend reaching out to a journalist one week before the publish date,” Caramela says. “That way, the writer can schedule it into their list of stories and prioritize accordingly. However, if this is not feasible, be sure to provide all necessary information with your pitch so they are equipped with the proper material straightaway.”

Jennifer Post is a freelance writer who has worked in the food industry, print and online journalism, and marketing. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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