The first thing you need to know about pitching is that everyone fails at it. And even more so at national level.

Following on from my last blog about pitching a story to the local press, I thought I'd follow up with a very similar post about pitching to the nationals.

You have to approach pitching a story to the nationals in a completely different way and give it plenty of time.

It's also worth noting that you'll have to seriously rethink your angle. The nationals want news that is both timely and relevant to a much wider audience, so instead of focusing on your business and its impact on the industry, why not try turning it on its head and looking at what's going on in your industry and how you, as a business owner, can comment on it.

Remember that PR isn't about generating sales. It's about building your reputation in your field to ensure that if people do ever need your product or services, they turn to you first.  If a release you send out is too commercial, the national press won't even consider using it. If you struggle, I would highly recommend using a freelance PR or copywriter as it often helps to work with someone outside your business when trying to avoid a sales pitch. 

Here's a checklist of things to do to pitch your story to the national press:

  1. Identify your audience - who is it you're trying to reach?
  2. With that audience in mind, choose ONE publication to approach that targets your demographic. I'll explain why later.
  3. Research the publication. What stories do they like to tell and is it the right fit for your brand?
  4. And this is where it differs from pitching to the locals. Research journalists. National media outlets have a HUGE team of journalists and researchers - some staff and some freelance. Do some research into who writes what at your chosen media outlet and find a journalist that you think best suits your story. For example, if you're a restaurant and would like a review, make sure you contact the journalist who writes food reviews, not the one who focuses on trade and industry news.
  5. Read. Follow your chosen journalist on Twitter and read their articles. Makes notes about their style, what they like to write and even some personality quirks. 
  6. Choose your angle. You might think this would be the first thing to do and in some cases, it might be, but to pitch to a specific journalist or outlet, you'll have to work around them. And bear in mind that most magazines (and even weekly television shows like Countryfile) have three-month leads, so it's no good pitching a Christmas story at the beginning of December. Plan in advance.
  7. Make some notes. You can write a press release at this stage if you'd like to,  it it's just as easy to jot down some notes on your story, your angle and why you think it's the perfect story for the media outlet you've chosen. Remember to highlight why it's important to tell the story now and why it's relevant or their readers/listeners/viewers. Avoid using your sales pitch at all costs...these aren't customers or an extension of your sales team, they're reporters and as soon as you start getting too commercial, they'll lose interest.
  8. Get in touch. Put in a phone call or email to the journalist or researchers you'd like to speak to and using your notes, explain who you are and why you're getting in touch. I always use this opportunity to ask their advice on the story angle and for any tips they might have on pitching to them in the future as well. And throw in a personal touch. Let them know you've read their work. Perhaps say you enjoyed their article on X and that's why you think your brand would be a good fit for them. Or comment on one of their recent tweets. I've had two emails from writers in the last fortnight thanking me for taking the time to write to them personally. Remember they're human too and above all. they're craftsmen. They love their job and rarely get given credit where it's due, so if you can spend as much time researching one journalist and writing to them personally as you would sending out 20 releases address to Sir/Madam do it. You're much more likely to get a response.
  9. Give them time. They might reply straight away and tell you to send over more details, or they might take weeks to respond. It depends on the lead time for the outlet-newspapers have a much quicker turnaround than most magazines, so give them a couple of weeks to plan their issue and how you might fit in. And remember that once you've convinced them it's a good story, they then have to convince their editor, so it's not set in stone until it's in print.
  10. Follow-up. If you haven't heard back from them within a couple of weeks, follow-up with a polite email. As busy people, they might have just forgotten to let you know they're using it, or seeing a follow-up might jog their memory.
  11. Ask for feedback. If they say no at this point, ask them again what it is they're looking for in a pitch and how you might fit into their publication. They might offer you a different feature angle or some tips on pitching in future.
  12. Try again. Use the feedback they've given you and adapt your article accordingly. Or move onto another publication.

I'd like to reiterate a point I've made many times about local vs national coverage. If your small business has a local audience, you're much better off putting in the time and effort to build relationships with journalists in the local area, rather than wasting time trying to pitch to the nationals. And you're much more likely to have a higher return rate.

If you have a national audience or have built up your reputation locally enough to feel you can comment on your industry on a national scale, then go for it. 

Another great tip is to keep an eye on #journorequest on Twitter as journalists often ask industry led questions on there. Just keep an eye out for red herrings...

Rural Roots offers full PR packages and one-to-one training sessions, so if you'd like to know more, get in touch.