3I. Getting media attention for research – the story pitch
Pitching a story to a specific journalist basically means contacting him/her directly (preferably via phone or skype, but it could also be via email or social media) in an attempt to get media coverage for a specific story idea. It means that you are offering that story to him/her exclusively.
A successful story pitch requires confidence and preparation.
First, do your homework. Find out as much as you can about the specific journalist and publication (or radio/television/online outlet). This will help you to match your pitch to their content and style.
Pitch a specific, compelling story idea, not a general topic.
Make your pitch unique and fresh. Do an online search to make sure whether a similar story was not used recently by the relevant media outlet or one of their competitors.
Focus on the “so what” in your pitch. Emphasise why this story will be interesting and relevant to the readers/viewers/listeners of this specific media outlet.
Include information about the researchers that will feature in the story, demonstrating a mix of sources and voices.
Never pitch the same story to more than one media outlet. If the first journalist or editor turns down your idea, you can move on to the next one and pitch your story again, possibly with a fresh angle.
Keep the following in mind during preparation and when pitching your story
Be polite – address the journalist by name and ask for a few minutes of their time.
Be ready to convey the essence of the story and news angle within a few minutes, but also have more information on hand in case the journalist wants more background or examples.
Your tone of voice and the way you deliver your message is important. Be enthusiastic and confident about the story you have to offer.
Use personal pronouns such as “we” and “our researchers” to show ownership of the information and pride in your organisation.
Cut the jargon. If the journalist does not immediately understand what you are talking about, they are unlikely to be interested in the story.
Try to contextualise the information in terms of the target audience of the media outlet you are talking to and for the particular beat of the journalist involved. Give the story as much local flavour and relevance as possible.
Stick to your message. Don’t be side-tracked by irrelevant questions or interruptions.
Be honest if you can’t answer a specific question, but offer to find the answer or refer the journalist to a relevant scientist.
Don’t overuse words such as “major” and “important”, and especially do not use “breakthrough” – unless it really is a breakthrough!
Send an email to confirm the story idea and contact details, and add all additional materials that you may have promised to send.
Ask science journalists that you work with regularly what they look for in a science story, and how they select specific stories to pursue further? Also ask what you, as a research communicator, can do to increase the likelihood that they will respond positively to a story pitch.