Overlooked nugget in this popular article about pitching


There’s a popular article about pitching circulating this week – and there is one sentence fragment buried in it that I want to highlight for you.

It’s got the catnip-for-PR-pros headline “How to successfully pitch the New York Times (or, well, anyone else).” I got a lot of mileage out of that headline back in the ‘00s 🙂

But it’s not what you think. It’s on a web site about journalism, aimed at other journalists (although I bet they are breaking traffic records with all the visits from PR people :). Therefore, the piece is designed to tell freelance writers how to pitch editors story ideas, so they can be commissioned into stories they’ll get paid to write. Even though you’ve seen much of these tips and concepts in my previous posts, it’s still a useful read for you as a PR pro.

So, I’ll drill down on this one snippet that most people will miss. I bet the author (a NYT editor himself) doesn’t even realize how overlooked this point is, or he would have spent more time on it.

He’s giving a list of reasons why your story idea won’t work for him, and buried in the middle of a 255-word sentence comes this:

. . . it applies to a very small demographic (caveat: this isn’t a problem if that’s intentional and the publication is interested in that audience). . .

Mr. NewYorkTimes Editor may not say this out loud, but that is old-school-journalism-speak for “There aren’t enough people who would click on that story to meet the page-view quotas that we have around here.”

And even if you don’t agree that the Times (with its increasing reliance on online subscriptions) is that concerned about ad revenue by the click, you definitely accept that most other outlets are.

That’s why you better make sure that your story idea has a built-in audience that’s large enough to attract (or deliver) enough traffic to justify the outlet’s time. Otherwise they are going to be off to the next celebrity gossip item, or reaction to whatever incendiary thing a politician just said.

Here’s an example that I see relatively often during my pitch review sessions: Someone writes a pitch for an online outlet about an issue that is aimed at the elderly. Like how they can keep better track of their prescriptions.

How many elderly people get their news online? Some. But not as many as their adult children. So you reframe the pitch to be about “how to help your aging parents avoid accidental overdoses.”

The other way to meet this often-unspoken demand from the media you’re pitching is to offer up a built-in audience for your topic. You can do this by mentioning the size of your social media following that you share media coverage with. Or the number of subscribers to your email newsletter that serves the same purpose.

Be sure when you conceive your story idea that you have also clearly identified the audience that it will appeal to. And that the audience is big enough for the outlet you’re pitching.

Read the other helpful tips in the article here.

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This article was originally published on Oct 25, 2018.