How Dwight Schrute helped me place a story in TIME

Here’s the short version of how to use ruthlessly brief pitches and pop culture angles to land placements such as this one on TIME’s web site, which was the second-most read story for several days when it first ran.

I was working with a business school professor who coauthored a study about the advantages and disadvantages of working with people she called “socially distinct newcomers.” That’s a perfect, precise description of what she studied, so it’s absolutely the best way to explain the concept in her academic journal article.

But it’s obviously not very familiar language that would be useful in a pitch email subject line or in the lead of a news release.

So I tried to think of a word or phrase that would convey that concept in the shortest amount of words. In my pitching workshops we talk about how finding a pop culture angle can boost your story’s chances of placement, so that was one way I approached this pitch. And then it hit me: the person who most embodies the phrase “socially distinct” is the character Dwight Schrute on NBC’s “The Office.” So I used him to deliver the most interesting finding of the study in brief, familiar language. Here was the subject line of my email:

Study: Embrace the Dwight Schrutes in your ‘office’ for better performance

There’s an obvious risk with this approach – that a target journalist won’t be familiar with Dwight. But it was a risk I chose to accept because of the added zing that this angle brought with it.

Local media loved the excuse to put a photo of Dwight on their sites. Now the HR and management trades are starting to pick it up.


1. Ruthlessly trim your pitches to make them as short as possible.

2. Among other possibilities, consider an image or concept made familiar through pop culture to make your pitch stand out.

This article was originally published on March 8, 2014

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