Warning: It is possible that by the end of reading this, you will think I’m a snarky bitch. But I will take my chances, because I feel it’s extremely important to make my point, even if it results in a few eye rolls. (Of course, I hope it doesn’t.)
This post has been a long time coming. I hope that anyone who ever pitches a story or interview suggestion to any publication (including Our Hen House!) reads this. The reason I felt so compelled to put together an article on how to effectively pitch the media is because, frankly, it blows my mind how incredibly poorly some people pitch stories.
I am a self-taught media person, and so my tips are specifically about what works — and more importantly, doesn’t work — for me, and for Our Hen House. I have therefore pulled in extra resources — other professionals from the world of animal rights and media — because there is no reason why my word alone should be the holy grail of pitching. So, in addition to hearing from me today, I’m honored to welcome some of my favorite media people from the world of animal rights, who will be adding to the conversation and sharing their own thoughts on how to effectively pitch the media with animal rights stories. You’ll hear from long-time book publicist and communications specialist, Anne Sullivan, of Miracle Worker PR; radio host and best-selling author Victoria Moran of mainstreetvegan.net; and Kezia Jauron, who is co-founder of public relations agency Evolotus, which is “working for a better world” (and is also a contributor to The Thinking Vegan).
Let me start by telling you about four kinds of pitches and interview suggestions that make me cringe.
1. Pitches that are presumptuous, and have a passive-aggressive quality intended to make me feel bad if I don’t use them.
This is probably my biggest gripe. Too often pitches just assume that OHH will cover the story being pitched and seem to be based on the supposition that the pitcher has done his or her job by telling me to write about it. Here’s an example: “Surely you understand the necessity of writing about such an important event. If you don’t write about it, it will likely get no coverage. So I know I will be able to count on your involvement. I know you won’t let the animals down.”
Seriously, do not ever use manipulation or passive aggressiveness or guilt inducement to try to land a story.
Instead, be courteous and make your point the way Mom would want — with good, old-fashioned manners. Remember that we’re extremely busy too, and the last thing we want to feel is taken for granted.
2. Pitches that are overly aggressive, pushy, and re-pitched even after getting a gentle “no thanks.”
Shockingly, it is not uncommon for me to hear from people who say “pretty please?!?!?” — sometimes multiple times. I completely understand the importance of getting animal rights issues covered, and I have literally dedicated my life to doing just that — but there are a huge, gigantic amount of variables that go into why we publish things or don’t. Some of these variables include our bandwidth that week or month, the amount and type of content we already have queued, whether we feel that particular story hits the right tone for OHH readers, listeners, and viewers, or whether we happen to know not-very-nice or complicated things that you might not know about the person or organization you are pitching. Saying “pretty please” will certainly put us off, and will definitely not encourage us to follow up on your suggestion.
If you’re unhappy with your story idea being declined, think about a different angle to pitch, and then try again — using your manners! — at some point in the future.
3. Pitches that are 100% self-promotional, and have nothing to do with changing the world, or anything else for that matter.
I get that you might have a product to sell. This product might be completely wonderful, and maybe you even had to mortgage your house in order to start your company. But the thing is, very few outlets (including OHH) are going to just make a commercial for you and your product, if it doesn’t tie into something relevant that’s going on in the world, and if it doesn’t have a larger purpose than just helping you pay back your mortgage.
Instead of focusing on why we should sell your product for you, tell me why our readers should care about your product, and what angles we might be able to include in the article that will kinda sorta also focus on you. Since we’re on the subject, make sure you start your pitch by specifically telling us why you like OHH (or whichever other outlet you’re pitching), and why and how this story fits on our pages. Which brings me to another thing that gets my (rescued) goat:
4. Pitches that make it clear that you’ve never read Our Hen House in your life.
Don’t just start your pitch by telling me that we should interview you, and here’s why you’re so great . . . . Instead, tell me what resonated with you recently about OHH. Why did it? Basically, let me know (briefly) that you have a clue about what it is we do, and then tell me why you’re great. End the pitch by being a little humble. We won’t think less of you, I promise. This is not the time for the hard sell.
And for the love of dogs, be polite! “I should come onto your TV show!” or, even better, “Please let me know when I can be taped for your show!” will effectively annoy me. Nobody likes being pestered. And, again, there are many variables that will contribute to why we will or will not be able to invite you or your client on to our shows, or feature a story about you. These might not have anything to do with you. These variables include not knowing our shoot times or dates yet; being over-booked or booked way far out; or already having someone booked on the show who will be covering the same issue as you’re pitching.
One more thing about letting me know that you have a clue about our mission: Don’t pitch me your cookbook that’s “mostly vegetarian,” because we are a vegan organization and only advertise vegan things. Don’t send me your novel to review if that novel has a horseback rider in it, or a chicken farmer, or a cheese-maker (unless the story goes that that cheese-maker sees the light and goes into business with Dr. Cow). Just because there’s a dog as the main character does not make it relevant to us. When it comes to whichever media outlet you are pitching, do your research.
OK, those are my pet peeves — and some of my proposed solutions. But don’t take my word for what works and what doesn’t. Let’s hear from some experts about how to effectively pitch the media — thinking well beyond just pitching “the choir.”
Let’s start with the wise words of Kezia Jauron (who joined us on our podcast, along with her partner Gary Smith, back on Episode 110). Kezia is the co-founder of Evolotus, a public relations agency working for a better world. Through her agency, Kezia serves nonprofits, documentary films, animal advocacy campaigns, and vegan food companies. She also contributes to The Thinking Vegan, a popular blog on veganism as a social justice movement.
Here’s what Kezia has to say about how to effectively pitch the media:
Before you pitch: is it really necessary?
Activists usually believe exposure is going to help their cause, but media coverage can backfire very quickly. There is no benefit to you if your organization or campaign becomes a laughingstock, or if the public turns against you.
Doing media badly hurts the movement. Stunts don’t change hearts and minds, and in most cases drive people further away from the core message and issue. Do you want the story to be that seven billion chickens are killed for food every year in the U.S., or that a dozen animal activists wore silly chicken costumes on a 100-degree day to protest something or other?
Always tell the truth, always always always
Animal activists are communicating ideas that are out of the mainstream, so we’re scrutinized more than the corporate interests we’re up against. We are believed to have an agenda, our content is regarded as propaganda, and we are not generally considered credible spokespeople.
Be persuasive, but be factual. It is never acceptable to lie to media or the public. There must be no factual or logical holes in our arguments and our materials, so be prepared to back up facts and figures with references or documentation.
Luckily, the facts are clearly on our side. We don’t need to be sensationalistic or overly shocking. We don’t need to embellish. We need to be accurate, fair, and appear unbiased. This is how we gain the credibility we so badly need. Credibility is not only key to promoting your specific issue or campaign, it’s key to our movement.
Working with media is not selling. Most of the time, you want to pitch, not promote. What are you pitching? Generally it’s the issue, not the organization or campaign, not your hard work, and certainly not yourself. What you’re doing may be newsworthy, but don’t forget your true goal is to increase public awareness about an issue.
Approach journalists with an air of being at their service, and at the service of their readers or audience. Why are you pitching what you’re pitching? Because there’s something their readers might like to know about – not because your event or e-book is the most superlative effort ever put forth and you are entitled to attention.
Treat journalists as your friends and allies. You don’t do yourself, animals, or anyone any favors by being argumentative or aggressive towards the people delivering your message to the public. Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel, or in the modern era, server space by the terabyte.
Instead, be helpful, appreciative, and respectful to members of the media. If you promise an interview, photos, or video footage, deliver what you promise. Flaking is never an option. Animal activism is probably not your full-time job, but do take it seriously and professionally.
Never presume that it is their job to cover your story, or have unreasonable expectations about their ability to cover your story. Remember they are generally beholden to people higher up on the chain of command, and your story may have to break through several layers of approval. It’s a safe bet that the person reading your pitch eats, wears, and otherwise uses animals. Their editor or producer who gives the go-ahead on stories probably eats, wears, and otherwise uses animals. The publication or station is very likely funded by advertisers that profit from people eating, wearing, and otherwise using animals. Maybe the topic is simply too challenging to that system.
Writing well matters. If you can’t do it well, at least do it briefly. The media profession is contracting, not expanding. There are fewer and fewer staff people at news outlets, but they are obliged to manage the same or a larger workload. Each writer, editor, and producer is overworked. Journalists don’t have time to read a lengthy news release filled with detail and background information. Generally, if they have to scroll down to read your entire email pitch, it’s too long. Get to the point quickly. Link to more information and resources if they want them.
If you pitch and the answer is no, however, don’t bother to ask again. If you pitch and you don’t get an answer, it’s okay to ask again. Sometimes it takes two or three pitches to get someone to catch. Maybe your first email got lost in spam hell. Maybe they set it aside and got distracted by something more urgent. Maybe the cat walked across their keyboard and it was deleted. I can’t say that never happens. That would be a lie, and I always always tell the truth.
Next, let’s hear from long-time book publicist and communications specialist — and long-time vegan and animal rights advocate — Anne Sullivan, who started her own consulting business in 2011. For more information, please visit: http://MiracleWorkerPR.
It’s essential for publicists (or authors/spokespeople pitching products themselves) that they not only know the product/idea that they’re representing, but also know as much as they can about the media outlet that is being pitched. Reporters/editors/
- Browse the outlet’s site (if it’s a print outlet, also pick up the print version if you’re able to) and pay attention to which writers are assigned to which topics.
- Check out the outlets’ social media platforms to get a sense of what they cover, their tone and POV.
- Make sure to follow the outlets that you’re pitching on Twitter and other platforms, and don’t hesitate to engage with them if you have something interesting to share. Let their social media team see that the information you are sharing directly relates to the type of reporting they normally do..
- If you aren’t already vegan and are pitching a vegan product or story, make sure to do your research. Don’t make it appear as though you’re dropping in on our community to sell a product or an idea. Stick around a while — we’re a friendly lot.
- Finally, if you’re unsure about whether an outlet is appropriate for your pitch, send an introductory note to the features editor. Keep it short and give a quick overview of the product in order to gauge the editor’s interest or his/her willingness to pass it along to the appropriate editor/writer.
Finally, let’s here from Victoria Moran, the mastermind behind www.mainstreetvegan.net, who recently joined us as a guest on our TV show.
- Be clear and honest. Having once been in an elevator with Barbara Walters doesn’t mean you were on The View.
- Give respect and expect to get it. You’re somebody because you have something to pitch. The person you’re pitching to is also somebody, or you wouldn’t be pitching them.
- Give the person you’re pitching time to respond, time to think about what you’re presenting, and time to dig through the 180 emails that arrived before yours. Whether you’ve pitched a moderately successful blogger or the Dr. Oz Show, you’re reaching out to somebody who’s super-busy — the blogger probably has two kids, no staff, and a day job; the Dr. Oz producer is working a 75-hour week. Give these folks a break.
- Tailor your pitch. Veganism covers so many areas — animal rights, health, nutrition, environment, world hunger, spirituality, fashion, beauty, entrepreneurship — and if your niche doesn’t fit the pitch-ee’s niche, you’re likely to be seen as not a match. Research the person/show/publication you’re pitching and see what they’re about. If you can, without putting a ridiculous spin on the thing, tailor your pitch to the needs of the show, the venue, etc., it will increase the odds of a yes. The Main Street Vegan podcast, for instance, is on Unity Online Radio, an outreach of the Unity churches. They’re all about positive thinking and focusing on the solution instead of the problem. If I get a pitch that doesn’t have this tone, I know that the person has never listened to or researched my show or the sponsoring network.
- Understand that “no” is, 98% of the time, about the other person and his/her needs. If someone says no — and, as much as we all despise it, sometimes “no” just comes as silence — move on. I heard a motivational speaker once say that the response to any rejection needs to be “Next!”
- Work out an efficient way to pitch, since it’s largely a numbers game. Sometimes, people simply don’t take pitches and they’re too inundated to get back to everyone and say so. A lot of publishers don’t accept manuscripts or proposals unless they come from an agent. A lot of shows don’t accept guest pitches unless they come from a publicist. And a lot of editors, journalists, festival bookers, producers, and hosts are proactively seeking their own sources, speakers, and guests, and they don’t take pitches at all.
- Don’t be shy about sending a second, respectful pitch: sometimes people just don’t see the first one, especially if you sent it via email. If you have a phone number for the person you’re trying to reach, it’s acceptable to follow up a written pitch with a call — one time. If someone isn’t interested, don’t keep pushing. When you have something else to pitch in a year or two — something that might be perfect for them — all the editor or producer or host will remember is “that person who wouldn’t leave me alone — bad news.”
- Don’t take it personally. This is one the 4 Agreements in that wonderful book. . . Anytime we take something personally, we’re putting our egos ahead of our mission.
Got any additional tips for how to effectively pitch the media? Got any questions? That’s what the comments section is for! See you there!
And a special thanks, once again, to Kezia, Anne, and Victoria, for constantly inspiring us, and for sharing their wisdom with Our Hen House.