Pitching a story to the media is hard. Today I’m making a presentation to a group of public relations students at Loyola University in New Orleans. They want to know about secrets to pitching stories to the media. Their instructor wanted me to share my perspective since I have been both a working journalist in print, radio, and television, as well as a working public relations strategist for more than 20 years.
Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC presents a great perspective on what the media consider news and who the media consider news worthy.
Here are 4 lessons:
Lesson 1: Who you are matters. The more famous the better. The Kardashians and their team are pros at publicity and notoriety. Jenner’s notoriety from reality TV makes him a ratings getter. Did you hear that? A ratings getter. The ratings sweep period is beginning and ABC News knows that the celebrity persona of Jenner will bring in viewers. If you have to pitch a story to the media, you need to pitch it in a way that draws viewers to television, listeners to radio, readers to print, and visitors to the web. If your story helps to grow the media’s audience and advertising revenue, then you are more likely to get coverage. It is easier with celebrity status. If you are not pitching on behalf of a celebrity, then you must demonstrate that your story will attract a large audience for the media outlet.
Lesson 2: The power of the tease. There has been a mystery about whether Jenner is transitioning to become a woman. It is tabloid fodder, but tabloids wrote the book on building a readership centered around celebrities, innuendos, and rumors. Jenner’s story is a perfect match. In Jenner’s case, the mystery makes it easy to tease the interview program, which further drives buzz and ratings. My cynical side says Jenner and his team have carefully crafted the mystery so they can spin off a reality program about Jenner without the Kardashians.
Lesson 3: Timing. The LGBT community has worked aggressively for nearly 20 years to make stories about being gay a front page story in every publication in the world. Their goal has also been to add gay characters to television programs. They LGBT community has mastered media relations. First came stories of gay males, followed by stories of lesbian females. In most cases, the community worked to identify high profile people to tell their story. Again, a gay celebrity has more clout than a non-celebrity. Ellen’s coming out on her sitcom marked a turning point in the movement. I noted to my wife just two years ago that I was expecting a shift in story telling to the transgender topic since the L and G story lines of LGBT were fading. Shortly there after Orange is the New Black became a hit and Lavern Cox made the cover of Time magazine. The T story is the hot story now. The bi-sexual story line will soon follow after the transgender story line has played out.
Lesson 4: Be opportunistic in pitching your local media. If you are in public relations or represent a cause, brand, person or company that has a transgender connection, today is the day that you should be pitching your story to your local media. Local media love to be copy cats. Friday night’s 10 p.m. news on ABC stations will all feature a recap segment about the Bruce Jenner interview. All that is missing for them is a localized version of the story. I can hear the anchor now saying, “And while Bruce Jenner captured America’s attention tonight, we would like to introduce you to a local man who has a similar story to tell.”
Here are some examples of people or organizations who could be pitching a local version of this national story to the media:
- Local LGBT support groups
- Local man or woman activist who is transitioning
- Local therapist
- Local university expert on the topic
- Local surgeon who does reassignment surgery
- Local plastic surgeon who does cosmetic surgery for transitioning individuals
- Local boutique that might serve transgender customers, with things such as clothing, wigs, make-up, etc.
- …the list could go on.
Pitching is very much about relevance, ratings and timing. It isn’t easy, but it is fun to observe and learn from when it is done right.