How charities can successfully pitch a story to a journalist

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

I have probably pitched thousands of ideas to journalists in my Public Relations (PR) career so far. I still get excited whenever a pitch is successful and the final story is published – even though my name is never credited in print of course.

Charities or volunteer organizations often have heart-warming, life-changing stories to tell and the media can play an important role in making sure these stories are shared with many.

If you’re a charity looking to use PR to raise your profile and find new supporters and sponsors, there are things you can do to increase your likelihood of influencing a journalist and generating press coverage. Here are some of my top tips:

  1. Identify what newsworthy, human interest stories you have to tell – case studies where your charity is changing lives for the better with feel-good campaigns. For example, I did PR for the Chicago charity, Edward Touhy Guardian Angel Foundation, and its annual SENIOR PROMise campaign, an inspiring initiative that enables economically disadvantaged young men and women to attend and look fabulous at their senior proms. The local TV news channels loved this story and I arranged for them to film segments showing the teens modeling donated prom attire and getting makeovers.
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  3. Think carefully about what media outlets your target audience consumes and make sure you have a good understanding about the type of content they share and the correct journalists to contact. For example, most local broadcast news channels will have Assignment Editors who decide the news agenda for the day so they’re often the best contact for pitching news stories. There are countless outlets out there so be selective if your time is limited, identifying the most influential based on circulation and audience demographics. Create a list of target press contacts and update it on a regular basis. Resources like Cision are useful to search target press contacts but, if you can’t afford a subscription, press contact details can usually be found online.
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  5. When pitching your story to a journalist, do so via email first and remember personalized messages are often more effective. Keep the email pitch simple, giving them the most important element of the story first – i.e. what would be the headline if you can imagine it in the news. Write ‘Story idea or News’ with the headline in the email subject field. Journalists get 50 million emails a day and might not be able to open all of them, so the subject is key. If your story is about an event, send an email in advance and it’s OK to follow up with a phone call the afternoon before or on the morning of the event. Aside from when a newsworthy event is taking place, I typically don’t follow up with journalists via phone to see if they have received my email pitch – if you don’t get an email reply, it usually means they’re not interested, and a phone call will probably annoy them.
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  7. Make the process as easy as possible for the journalist by answering any questions promptly (never leave a journalist waiting too long because they might find another story to work on!). If they ask for images, provide the best quality possible with full name captions for any people in the photos. If images are large, upload them to a shared Dropbox folder so the journalist can download them.
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  9. strong>If you get press coverage, shout about it! Share it on your website, blog and social media channels (making sure you tag the media outlet and journalist if possible), email it to your sponsors and supporters and include it in your newsletter if you have one. This will give your charity even more authority and is a wonderful way to showcase your work.

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