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Steps to more successful media pitches

Your nonprofit does important and meaningful work that merits attention; how do you get the word out? The Chronicle of Philanthropy's Rebecca Koenig offers 10 great ideas for making more successful pitches to the media in your community.

by Rebecca Koenig

Your nonprofit may do amazing work, but without a thoughtful pitch to the media, it’s unlikely a reporter will tell your story.

Often nonprofits think their work is worthy of coverage because it serves the greater good, but "there are tons of things that are good for society," says communications consultant Michael Smart. Making your nonprofit stand out to a reporter requires research, well-crafted pitches, and key information at the right times.

Based on advice from nonprofit-communications professionals and reporters in The Chronicle’s newsroom, here’s a checklist to follow when making your next pitch to the media.

1. Identify relevant outlets and reporters.

Sending what Mr. Smart calls a "cascade of unsolicited emails" may be a good way to get online donations, but it’s unreasonable to expect reporters to wade through pitches that don’t have much relevance to their beats.

Before you suggest a story, thoroughly research a publication’s areas of interest. For D.C. Central Kitchen, a food-recovery and job-training nonprofit, that means local news outlets in Washington, D.C., as well as food-industry magazines and niche publications that cover food, health, and employment issues, says Erica Teti-Zilinskas, the charity’s director of communications and marketing. For the nonprofit’s national Campus Kitchens program, for example, she pitches to publications that cover regions in which colleges run the program.

After selecting appropriate media outlets, figure out which reporters are likely to cover the information you want to share. Make sure you contact only reporters whose beats include issues related to your organization’s work, Ms. Teti-Zilinskas says.

2. Think about the media outlet’s readers or viewers and their interests.

Many nonprofit communications teams try to "dress up" a message to fit the interests of a publication, says Mr. Smart.

For example, even though your group’s new capital campaign is exciting to you, it’s unlikely to pique to many readers’ interest. People like to read stories with emotional appeal, so Mr. Smart recommends focusing "on the people you serve, not on your programs or the organization as a whole."

Remember that serving the community is not usually sufficient without a surprising angle, a news hook, or relevance to a larger trend.

"A reporter has to justify why she picked one nonprofit over another that day," Mr. Smart says. "That’s why you have to bring something else: something new, something useful, something inspiring."

3. Collaborate with other groups in advance.

If you’re pitching a story that involves other nonprofits, companies, or people, it’s important to "communicate your plans so that no one feels excluded from coverage," Ms. Teti-Zilinskas says. If her nonprofit is pursing a media story that involves "a number of players," she adds, "I call my contact at that program, company, or organization and make sure they’re on board. The end result can blow up in your face if you haven’t taken those steps first."

What could have been a positive media mention for everyone can turn into disappointment if some groups feel they didn’t get enough credit.

4. Use email.

More than 80 percent of reporters prefer to receive pitches by email, according to a survey conducted by Cision, a public-relations technology firm. Save your phone pitches for breaking news or for a reporter who has responded to your email with interest.

5. Be brief.

When crafting a pitch, consider how pressed for time reporters are, Mr. Smart advises.

"Sit in their cubicle for a day," he says. Consider how much content reporters must produce, and you’ll realize it’s important to distill your message down to its essentials. Spend some time editing out the fluff.

6. Include important details.

On the other hand, don’t cut your pitch down so much that it’s missing important details. Did your nonprofit land a huge grant? A reporter will be much more interested if you include the dollar amount.

7. Make it easy for a reporter to get more information.

If reporters want to follow up on your pitch, they may get frustrated if basic information about your nonprofit is not readily available. Share relevant links and contact information in your email, and be sure your website explains your organization’s mission and other key information.

8. Provide pictures.

Many outlets like to run pictures with their stories, and it can save a reporter time if you make photos available for download on your website and include links to them in your pitch.

9. Ensure that the primary sources are readily available to talk to a reporter.

Line up people who can speak for the organization and ensure you can provide access to them before sending your pitch.

10. Be flexible about timing.

A story that feels urgent to you may not fit into the day’s news cycle, and a story that seems like it can run any time may catch a reporter’s interest without much warning. If a journalist responds to your pitch, try to be accommodating about interviews and when the story runs.

Let journalists set the timeline, Ms. Teti-Zilinskas advises. "Make sure a reporter can cover it at their leisure."

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