Clarify your overall goal(s)
Before you make the call or send an email to a reporter, a few steps need to take place within your organization or coalition.
At Strategic Alliance, we first consider what we are trying to achieve when contacting the media. In other words, what is our overall goal or strategy? Is it the success of a specific policy, a rebuttal to the way a hot topic related to health is being covered, or to increase the prominence of our coalition? Each of these goals naturally leads to different media strategies.
Identify collateral materials that you have to offer, such as data/statistics, community voices, or a unique perspective
Once you're clear on your overall goal, take an inventory of the collateral materials that can offer a reporter to help them construct the story. Can you provide data/statistics, a report, an event, a unique perspective grounded in expertise, or access to an authentic voice from the community? A strong story contains each of these, and reporters need advocates and experts to provide them.
Track reporters' coverage of related issues in media outlets of interest
Our Rapid Response team tracks online and print media outlets that have a history of reporting on topics in the realm of food and activity. Stories by reporters and bloggers covering issues we care about are reviewed on a regular basis. When an article is published that ties closely with our expertise and priorities, we send an email to the journalist, sharing our perspective, offering related materials, and extending an invitation to contact us for future stories on the topic. Building these relationships requires patience and persistence, however, and sometimes the payoff can be months down the line.
Look for opportunities to pitch your story
Introducing controversial legislation or releasing a compelling or shocking report can generate a media story on its own, but usually there's a media strategy behind it and a hard-working advocate pitching the story. More often, external events or debates offer an opportunity for you to add your voice to the conversation - all you need to do is recognize the opportunity and act on it.
When the time comes to pitch your story, those investments in relationship building with reporters are likely to pay off. But that doesn't mean you won't find yourself pitching your story cold. When reaching out to reporters you don't know well, make sure you review their past articles first, to see if they're similar to your perspective or if they could likely be broadened to include your perspective. "All press is good press" may be true for some, but when you've got limited resources and a policy goal, you'll want to hone in on reporters whose stories will help to advance it.
If you are pitching your story to a reporter you do not have an established relationship with, start with a phone call. Always ask the reporter if this is a good time to talk (they may be on a deadline) before you begin your brief, 30 second pitch. Components of the pitch include: what the story is, how it's unique, and how it connects with the major issues of the day. Once you have an established relationship with a reporter, you can rely more on email communication. And remember, pitching a story may feel nerve-wracking at first, but it gets easier with practice.