Don’t Just Pitch Stories, Pitch Sources!

By Jeff Cheatham, Senior Account Supervisor at TrizCom PR

As public relations ‘practitioners’ (a $20 word), we pride ourselves on our ability to pitch the media just the right story at just the right time. In doing so, we go through a mental checklist of suitability factors. Number one: is the story news and noteworthy? If you have to ruminate on this point, it probably isn’t. Can you make it news and noteworthy? Well, it is our job to find the angles…

When we approach the media in our outreach efforts, we like to do a little exercise where we put ourselves in our target’s shoes. When they get your emailed pitch, will it be greeted with a slow, approving nod? Or an eye roll, banished forever in the Deleted Items folder? We’re always aiming for the slow, approving nod. Hopefully followed up with an immediate reply or a call asking for more information.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper demonstrates the eye roll

CNN’s Anderson Cooper demonstrates the eye roll

Do you see what just occurred there? What we’re really trying to do is help the media. We want to make their jobs easier, which is no small task considering how many times they likely roll their eyes each and every day. And if we’re truly trying to help our friends in the media secure coverage for our clients, why not find new and inventive ways to do so?

Pitch sources, not just stories.

Is your client an expert on anything? If you don’t think so, maybe you have the wrong client. You need to find inventive ways in which you can pitch your client sources to the media. If successful, that’s the very definition of an industry thought leader, correct? Being able to feature a client of yours on the news or in the newspaper is an ideal way to attach credibility to their product or service. The source subject is almost always featured by name—and by company.

Source pitching works extremely well if you can attach your client to a breaking news story. If an issue or current event is at stake and your client has a valuable opinion on it, don’t be shy about sending a brief note to your contacts in the media. List out their areas of expertise and how they might contribute to the overall conversation.

What Breaking News looks like…

What Breaking News looks like…

We’re doing a little of that ourselves these days. Fortunately for us, the Trump Administration is the gift that keeps on giving. Their American Health Care Act and proposed budget cuts to Medicaid may end up being a banner day for our nonprofit client, Community Council of Dallas. One of the Community Council’s core missions is to advise and assist consumers in navigating the health care marketplace. If we can secure them as a viable source to break down the issues for viewers and readers, everyone comes out ahead. And we get a few more media hits to add to their online newsroom.

When you pitch the media a source instead of a story, you’re attempting to do them a favor. You’re basically saying, “We know your time is valuable, and you may be too busy to line up sources on your own. Let us to do the heavy lifting.”

That’s the true beauty of pitching a source. And the definition of a win-win situation.


Seven Skills Every PR Pro Must Have to Excel at Storytelling

By Jo Trizila, CEO of TrizCom Public Relations & Pitch PR

This post orginally appeared on Spin Sucks

My undergraduate degree and graduate studies were in theater.

It wasn’t until I graduated that I discovered I did not have much talent for acting—but I did have the storytelling bug.

Theater to PR isn’t much of a stretch.

In theater, we have a script, a director, actors, audience members, and location.

In public relations, we have the story, the client, people who make up the story, audience members, and location.

Our firm writes everything very editorially—we treat each opportunity as a story.

With this method, we get predictable results.

Storytelling has been and always will be the single most valuable skill any PR pro must have.

Storytelling is an art.

A lot of uncommon skill sets go into storytelling. A good storyteller is…

A Detective (i.e., Mining for Stories)

Clients notoriously don’t know what makes a good plot line for a story and often we find stories in the oddest ways.

One of my favorite stories was with Massage Envy.

I was in the tranquility room waiting for my appointment.

As I was waiting, I saw a therapist come out of one of the rooms using a long white cane.

The franchise owner had four legally blind therapists on staff.

I “sold” the story to the Associated Press and to this day, it is still one of my favorite stories: Blind Masseuses Don’t Miss Seeing a Thing.

A Playwright’s Writer

You must be a rock-solid writer.

Not a lot more needs to be said here.

A Salesman

You need to be an incredible salesperson, both to the client and to the journalist.

This is a big one.

Just having an incredible story to tell is only one part of the equation.

You must have an outlet to tell it.

In the summer of 2014, we were tasked with developing a worldwide publicity campaign for Jeff Gusky’s The Hidden World of WWI.

This is a collection of black-and-white photographs of never before seen WWI underground cities.

Because these underground cities had never been photographed before, and because we could not reveal their actual location, the media didn’t believe our story.

We thought this story would sell itself, and the phones would be ringing off the hooks.

We were wrong.

It took a few weeks of heavy hitting before the wheels started moving.

However, at the end of our yearlong campaign, we had the client in virtually every major news outlet.

Here’s BBC One’s coverage: Underground Cities.

A Clairvoyant

You have an amazing opportunity for your client with an even more amazing story.

We know that unless it is national or breaking news, multiple features are unlikely—you must know what outlet is going to give your client maximum exposure.

It’s about analytics.

For example, I knew (with the above-mentioned story on blind therapists) I could get local coverage, but I also knew it was a national story.

I had my top three outlets printed out and went from there.

This happens with every story we pitch.

Also, sometimes the story is better told in print than video and vice versa.

You need to know this—just as a director knows if his piece is better suited for the stage, small screen, or big screen.

A Master Builder

Storytelling 101: Build your story/script.

You are the playwright here.

How do you want the client’s story to be told?

Who are the players?

What is the setting, how do you wrap it up?

It must be captivating with a very clear focus.

And for the love of God, keep the sales pitch to a minimum.

Go buy an ad if you are trying to sell something.

A Creative Director

The best compliment we get at our firm is when a journalist comes back to us and says, “Thanks for making my job easier.”


Think like the journalist.

What are they going to need to help them tell your story?

Is it video? Photography? Infographics? Statistics? A real customer testimony?

Have all these assets lined up prior to pitching your story.

Last, but most definitely not least, a good storyteller must…

An Award-Winning Marksman

The devil’s in the details.

We all know that a missing comma can totally change the meaning of a sentence.

We also know that specifying an interview in eastern/central/pacific time zones is critical, if a television shoot is live or recorded, etc.

PR is all about credibility.

If you miss or blunder on important details, you lose your credibility.

Storytelling is the Number One Skill Needed

In all my years in this profession (25+), storytelling is the number one skill I seek.

Most PR pros can check boxes: Writing—check; grammar—check; AP format—check; pitching success—check.

But if they can’t originate, locate, identify a good story, the above is worthless to my firm and to our clients.

One does not have to have connections in the media (although it does help) to pitch a great story.

A great story will trump connections anytime.