Pitching to the Press: top tips from Gorkana’s media briefings

Gorkana’s PR News Alerts are taking a break for the next two weeks. But never fear, we’ve got something very special for you to mull over during that time. Here are eight top PR tips on how best to pitch to the press, which come from our exclusive Gorkana media briefings so far this year…

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Pictured left to right: BuzzFeed’s senior lifestyle writer, Chelsey Pippin, head of buzz, Tabatha Leggett, and senior reporter, Rossalyn Warren, with Gorkana’s head of news and content, Philip Smith

Make your pitch simple and intelligent

“If you have something to pitch, make your email really simple, don’t make it gimmicky, and send it to the person who is covering the issues you’re trying to hit,” says BuzzFeed’s head of buzz, Tabatha Leggett.

The Sun’s business editor, Rhodri Phillips, says a PR needs to sell a story like they would to a friend in the pub.
“Tell a complicated story in a simple way. Think about how you can sum-up the pitch or business story in one sentence.”

Phillipa Leighton-Jones, Europe editor at the Wall Street Journal Europe, urges PRs to think “intelligently” about how they pitch content. “We’ll be in touch if it’s important and interesting. Think about the level you’re pitching your story at. We’re not a trade publication – we’re only writing about the biggest and most important stories.”

“If I don’t understand what the story is about in three seconds, it’s straight in the bin”, says The Sun’s deputy travel editor, Matt Hampton. “Don’t try and be clever. We know you’re clever – don’t try and be smart with wordplay. We’ll sort all that out later.”


The International Business Times’ UK editor-in-chief, Julian Kossoff (centre), and managing editor, John Crowley (right), with Gorkana’s head of news and content, Philip Smith (left)

Know how and when to get in touch

An advantage of being a digital native is that deadlines, in the traditional sense, are almost defunct, says the International Business Times UK’s editor-in-chief, John Crowley. News distribution on IBT UK happens in real time. Therefore, PR professionals need not feel limited by narrow windows of opportunity when pitching stories or feature ideas.

For the team at Stuff, emails are the best way to get in touch, but PRs should not follow-up too hastily, according to former editor Will Dunn (special projects editor at the News Statesman since April). “I would advise people not to phone up two or three times on the same day. I sometimes get the feeling that the people who do that have a boss who’s made the rule – that you’ve got to send the email and then phone up a couple of hours later or something like that. I always think of getting in touch with their boss and telling them that’s not a great rule. Leave it a day and then come back.”

At What Car?, there is a daily 9:30am news meeting, where the team works out what’s being worked on that day and the next, says editorial director Jim Holder. There is also a daily newsletter that reaches 150,000 readers each day. It goes out early in the morning on weekends so people can read it when they wake up. During the week it will be published at around 4pm to catch commuters on their way home.

Shares’ print publishing cycle starts on a Wednesday: “We go to press on a Tuesday night. If you want to get hold of someone the best time is on a Wednesday morning, says editor Daniel Coatsworth. “We have an editorial meeting at mid-day on a Wednesday. In the morning a journalist is probably formulating the final ideas to pitch to me in that meeting.”


Pictured left to right: Huffington Post UK’s editor-in-chief, Stephen Hull, and global head of lifestyle, Poorna Bell, with Gorkana’s head of news and content, Philip Smith

Think about visual content

Video is currently the “live issue” for the team at the Huffington Post. They’re creating “more video content than ever”, says editor-in-chief Stephen Hull. It’s an important format, but has to be used tactically – different formats work for different brands.

A story can be completely visually led, but it must create a “wow” factor when readers see it for the first time, says BuzzFeed’s lifestyle writer, Chelsey Pippin. “It needs to be something that’s so incredibly captivating visually that you can just post it without too much explanation…you see the photo and you want it.”

Design and visually interesting material is of high priority and can make a difference as to whether Stuff picks up a story, says former editor Will Dunn. “For print magazines it’s so useful to have really big high-resolution images in good time and a lot of stuff gets into print because we have the pictures on time and designers can spend more time on it.

NME story pic 1

Pictured left to right: NME’s editor-in-chief, Mike Williams, digital editor, Charlotte Gunn, and deputy editor, Tom Howard

Access is key

Good access to the hard-to-reach always makes for the strongest content, says Sport editor Tony Hodson. It’s something that has shone through the magazine since it launched – Thierry Henry was one of the first sports stars on the magazine’s cover in September 2006. Hodson says brands, PRs and agents seem to understand Sport is forward thinking and not looking for scandal, which is why access is usually not a problem.

The team at NME says it couldn’t survive without PRs. “We rely on PRs to let us know about exciting new things”, says editor-in-chief Mike Williams. But the most important thing to remember is access.

“If you can bring in the CEO of an interesting firm to meet us for coffee or lunch, then that’s going to be very valuable,” says the Wall Street Journal Europe’s EMEA editor, Thorold Barker. “A lot of this is about if you have clients who have an interesting story to tell, get them in before the story is there, so there’s a relationship to develop and conversations to have over time.


Pictured left to right: The Wall Street Journal’s Europe editor, Phillipa Leighton-Jones, and EMEA editor, Thorold Barker, with Gorkana’s head of news and content, Philip Smith

Be prepared / do your research

The Sun’s deputy travel editor, Matt Hampton, asks PRs to “forgive us when we come to you at the last minute demanding the world.” While it’s a “luxury” to be able to change things up week-to-week,  often he will need more information or visuals from PRs at the last minute.

“We need to be reactive to news, events and things happening in the industry,” says Drapers editor Keely Stocker. PRs can pitch in interesting topic ideas that “are being discussed” by her readership. Provide examples, show evidence of the ‘trend’ and be willing to hand over contacts/pitch guests that will talk on the theme.

Sport editor Tony Hodson is after stories with added value – they will always spark interest. This could be an interview with a big football star and offering a competition to readers to go and meet the team.

The growth that the International Business Times UK has recently experienced puts it in an ideal position for the formation of mutually beneficial relationships with comms professionals, says editor-in-chief John Crowley. Its open to contribution, innovative content, such as videos and gamification, and other new ideas. “We’re open and, as a digitally native news organisation, we’re free.”

The Sun Travel

The Sun’s deputy travel editor, Matt Hampton (left), with Gorkana’s head of news and content, Philip Smith (right)

Try not to annoy them

People calling to say “have you got that email press release” is a big no, no for The Telegraph’s joint group business editors, James Quinn and Ben Wright. If you are going to try and customise a pitch, think first. Don’t send an email that says: “I’ve got a great scoop for The Times”. If The Times doesn’t want it, The Telegraph doesn’t want it either.

Don’t send generic or irrelevant press releases to the team, says talkSPORT’s national radio controller, Liam Fisher. “It’s a sport station with an 80% male audience – your press release about National Menopause Awareness Day isn’t going to be of interest.

An email’s subject line all in CAPS will get it binned, says Huffington Post’s global head of lifestyle, Poorna Bell.
PRs should also bear in mind that it’s a digital title – the team may not know what they’ll be writing next week, so sending an email about Valentine’s Day in December is just going to be deleted.

When emailing the team at Coach, don’t start with a reference to the season (“As the Spring arrives, I wondered if Coach would be interested in…). It’s a particular bugbear for editor Ed Needham (and, judging by his reaction to an email he received in April mentioning the festive season, he talked about at a Gorkana briefing earlier this year, it’s also not wise to mention Christmas so early on in the year).


Pictured left to right: Coach’s web editor, Jonathan Shannon, and editor, Ed Needham, with Gorkana’s head of news and content, Philip Smith

Remember…Content is still king

The best content pulls heartstrings and offers tips, says BritMums co-founder Susanna Scott. Personal stories that are done in a fresh way always prove popular.

There’s a drive and determination amongst everyone who works on The Telegraph’s business pages to deliver the best stories, explanation, analysis and commentary, says joint group business editors James Quinn and Ben Wright.

When it comes to content, “We ask ‘what does the user gain from this?’”, says TBSeen founder Kate Thornton. “If they don’t gain from it; then it’s a no go.”

In the first instance, a story needs to appeal to Coach’s editor, Ed Needham. It doesn’t matter how random something is, he says, “Tell me something I didn’t know and make it interesting.”


Pictured left to right: talkSPORT’s national radio controller, Liam Fisher, with Sport editor Tony Hodson

And for many, “PRs are vital…”

“There’s 24 hours of content to fill each day and we’re a small team, says talkSPORT’s national radio controller, Liam Fisher. “We’re on the lookout for good content ideas and high profile guests.”

“Be confident when pitching,” says Huffington Post’s editor-in-chief, Stephen Hull. “Know that you’ve got something useful for us, keep respect and don’t plead for our help. We need you as much as you need us!”

Pitching to Journalists 2

To register your interest for upcoming Gorkana events for the rest of 2016, which will include briefings with City AM, Virgin Radio and The Economist, click HERE.

You can also download Gorkana’s White paper: Pitching to journalists: the good, the bad and the ugly, which asks journalists from across the media spectrum, as well as senior PR professionals, what makes for a well-delivered PR pitch to the press, whether it’s by email or (if you’re really brave) by phone.

Gorkana’s daily PR News Alert will return on Monday 22 August 2016.

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