How to Pitch a Reporter, our fill-in-the-blank Mad Lib. Click the image to download.

We’ve heard it before: The death of traditional media has been greatly exaggerated.

Ask nonprofit professionals how they connect with their members and audiences, and they will tell you it’s through email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. If you dig a little deeper and ask them how they got all those sign-ups, likes and followers, you will almost always uncover press coverage. One of the most reliable ways to drive eyeballs to your online presence is through editorial media – TV, radio or newspaper and magazine stories, online and off.

However, the challenge of earning coverage is getting harder even as people lament the future of “old” media. Newsrooms are getting smaller, and journalists have to file more stories on more topics than ever.

So, what makes news and how? One rule to live by: spend less time on your materials and more on your press list.

Why?  Because finding the right reporter is much more important than the perfect pitch. Writing the story is the journalist’s job. Your job is to connect them to stories they want to tell—your stories. If people spent less time agonizing over the perfect press release or topical news hook and more time googling their issues and finding people who are actually already writing about the topic, their pitches would go farther.

Sure, a pricey media database helps. But you know what else helps? Reading, watching, listening. Pitching people who are predisposed (by their interests, beat, and outlet) to cover your story.

To put my money where my mouth is, I have actually written your pitch for you, and I have made it as easy as a kid’s game. It’s a fill-in-the-blank Mad Lib—you can do it at camp! Or in the back seat of a station wagon!

If you do your research, this short pitch should be all you need to get started. I am not guaranteeing a placement every time you send it, but I will promise that it will get you in front of the right journalists and show them you know who they are, what they write and what they need. And that is how you get them to call you someday.

I have to admit; sharing this with you could be bad for business for PR folks like me. At my first meeting with a past client, who was hiring LightBox Collaborative to promote her organization’s 5th anniversary, she shared with me that she wanted a story just like one she had read in the major local paper. She said the reporter told the story of a similar organization in a way that really made her think that she “got it.”

I advised her to email the reporter a note that looks almost identical (blanks filled in of course) to the pitch I have provided you in Mad Lib form. She got a quick response, and then a commitment to do a feature piece that ran with a photo, above the fold of the local news section. The client and I continued to work together as we approached the anniversary event, but in truth our greatest height was achieved at that first meeting.

Why am I letting you in on this little “secret?” Because you’re a do-gooder, and I want your organization to be able to do more good. Plus, if we do work together one day, I hope you hire us to spend more time doing research and building a good press list rather than doing endless rounds of press release editing!

. . .

Amanda Cooper is a LightBox collaborator who hopes you {_verb_} the Pitch a Reporter Mad Lib to connect with {_noun_} and  {_verb_} your cause.