March 5, 2013

How to Pitch a Preservation Story to the News Media

Historic places have important stories to tell, and it is important to share these with the community and nation at large.

Pitching a preservation story to a reporter -- i.e., alerting them to all the good work you’re doing -- can seem daunting the first time. While you might have an excellent idea, perhaps you don’t know how to approach a reporter or frame your story.

This toolkit offers 10 basic tips to get you started with media outreach. The more you know, the better your chances are for reaching the right media outlets and sharing your preservation story with the wider world.

1. Know your story. Before pitching your story to a media outlet, make certain you've done all your research on the historic place or preservation project you’re sharing. It is vital that all facts be correct and you know all aspects of your story.

2. Know your media outlet. Be familiar with the focus of each publication (and its reporters’ beats), so that you can gauge which story best fits which outlet. For example, the Milwaukee Sentinel would be a good fit for pitching a preservation story of interest to a local audience in Milwaukee, while the Huffington Post may be interested in a story for a national audience.

3. Develop a media list. Once you’ve done your research, create a media contact list that captures all your target reporters and outlets. For example, if you’re covering an event to support a historic home in your community, you might want to begin your search with the top publications in your area, and from there narrow your search to the reporters who cover preservation or community/cultural events.

Reporter at work. Credit: Kadellar, Wiki Commons

4. Identify yourself. When you first pitch reporters, whether by phone or email, let them know who you are and what you are doing with this preservation project. Make sure to get the point across in the first few sentences of the pitch.

5. Test the pitch. Call a reporter whom you think will be most receptive and find a time to talk to them and let them know about the story you’re working on. Have your questions planned in advance and be prepared for any questions they may have as well. Their responses and feedback will help you refine the pitch for later outreach.

6. Stand out. Make your pitch interesting and eye-catching. You want it to stand out from the dozens of other requests a reporter will get per day. For example, when sharing a story about saving a local landmark in your community, convey what makes this site unique and what makes the preservation project attractive and valuable for the community.

7. Keep email pitches brief. When emailing a reporter, keep the message brief. You want to pique their interest, but not overwhelm them with details. Recognize that reporters might have only a short amount of time to hear your pitch and decide if they’d like to pursue the story, so think “elevator speech,” not “doctoral dissertation.”

Staffer Jason Clement interviews a local preservationist in Austin. Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation

8. Use social media. In today’s world, more and more reporters use social media as a way of connecting. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. are all superb ways to connect with reporters and establish friendly relationships.

9. Follow up. After pitching your story, follow up with the reporter to clarify any questions they might have regarding the story. That said, be sure not to follow up too much within a short period of time; you want to be respectful of the reporter’s time and workload.

10. Say thank you. Follow up after your story is published to thank the reporter and tell him/her where it will be shared within your network. This will help foster a good relationship with the reporter and media outlet, and increase your chances for additional coverage later.

Now you’re ready to pitch a story to your publications of choice. Remember to use all the resources at your disposal, and be creative. Good luck!

By: Sarah Coquillat, Public Affairs Intern

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