You’re a thought leader or expert in your field (or you work for one). You have innovative insights with data, experience and testimonials to back them up and tie them to important industry issues. But your big ideas aren’t capturing the media’s attention. Why?

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Val Willingham, a former CNN Medical Unit producer with more than 30 years of journalism experience. She’s smart and approachable with a contagious, fun-loving personality. But when it comes to producing content, she’s a stickler; clear and firm on what’s needed to create newsworthy, accurate, time-sensitive content her readers want to read.

You may have great ideas, but do you have the right approach that will cut through the clutter of journalists’ inboxes? Val gives the inside scoop on how to sell ideas to the media.

Learn How to Sell Ideas to the Media with These 10 Tips

Q1. What types of pitches grabbed your attention? Which ones would you instantly delete?

Those with headlines that seemed legitimate and would appeal to a mass audience were usually the ones I opened first. I despised pitches that made it sound like I had talked to the person before, even though I had not, or the ones that asked, “May we chat?”

Q2. What do you consider newsworthy? What makes for a good story?

A good story usually includes the following factors:

  • Is it new, different?
  • Does it affect a lot of people?
  • Would an audience care about it?
  • Do I find it interesting?
  • Does it appeal to the heart as well as the head?

Q3. What are some examples of bad pitches you received?

Again, when someone acts like we’ve been talking for months and I’ve never spoken to them – no one likes those tactics. And please don’t pitch me that your CEO just won the humanitarian award from the Mother Teresa Society this year. No one cares. Give me a human element we can all relate to. That’s the key.

Please don't pitch me that your CEO just won the humanitarian award from the Mother Teresa Society this year. No one cares.Click To Tweet

Q4. What did your boss/editor expect when you pitched a story? What do you need from a PR rep, thought leader or expert to move forward with the story?

If a PR rep or expert sends me a story, I want them to know the story inside out. Who are the contacts, to whom should I be talking? Do they have numbers I can call? Even better, can you set them up.  And bosses?  They want something that will bring in clicks, shares and ratings.

Q5. How does the changing media landscape affect the way you find stories?

It really doesn’t. It adds to my resources. Instead of only reading the Post, or TIME or other periodicals, I now read those as well as Twitter and Facebook, and even Instagram and Reddit.

Q6. How do you prefer to be pitched? How do you feel about phone pitching? 

Email is the best way to pitch. No one uses the phone until after it’s established the story will be done.

Q7: What is your process for going through pitches?

Headlines are key. If they don’t grab me, I move on.

Q8. What’s the appropriate time to follow up with you?

Within a few days. If you don’t hear from me in a few days, send another email. Some people call. Depending if I know you, I may not take it.

Q9. In your opinion, what is the greatest value PR professionals can provide?

Understanding the media, what goes into making a good story and time frames are all important. Most of the time it’s rush, rush, rush. So a good PR person needs to help producers turn good stories quickly.

Q10. Is there anything else thought leaders and PR professionals should know when pitching the media?

Be like a boy scout. Be honest, be prepared, be kind and be patient. And as Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up.”

It’s not enough to have an idea you believe is newsworthy. Securing coverage for it requires a targeted, personalized media relations strategy. And that starts with really understanding what journalists want and need from you to create a story that attracts attention from those who matter most.

To learn more about how to sell ideas, knowledge and reputation, read our e-book.

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With a background in journalism, Rachel combines her passion for news with her expertise in media relations to deliver effective results. She also handles day-to-day communication with clients, media outreach, social media activities, writing and messaging. Rachel provides strategic counsel to clients across the healthcare and business industries and is a critical team member for Stern Strategy Group's architecture and design accounts. If you can’t find Rachel at her desk, she is probably behind the camera filming one of Stern’s in-house videos. And when not at work, you can find her at one of three places: on a run, on a soccer field or on the beach.