Winning Pitches: Reporter Tips for PR Pros


Mike Herbst
Mike Herbst

When pitching, it’s vital for young professionals to get to know their target media if they want to land that story for their client. The best way to do this is to understand what the media covers and what they need to develop their story. Long gone is the time when you can simply send general pitches.

Demonstrating thorough knowledge of a reporter’s beat and understanding how they like to be pitched is the best way to develop a relationship that’s beneficial to both your media contact and you.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a PRSA Chicago Media Panel featuring three prominent Chicago beat reporters. Each provided great insight into where they obtain their news, what types of stories catch their eye and how they like to be pitched. The panelists were:

  • Becky Yerak – Banking, insurance & private equity reporter for Chicago Tribune
  • Tom Barnas – Midday News Segment Coordinator for WGN TV
  • Michael Puente – Reporter, Northwest Indiana Bureau for WBEZ Radio

So, combining what I have learned in my job and what I heard from these reporters, here’s what we should keep in mind when dealing with the media:


Because there are fewer reporters in the newsroom, everyone on staff covers a broader range of topics.

  • While reporters have their own specific beats, they often jump in as necessary to cover other relevant stories. For beat reporters, they much prefer scoops as they want to be seen as the go-to source of information in their market.
  • They love PR professionals who are resources that invite them to events, offer spokespeople to speak on timely topics and provide a pulse on the business environment in their local market.
  • Business-to-business pieces are a very tough sell. Business stories need to have some sort of impact to their broader audience and need to have a local tie.


It’s the TV producer’s job to make PR pitches shine.

  • Local daytime news producers are always looking for segment ideas and are very interested in hearing pitches from PR people.
  • Even if a segment idea is not fully baked for television, the onus is on the producer’s team to make it ready for TV. However the pitch must help the producer envision what a segment could potentially look like.
  • For some shows, the lead time for a segment is approximately a month so it’s key that producers receive pitches far in advance.


“The news cycle is like a conveyor belt”.

  • Once a news item has passed, reporters cannot revisit it unless there is another development in the story.
  • If they’re going to be opportunistic, it’s vital for PR people to pitch within the time frame that a story is still receiving news coverage.
  • When pitching radio within a tight time-frame, send a sound bite from you subject matter expert if you have a particular topic that you’re pitching. This cut out the step of scheduling a phone call or having your SME visit the radio studio to record a sound clip.

And finally, each reporter touched on collective pitching do’s and don’ts that cut across each medium:

DO: Pitch SMEs as broader industry experts

  • When sending the pitch, link to past interviews or stories that included comments from your SME
  • Must make the pitch relevant to their beat and should be linked to a trending news story

DO: Have an attention getting subject line. This is the #1 way to catch a reporter’s eye and should help they begin to imagine the headline of the story

DO: Give reporters as much time as possible in lead up to an event.  They’re busy people just like us and often cannot drop their plans to attend something

DON’T: Pitch news that is not a good STORY.  Reporters only cover stories that tie back to their local audience and affect them in some way

DON’T: Pitch anything too commercial or oversold

Mike Herbst, a 2012 graduate of Marquette University, is an assistant account executive at Ketchum Chicago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *