Pitching reporters requires instinct and persistence

This is a story that will ring plenty of bells, and should be encouraging, for those who spend time pitching reporters. It might also be revealing to those who pay their salaries.

A couple of years ago I worked for a management consultancy. The firm specialised in the corporate finance function, helping CFOs of medium to large corporations improve operating efficiencies, and generally improving the ability of their finance functions to serve the business strategically. It was all very sober stuff and, as might be expected, the firm’s employees were smart and switched on. On the hunt for interesting story ideas, I got talking to one of the firm’s principals about ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR), and how it seemed to be gaining some traction beyond the early hype. He presented a compelling case about why finance directors were the best people to lead a company’s CSR strategy. It was an idea I hadn’t heard before. In a nutshell, it was all to do with the finance team’s knowledge about data, its collection and presentation. I was convinced. After a bit of digging around, it became clear that no one else had really talked about this.

I knew The Financial Times had a weekly accountancy column that was occasionally opened up to outside contributors. So, hving done my preparation, I called up the column editor and pitched the idea of an opinion editorial for my client, timed around a topical industry event. He quickly rebuffed the idea, doubting accountants were really interested in CSR and telling me that, in his opinion, it was a flaky subject anyway. At that point, most people in my situation would have given up, reported the rejection back to their client and moved on. But I was bemused. A well-developed instinct for stories told me this was still a good idea. So a few weeks later, when the section editor was replaced by someone else, I tried exactly the same pitch. Her reaction was the diametric opposite of the first and the article was commissioned and published. We then took the idea to the Accountancy trade press, an example of which can be seen here.

The lesson from this anecdote is twofold: trust your instincts, and be (selectively) persistent when pitching media stories. I said at the start there was something in this for the PR team paymasters and here it is: a good media result often takes time, skill and effort. Please set your budgets accordingly.

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