How to pitch The New York Times blog

When you’re a publicist, landing The New York Times is like winning an Olympic gold medal. It’s a mark of unusual achievement, something we all strive for, but only a few get to cross the Times off their bucket lists.

When I learned that Maggie not only landed coverage but actually got one of her scientists a coveted blogging position, I knew I had to get her to share the story with you. After all, The New York Times is still on my bucket list. So you might consider this my #ASKAPUBLICIST submission.  — Brigitte

The opportunity to pitch The New York Times came out of the blue. It was a chance of a lifetime – and one that put all of my skills as a publicist to the test.

A colleague was heading to the beach for a week-long vacation, which meant the standard offloading of a number of small projects like attending a research meeting in her place and posting content to social media.

Then she handed off one of the most challenging assignments I’ve ever tackled – securing a contributor’s spot for research biologist Lesley de Souza in The New York Times blog Scientist at Work.

1. Determine what makes your story marketable.

Lesley’s project was the perfect package to sell The New York Times, because she was on a mission to conserve endangered arapaima, one of the largest freshwater fishes in the world! Protecting this flagship species from developing threats, such as oil drilling and agriculture, also would safeguard their diverse habitat and the Amerindian communities that depend on these ecosystems for their livelihood.

The pitch would weave together the story of an iconic animal in dire need of protection, a people dependent on their land’s preservation for survival, photos from a picturesque location, an adventurous scientist any reader would follow into the Amazon for her day-to-day adventures and even the element of danger! If they felt threatened, these 300-pound fish could crush her bones with one lash of their body.

All these elements made for a conservation conundrum The New York Times couldn’t resist…or could they?

2. Ensure your story is a perfect fit for the publication.

Even though Lesley seemingly had it all – a rare project, great photo opps and a conservation angle – we couldn’t have pitched her to just any media outlet. For example, because Lesley was just starting her research that year, science publications like National Geographic wouldn’t report her story. They typically wait until you can share the results of your work.

Knowing this, we didn’t waste our time pitching the wrong media. By diligently researching target outlets, my colleague found Scientist at Work, a blog with The New York Times that focused on daily progress of scientific expeditions. Jackpot!

3. Take a moment to track down submission guidelines.

It was going to be so much fun putting together an email to seduce The New York Times. I was giddy! Then I read the “directions” to apply for an author’s role. My eyebrows shot up in surprise and then back down with my frown. Now I knew why my colleague was willing to hand me this opportunity, while she beached it in Mexico.

To submit an application to contribute to NYT’s Scientist at Work, please email (generic email address). If you’re nominating a colleague, please include their writing samples.

Oh boy. That isn’t much to work with.

We agreed it was best to follow the submission guidelines…especially since they didn’t explicitly prohibit us from going the extra mile.

4. Write an email the editor wants to keep reading.

I drafted a pitch, disguised as nomination letter from Lesley’s supervisor. A full page long, my submission broke a cardinal rule of public relations outreach: The best pitches are only three to seven sentences long and are intended to pique the editor’s interest, leaving them to want more, versus giving them everything up front.

But I thought, “New York Times isn’t kidding around. Since they’re asking for writing samples, I’m going to give them the full monty.” Plus…

I planned to cheat. I would draw in the editor with the body of an email and attach the letter and writing samples. Essentially, the attachments would act as follow up information after the editor read and liked the first email pitch.

I used all the key components of a sensational pitch in the nomination letter. I also elaborated a LOT and finished with a bulleted list of the type of stories or blog posts they could expect from Lesley.

5. Help the editor visualize your contribution.

I didn’t edit Lesley’s writing samples in the least to ensure it was a what-you-read-is-what-you-get for The New York Times. What I did do was make it clear we were fans of the blog and had insights into what their readers were looking for.

I formatted all Lesley’s samples together as if they were posted on the blog itself. I arranged each example post starting with a headline and a stunning photo followed by concrete storytelling. This made it impossible for the editor to miss just how perfect Lesley’s content would fit into the Scientist at Work blog.

6. Address your email to a human.

After pulling all the materials together, I was almost there! But I couldn’t be sure my email would get into the right hands using only the general address and no salutation.

By looking at the blog, I found the name for the newspaper staffer who contributed to the blog. This wasn’t easy – because out of all the contributors only one member of The New York Times staff wrote for this particular blog. I addressed the email and letter to him, and cc’d him on the email I send to the email provided in the directions.

7. Be patient and persistent with follow up.

If you want the gold, you’ve got to have persistence. It took weeks of emails and follow-up to finally get to the right contact. Media are constantly restructuring and shuffling their best people into new positions.

Instead of giving up when my initial pitch didn’t get a response, I tried again and again, sending a slightly tweaked version of the email pitch to different science editors at the Times, always readdressing the nomination letter and emailing them personally, until I got an email back with the right name. The senior blog editor spent another month with our submission – but ultimately he gave me his final decision. Lesley would write five posts for The New York Times.

Reflecting on my process in landing the spot for Lesley, it’s clear to me that no single step was more important than another.

The persistence I applied in following up with different editors was just as important to getting the outcome we wanted as the initial research to make sure the blog was the perfect fit for our story.

The key to landing coverage in an A-list publication like The New York Times is standing out in every step of the process…tweet it!

We got the gold – and by taking action on these seven steps, so can you.

How to become a contributing blogger for The New York Times