A Reporter Turned Down Your Story Idea. Now What?
When I was just starting out as a PR newbie at a boutique public relations agency (where I first met Brigitte!), my first pitch assignment was to invite 10 mommy bloggers to a client event. I wrote up a sweet little note, and sent out the invites.
I received one RSVP after another. Not one of them was a yes.
Now the list was down to six! I shut my eyes tight, prayed and worried. What if no one comes? They didn’t like my note. They think the event is stupid. I’m never going to get a win. Will I get fired over this?!?!
I didn’t know what to do — but I knew my job (or at least my future assignments) depended on getting from no to yes.
By chance, I saw a parenting story the next day that one of the moms, Shari, would love, so I emailed it to her. We went back and forth about the article, before she asked, “Didn’t you invite me to that event on Saturday?”
“I did!” I replied hopefully.
“I can’t make it… but I can write a post about it and invite my readers.”
Until Shari offered to write the story, it hadn’t occurred to me to ask the other bloggers if they’d write about the event, even if they couldn’t attend.
It’s easy to interpret every variation on “no” as a rejection of your idea and that you should just throw in the towel.
But what I took away from this experience is that there are shades of “no.”
You can turn each “no” you get from a reporter into an opportunity to make your pitch stronger and land the story . . . Tweet it!
To help you navigate these murky waters, Brigitte and I collected the 10 most common variations on “no” and show you how you can get from no to YES!
No’s that mean “Go back to the drawing board.”
1. Not interested. This can be frustrating, because the reporter isn’t giving you much information, but that doesn’t mean you should just give up. The first thing to do is to go back to your research. Is this the best contact at this media outlet for you? Is there another person you considered?
If you find a new contact that looks like a good fit, and you’re following Brigitte’s best practices for contacting the press, then move on to a new contact.
If you watch our pitch tutorial and realize your pitch could be stronger, try pitching this same reporter again in 3 months with a new idea.
2. This isn’t my beat. A beat is the topic or location (often, newspaper reporters focus on a specific town in a larger metropolitan area) a reporter is assigned to cover. So when you hear “this isn’t my beat,” it means you’ve sent your pitch to the wrong person.
Research the media outlet until you’ve found the person who does cover your topic. Only reach out to someone after you’ve read their bio and a few stories to determine a perfect fit.
3. It’s just not a good fit. This response might mean that your pitch isn’t a good fit for the particular journalist you reached out to (see #2), or that it’s not a good fit for the media outlet.
If your pitch isn’t a good fit for the media outlet, see if you can identify why. Did you pitch a parenting article to a magazine that doesn’t have a section dedicated to parenting? A shortcut for figuring this out is to look at the main navigation of their website. If your pitch idea doesn’t neatly fit into one of the categories in the navigation, it’s not a good fit.
You can either brainstorm a new story idea, or simply repurpose the pitch for a different media outlet.
4. That’s not news. Every once in a while, you’ll encounter a cranky reporter having a rough day. Don’t be discouraged if a reporter “schools you” by telling you your idea isn’t newsworthy or timely, just learn from it. Most likely, you’ve sent an evergreen pitch to a reporter who covers time-sensitive topics, such as a breaking news reporter or someone who covers the latest research in his particular beat. Brush it off and go back to your research to find a new contact.
No’s that mean “Not this time.”
5. We’re not currently accepting submissions. This is a response you might get when pitching a blogger or an first-person essay. If the media outlet has a track record of running guest submissions, simply make a note to follow up in 3 months. If they do not, repurpose your pitch for another media outlet.
6. You pitch an event, and a reporter says, “I’m busy on Tuesday night.” The reporter isn’t making up excuses; she has plans already.
Don’t get upset if a reporter can’t make it to your event. Respond back with a sincere thank you, and ask if there is someone else at the outlet who might be interested in attending.
Planning for next time, if you sent your event information to the reporter only a few days in advance, make a point to give her more lead time next time. Connecting two weeks before your event is a good rule of thumb, unless you’re organizing something like a conference or gala, where media attendance is part of the schedule.
7. You pitch a time-sensitive story, and a reporter says, “This isn’t going to work for me this week.” The reporter is working on other stories and can’t fit yours in. Just like #6, you can either pitch another contact and evaluate whether you should send over your idea earlier next time.
No’s that mean “But do connect with me later!”
8. I’m going on vacation/maternity leave/business trip, but keep me in mind for future ideas. You have yourself a great pitch! This reporter can’t take on a new story right now, but she liked your email enough that she wants to keep in contact. Keep her in mind for next time. Pick another reporter to send the pitch you have right now.
9. We’ve covered that topic recently. Again, this is a sign that you’re on the right track. A media outlet won’t cover the same story in back-to-back issues, but they may revisit it in 6 months or a year. You can either make a note to approach them with a new angle on the topic later, or if you had more than one story idea, develop and send over a new one.
And the most dreaded no of them all…
10. No reply. The last “no” on our list is the most common — and the most frustrating.
Resist the temptation to read too much into it when you don’t get a reply! When you don’t hear back from a reporter, it usually means one of the following things:
- “Your email got lost in the shuffle.”
- “I read your email and forgot to respond.”
- “I’m busy with my current story, and I’m not thinking that far ahead.”
- “There’s breaking news, and I won’t get to my inbox for days.”
- “This story just isn’t my flavor.”
If you get silence, I suggest you follow up.
Take 5 minutes to politely reply to your last email with a new note that asks if he had a chance to consider your story idea. Restate why you think it’s a good fit and how you’d love to help, and keep it to just three sentences.
Take my experience with Shari, the mommy blogger. I never would have connected with her, or gotten the placement, if I hadn’t followed up. Even though I didn’t know where it would lead, I didn’t view her no reply as a closed door — and not only did I get the story, but I learned a new approach, too!
After you send a follow up email, you can feel good that you did your due diligence. If you still don’t hear back, send your story idea to someone else.
Putting yourself out there, means you’re going to get a few no’s. Instead of getting discouraged, take each as a learning opportunity.
Each pass from a reporter brings you closer to getting the big “Yes!” from the publication of your dreams.