By Melissa A Vitale
As much as publicists wish this were the way, full-feature stories about our clients don't usually appear from thin air. They come from targeted and intentional outreach from publicists to journalists or editors that include an idea for an article that their audiences will hopefully find interesting. Making the start of the process to securing coverage for a journalist the pitch. But how do we get from a pitch to a published story? Not all stories have all the stops on the journey that I'll explain below, but the sake of offering the best information, I'll cover every stage in the written story process that I've seen.
We should note that I've already technically made an error in claiming that the pitch is the first part of a story. Because no pitch that turns into a story is possible without research. Having the contact info or a relationship with a journalist is useless unless the industries and stories that they cover are the same that you operate in. With a little research, publicists and brands doing their own outreach, can reduce the number of pitches that go unanswered. But the story doesn't really begin until the publicist sends a pitch.
Unless it's a new client, brand or product, a pitch is usually an email, phone call or spoken conversation where a publicist presents a story about their client that they think could be interested to a journalist or editor's audience. Sometimes, pitches can be responded to in the same day with either a pass or acceptance. Sometimes, it can be weeks, months, and yes, even years between a pitch and when a journalist or editor says "Hey! I want to write about this!"
There are some times where a journalist, usually freelance and writing for a number of different magazines or newspapers, is interested in a subject but isn't sure the best angle or platform to write a story for. In this case, it can be common to have a pre-interview that is an informal conversation between the client, journalist and publicist to discuss potential story angles and ideas. The journalist will usually ask about the subject's background, current business and goals for the future and ask follow up depending on what answers interest them most. Pre-Interviews are becoming less and less common but are still a practice used by many journalists and publicists today.
Pitch to Editor
Once the writer knows what they want want to cover about the client, they will pitch the story to their editor or editors if the journalist is freelance. Sometimes even staff writers pitch to other editors outside their main editor: their boss thinks the story is better suited for another department and will encourage the writer to pitch a different editor. The pitching to the editor process can be cut out if the publicist is pitching an editor directly. In this case, unless the editor isn't swamped with work (which is rare), the editor will assign a journalist to write the story.
Once a story is accepted by an editor, the journalist will schedule an interview with their story subject. When you have a publicist, they will usually require some pre-interview time of some sort. This could be a week before the interview or right before the interview. Publicists typically won't have their client speak with a reporter without aligning on desired outcome of the interview beforehand.
For many clients, they only see when the interview is requested. The pitching processes is usually kept between journalist, editor and publicist. But the interview is the most important part of the story process. Its rare to have a story killed from a bad interview but it's not impossible. The best way to prepare for an interview is practicing your soundbites before your interview. Think of the main messages you want readers to know about you, what quotes you'd like to see in print. It's important to note that some interviews can come with paperwork like release forms, confidentiality or even non-competes.
Anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks after the interview, the reporter may send along some written followup questions that have come up while writing the story. Followup can also be conducted in an additional interview. There can be multiple rounds of follow up during a single story.
There are times during the story process where a journalist wants to hear from other supporting sources provided by the main subject. This could be customers of a product testifying to a company's marketing or friends of the entrepreneur to give another take on their personality. These typically come after the initial interview with the subject.
Photo Asset Process:
A picture is worth a thousand words and all, editors and journalists love to break up a long story with imagery. Often times digital publications will request photos to be provided by the subject. It's important to include the photo credits when you send the image or they may not make it to publication. There are times when a photo editor will send a photographer to a subject for their own proprietary images for the story. This is a great time for subjects to get additional images by a notable photographer as after publication, photographers can usually license the non-published stories from the photoshoot.
Once the photoshoot is wrapped or the photo assets are secured, there is often a fact-checking process for top tier publications where a researcher and even potentially a legal department, will verify all facts of the story to prevent the correction process. This processes can take a couple weeks or be over in an hour depending on the length of the story or the outlet.
Because there are so many people who work on a single story, the biggest factor in public relations is time. There is often a two- to eight-week waiting process from when a writer submits the story to their editor, photo assets are secured and the fact-checking is done from the publication of a story. Following up with the writer usually doesn't help at this point because its out of their hands. It's just time to wait for publication. If a story is timely around a specific date, this process can be either reduced or lengthened if the publication is working months in advance. Delays in the editorial process can also come from breaking news like the death of a world leader, a war or global crisis or even protests nationwide.
After waiting months between pitch, interview, fact-checking, maybe a photo shoot, and other delays in the editorial process, your story is published! Typically the only thing you have to do once your story is published is celebrate and send a thank you note to an editor. Of course, if you're working with a publicist they will take care of that for you. However, if there is something incorrect written in the story, you must immediately speak to your publicist or the journalist. Corrections are usually only accepted within the first week of publication and even then the journalist would prefer it the first one- to two- days of publication. Another thing to look for is pick-up or the article posted on other news outlets. Many national sites get posted and reposted on MSN.com or Yahoo.com which have huge traffic and often every interesting comment sections from a diverse range of readers.
Any publicist worth their their salt will handle the majority of the efforts under the water including following up with editors and journalists, and tracking and reporting on different platforms that have picked up and reposted the story. Every story is different but many go through the editorial process where multiple humans work on a single story, passing it back and forth. It's one of the reasons stories take "so long" to come out after the initial interview or outreach to or from a journalist.
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