11 Mar Pitching Tips from WBUR
Recently, the Publicity Club of New England arranged a behind-the-scenes tour of WBUR, Boston’s NPR affiliate and public radio station. Owned by Boston University (hence the “BU” part of the name) but operated independently, WBUR is a very successful public radio station with impressive underwriting, programming and a storied history spanning more than 60 years. You’ve probably heard their programming on NPR in the past; WBUR’s team is behind shows like Car Talk, On Point, and Here and Now. They also produce RadioBoston, a local news show.
Nestled near the BU campus just off the T, WBUR has a tight-knit office that’s bustling with energy and ideas. Walking through, we got an inside peek at the iLab, recording studios and team workspaces. WBUR built the recording rooms with glass windows, so we even saw some segments in progress—very cool!
As part of the tour, we got to sit down with Karen Given, producer of Only a Game, a sports-centric program that airs nationally on NPR stations across the U.S. She was very friendly and shared some great advice on pitching, what gets her attention and how to build good PR/media relationships. Taking her points and thinking about the broader context of PR, reaching out to print, online and broadcast reporters, we’ve compiled a few tips:
1. Give the “Send” Button a Rest
Would you like it if your landlord, a friend or a family member emailed and called you every single day? You’d probably get pretty tired of it, and maybe even ignore their calls or send the emails straight to spam. If you contact reporters too much, they’ll eventually stop responding or opening your messages. Karen advises to know who you’re pitching and why you’re pitching them. The things that get her attention are well-researched and specific to her show. Bottom line: pitch thoughtfully and then follow up equally thoughtfully.
2. Customize the Subject Line
Karen looks for email subject lines that feel like they’re actually for her—sent by people who have met her, or who really took the time to know her show, what it covers and what the hosts like. Again, it all comes down to thoughtfulness and approaching a reporter as an individual, not as another name on a media list.
3. Don’t Be a Robot
Many reporters still pick up the phone today, but no one likes a stiff, rehearsed conversation. Karen advised against sounding like you’re reading off a script on phone calls. Knowing your stuff can help avoid the robo-voice. That means doing homework on the outlet, person you’re calling, recent stories and more. Really think about the nuances of the story, get comfortable with it and talk to—not at—the person you’re calling.
4. Know the News Cycle
When you catch a reporter is perhaps as important as what you’re sending. Karen pointed out that knowing a show’s news cycle is key to reaching people at the right time. If a program airs on Saturday, the team will probably be crazed trying to make deadlines on Friday. If reporters are on deadline to file stories in the afternoon, they’ll be stressed after lunch. If a show airs in the morning, the team will likely be more relaxed in the afternoon. You get the idea.
In PR, we approach reporters and news organizations day in and day out with sources, news and ideas. Visiting workplaces like WBUR is immensely helpful in understanding what happens behind the scenes and how we can interact with reporters in meaningful ways. Whether you’re working with TV, radio, online or print outlets, the above tips will help ensure you’re acting like a real person and bringing helpful ideas to the table. Thanks for having us, WBUR!