Business desks are notoriously difficult to pitch to; they receive a high volume of pitches on a daily basis, leaving editors tasked to find the stories that are truly newsworthy. With strict deadlines, an audience to think about and often very limited resources – this can make news desks very hard to reach for PR professionals, like you and me.
But how can we make that breakthrough?
Using The Guardian’s business and finance desk as an example, we share our five top tips for utilising business and news desks as an effective part of our pitching and wider PR strategy.
Tip #1: Research is Indispensable
As with any aspect of pitching in PR, the first step to reach business desks is research. We’ve got to understand a publication’s audience, the kind of stories they tell, the angles they take and even the interests of the journalist or editor behind the news desk. This will immediately let us know if our story or pitch is right for the publication whose business desk we are contacting.
For example, The Guardian’s readership tends to be someone that is over 35, and they narrowly have a greater female readership than male. It is also a publication that is more to the left of politics – with its business and finance desk often paying more attention to worker and consumer stories rather than market analysis, for example. Some of the headlines in The Guardian include “Spotify to cut about 600 jobs in latest tech redundancies” and “Energy suppliers to be investigated over Britons forced on to prepayment meters”. This demonstrates the type of angle they want to take in their stories – focussed on the individuals at grass-root levels of business. Does our story work for this business desk? Can we make it work? If not, we may want to try a different, more suitable publication!
Tip #2: Decide on the angle you want to take
Not only will this tell us if our pitch is right for a particular business desk, but it will help us to tailor our pitch even more specifically. From the stats we present, the opinions we highlight, and the organisations we promote, making sure we capture the interest of the business desk is vital and we can do this by taking a relevant angle.
If we were pitching to the business and finance desk at The Guardian, making sure we highlight how our story might impact individuals (or more specifically – their readers) would be absolutely vital.
Tip #3: Craft your pitch
When crafting our pitch, we have to be clear, succinct and avoid using jargon. We’ve written extensively on how to craft that perfect pitch, so spending time going through the key points would be wise. But in brief, it’s important that we highlight why our pitch is newsworthy, what’s new and what are the key talking points behind the story.
Often, publications will prefer that we follow up with all of the necessary information and additions, like an original press release, web links and any images/videos. Worth having these to hand!
Tip #4: Choose the right time
Timing. Is. EVERYTHING. It could be the decider between a successful pitch, and an ignored one.
We have to consider when the right time might be for the business desk to receive our pitch. In this, there are three key aspects. Firstly, we have to make sure we send our pitch at a time when the story is most relevant to the business desk and their audience. Is that now? Or would it be more impactful in a couple of weeks’ time? Consider current affairs and events that may impact the attractiveness of our pitch, and the need for its story to be shared.
Secondly, if possible, we like to make sure we give the journalists plenty of time. If we are launching a new initiative, programme, etc., then informing the business desk a few days before may be too tight, depending on the publication. This is where background research is also useful! Understand how much time journalists at the business desk we are pitching to may need – normally, we’d always recommend giving as much notice as possible, within reason.
Guardian journalists often operate on very short deadlines – but this doesn’t mean we should tell them about a story on very short notice unless it’s avoidable. If anything, it’s the opposite – they would have so many different articles on the go at once, it would be important to pitch to them in advance if our story had a deadline.
Thirdly, it is also important that we think about what time of day is best to pitch; if we pitch in the afternoon will our email be lost amongst others? As mentioned, the more we know about the business desk we want to pitch to, the more chance we will have for our pitch to be successful.
To really take your efforts to the next level, it is also vital to understand that journalists need us PRs to be responsive – if they have to wait for a response from us, then the likelihood is that they will move on to another story. Making sure we keep them up to date as we connect them with resources, whether it’s an interviewee or providing commentary, is crucial – if we let them down last minute, they may find us untrustworthy going forward.
Tip #5: Use business desks as a chance to make connections
Key to great PR is successful relationship building and management – use any successful business desk pitches as a way in to make a connection with an editor and/or journalist. If they found us responsive and useful, they will be more likely to open another one of our pitches when we next send one.
If we can get a direct email this will be of great use – we won’t have our pitch mixed up in an inbox of hundreds and possibly thousands of other pitches, but instead we will be able to go straight to the person responsible. Other than email, connecting with people we work with on LinkedIn or Twitter can be a great way to keep our work fresh in their minds. A lot more publications nowadays use freelance journalists to provide stories – so understanding who to work with and what other publications they write for is even more crucial. Maybe if we help them with an opportunity in a smaller, trade media outlet, they’ll come back to us when they need help for a top-tier publication like The Guardian.
Business desks are a hard egg to crack…
In summary, to successfully pitch to top tier media business desks, research the target media outlets and understand their audience, identify unique angles for your story, build relationships with journalists and editors, be timely, and make it easy for them by providing all the necessary information.
Remember, don't get discouraged if you don't get a response right away. And if you find that you need some help, get in touch today!
Having studied at top institutions including Sciences Po, City University of Hong Kong, Oxford Brookes University, KIMEP University and having completed his Masters at the University of St Andrews, Alex’s insider knowledge means that he genuinely understands the inner workings of universities and higher education institutions. Alex has won awards for his academic writing and is fluent in both English and French, and proficient in Spanish.