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Dud Story Ideas Your Utility Should Not Pitch

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A week ago, I wrote about story ideas your utility should pitch, but after another week at my editor day job getting deluged with bad pitches, maybe I should also address what not to pitch.

The rules are a bit different for trade publications (most likely your pitches will be well received, especially if you work for a prominent utility), but mass market media outlets are a tougher nut to crack.

So, here are some examples of things to avoid pitching.

Things written about before. I got a pitch today about a business we had profiled a couple years back. It was a good idea then, but not enough has changed to warrant a follow up. Of course, if Outlet X has already written about your idea, that doesn’t mean you can’t pitch Outlet Y. In fact, you should — the fact that one media outlet found it worthy of coverage means you may have a winner on hand.

Personnel news. Yawn. Unless Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga has agreed to be a middle manager at your utility, most personnel announcements are really boring and, at best, will be relegated to a “comings and goings” column (or whatever they call it) in your local news outlet. Do note that major hires, such as a new CEO, are likely newsworthy, but that’s about it.

Small donations, scholarships and sponsorships. It’s nice that you sponsor a local Little League, gave out a $500 college sponsorship to a graduating high school senior or contributed $1,000 to the homeless shelter. It’s just not worthy of coverage, except to the smallest community media outlets. Now if you give $5 million toward a new community center, interest levels change.

Awards. Unless someone at your utility is winning an Oscar, Emmy or Tony, the media doesn’t care. (I suppose a Nobel Prize or being named Miss America might qualify, too). There are literally thousands of awards out there and, while it’s a nice honor someone at your utility won one, it’s hard for the media to distinguish between important ones and run-of-the-mill honors, so they generally ignore them all.

And be sure to never pitch an award given by another news outlet; nobody’s giving the competition free publicity. From experience, I know that a lot of awards are random.

I used to pick out the winners of my paper’s “40 Under 40” awards. Typically, we’d get about 200 submissions. Of those, about five would stand out as clearly superior, a handful clearly weren’t qualified and the rest were sort of in the middle. Of that group, I’d merely pick a sampling of people that represented the community. Not exactly scientific.

A couple other points:

● Don’t be the utility who cried wolf. If you pitch too often, you’ll get ignored.

● Self-congratulatory pitches don’t work.

● Remember that mass media outlets are looking to reach a high percentage of the audience. What’s important to your utility may not matter to the public at large.

Andy Gotlieb's picture

Thank Andy for the Post!

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