5 tips for pitching to the media

Rather than taking a blanket approach, making each of your pitches count results in a better chance at media coverage.
Arts media pitch

Media coverage provides free exposure, ensuring you can share your voice and work with a wider audience, but trying to stand out in a journalist’s inbox already crowded with hundreds of emails is a competitive businesses.

The good news is there are ways in which individuals or collectives can improve their chances of capturing a journalist’s eye.

Here are the key points to consider when constructing your media pitch, gathered from publicity experts in the sector together with insights from ArtsHub’s editors.

1. Know your story

Jack Wilkie-Jans, a practicing artist and currently the Marketing and Communications Manager at Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, noted: ‘Artists are always told, in their formative and experimental years, to create what they want, in the style/school of whatever they are drawn to and about whatever they want, from wherever they are inspired.

‘But, when it comes to staking out on the more professional/industrial scene, this becomes a balancing game between what’s consumable and marketable. And achieving healthy press coverage for any event, promotion, call-out etc is a competitive space (especially so in the larger population centres).’

Wilkie-Jan’s advice is to not only know your practice, but the community and audience that it’s intended for.

‘Determining partnerships are a great way to begin any key project you wish to promote,’ he said, which involves thinking about who your collaborators are and whether the event will have guests or speakers, for instance.

He urges artists to consider ‘who do you want to come to the event or know about it? What is your event’s contribution to the art and culture fabric of your area and does it relate to broader themes and messages swirling around the art world zeitgeist?

‘All of these are crucial factors you must consider in order to give your event an edge and ensure it’s a draw-card for audiences and the media.’

Read: Mastering the interview: Tips from journos

Print publications and online publications will also have a very different focus and audience, so knowing where your practice sits can make pitching much more effective.

‘Remember, your promotions don’t need to be absolutely everywhere, just the places where they need to be so as to reach your kind of people,’ Wilkie-Jan said.

2. Structure your pitch

With more than 20 years in the arts publicity business, Katrina Hall said that once you have a good understanding of your story, ‘keep it simple and truthful’.

She continued: ‘Press receive so many emails, so your pitch needs to tell the story quickly and succinctly, so keep to the “who, what, why, where and when”. 

‘Out of all of these, “what” and “why” are the most important. What is the motivation and thinking behind the work and what does it look like?’ Hall explained.

Print journalists and their colleagues working in the digital realm work with an inverted pyramid structure and so should you. Include the hook of your pitch upfront in the body of the email rather than ask the reader to open a PDF or follow a link without context.

Think about how you can capitalise on the subject line, because that’s the first thing (hopefully not the only thing) that journalists see.

Remember that this is a pitch designed to develop interest for a further interview and expanded write up, so don’t include your whole life story. As long as your sentences are impactful, less is more, and the body of your email should be capped at three paragraphs maximum.

3. Meet journalists where they are

The importance of researching the platform that you are pitching to cannot be stressed enough. A personalised and tailored approach may take up more time but will give you a better chance of being noticed.

In Hall’s words: ‘If you’re interested in a particular publication or outlet, make sure it’s appropriate for you and your practice, and do the research so you understand the editorial focus, interests and style of the writers.’

This can include focuses on specific art forms, career stage, and of course geographical areas. Also take into consideration the platform’s ‘angle’, i.e. do they cover single exhibitions or do most articles cover a broad scope? See what stands out in the headline and if there are elements that align with your pitch.

ArtsHub’s performing arts editor Richard Watts added that it’s always a bonus when publicists not only include details of a show but suggest potential angles and headlines that are appropriate for the platform’s audience.

Keep in mind that often journalists themselves are pitching stories to their editors, so the strength of your pitch can actually make their job easier too.

Something more specific to writers is to take note of the allocated times where a publisher actually accepts manuscripts, said ArtsHub reviews editor Thuy On. This information and all additional criteria can be found on the publisher’s website so be sure to have a thorough read before submitting – you’d be surprised how many people don’t.

While respecting the time-frame that it might take a journalist to get to your email, editorial inboxes can pile up quickly, so consider sending a polite follow up if you don’t hear back in a few days.

Some journalists tend to go through their emails in the morning or do a ‘clear-out’ towards the end of the week, so following up around those times can give you a better chance of getting a reply.

Hall’s rule of thumb is to send ‘one follow up email a week later, and [if you don’t hear back] let it go’.

4. Tone of voice (and whose to include)

In an earlier article on this subject, ArtsHub’s visual arts editor Gina Fairley said: ‘Always be objective when approaching a journalist, remembering their first question will always be “Why should I cover this?”‘

She continued: ‘The most valuable piece of “media property” is the authentic story – better still – the authentic success story.’ 

Read: Getting the best results out of an arts journalist

Don’t be afraid to share obstacles or pivots that led to where your practice or project is today; it gives journalists a more holistic view and might even help them find the niche of your story.

While most arts journalists value clarity over sensationalism, it doesn’t mean that they are not looking for topicality.

Arts educator and ArtsHub features writer Jo Pickup advised it’s important to ‘strike a balance and be factual rather than persuasive’.

She added that the pitch should be succinct, so instead of long paragraphs opt for sharp sentences or even dot points about the most noteworthy aspects of your work or show.

Direct quotes from your artist statement and/or participants involved can help journalists make a connection with your content. This also provides an easy way for writers to pick out highlights when drafting the story.

If you know who manages the pitching inbox be sure to include greetings with their name – journalists are people too and will appreciate the recognition.

5. Additional info and attachments

Last but not least, make sure you provide relevant contacts and a direct link to your project or website.

Pickup advises including your mobile number and email, ensuring that the journalist can get a hold of you quickly if they are in a rush or have a short story turnaround. And yes, do check and check again that the number/email provided is correct and matches your signature. There’s nothing more frustrating than picking up the phone and reaching a number that’s out of service.

Sometimes, easy access or information can be make-or-break when a journalist is considering your pitch, especially in information-heavy write ups such as an events wrap exploring what’s on for the week.

Use image attachments to your advantage, especially if it’s a group show or performance, and make sure they are high resolution and ready to use. Clear captions with appropriate image credits are a must, either as the image title or in the body of the email.

If you have multiple attachments and different file types (e.g. image, word document, PDF, video) it’s better to share a Google Drive or Dropbox link so everything is in one place for the writer.

Finally, don’t be beat up if your story can’t be covered this one time. If your pitch is one that can plant a seed in a journalist’s mind, then there’s chance that they’ll reach out to you when a suitable opportunity comes around. Like so many other aspects of the arts sector, it’s about making a connection and building that relationship.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne.