Editorial Record: This article was originally submitted as an AEJMC Public Relations Division GIFTs paper, with a February 19, 2021 deadline. JPRE invited top GIFTs authors to submit to JPRE by June 18, 2021. First published in September 2021.
Adrienne A. Wallace, Ph.D
School of Communications
Grand Valley State University
Jamie Ward, Ph.D.
Eastern Michigan University
Regina Luttrell, Ph.D.
Public Relations & Social Media
Rationale: Public relations instruction is most effective when students are provided with opportunities to develop their capacities as practitioners. Educators often provide these applied experiences through academic service-learning partnerships, internships, and hands-on exercises. Media pitching is a unique, stylized process that requires a personalized approach gleaned through experience and persistence. Every pitch takes on a different feel based on the relationship with the blogger, editor, or reporter. Students commonly exhibit uncertainty constructing and delivering effective media pitches due to a lack of media experience and fear of rejection.
This activity (Appendix A) is appropriate for any course or student-run firm that would use media relations as a tactic. Following a firm theoretical foundation as described above, Meet the Media Speed Pitching uses Muck Rack’s Public Relations Pitching Guide (Muck Rack, n.d.-a) alongside their Public Relations Management (PRM) platform to work together as a class to research local media for our local client pitches. The Muck Rack PR Pitching Guide (Knollmeyer, n.d.) focuses on using the ‘core six’ combinations of news values most journalists and educators agree on (Timeliness, Impact, Prominence, Proximity, Conflict and Human Interest) as a rubric (Appendices B and C) for relevant pitching (Gatlung & Ruge, 1973; Shoemaker & Mayfield, 1987). Students then construct a pitch based on information gleaned from the State of Journalism Report (Muck Rack, 2020a) and the ‘core six’ criteria. There is a little bit of training of the target journalist selected who also evaluates the student pitch based on the ‘core six’ as well as their unique media type and audience in the feedback which leads to a meaningful dialog in a low-stakes environment for practice and reflection.
Connection to Public Relations Practice and/or Theory
By leveraging numerous mass communication theories, including gatekeeping theory (Lewin, 1947; Shoemaker & Vos, 2009; White, 1950), agenda setting theory (McCombs & Shaw, 1972); persuasion (Petty & Cacioppo, 1987; Miller, 1989), framing theory (Entman, 1993; Hallahan, 1999), and uses and gratifications theory (Blumler & Katz, 1974), the foundations of media messaging are explored, and students examine the benefits of creating audience focused messaging. This assignment has been developed as an introduction to the process of media pitching. Recognizing that media pitching is a skill that requires creative thinking, persuasive communication, strategy, and media targeting, assessing best practices can be difficult and is often influenced by individual contexts. Possessing a firm understanding of mass media theory and a solid understanding of media pitch construction alleviates uncertainty and allows students to enter the field confident in their skill sets.
Student Learning Goals
1) Draft pitches that are relevant and focus on use of the ‘core six’ combinations; 2) Deliver a pitch in a non-electronic high stakes environment; 3) Engage in meaningful dialogue on behalf of a client with a member of the media; 4) Networking with members of the media; 5) Practice researching, constructing, pitching and follow-up for a real client; 6) Real life/real time use of follow-up emails and phone calls with reporter post pitch; 7) Reflection on media relations process and experience.
The benefits to students are numerous, especially in relation to the PR industry where media relations is a core component. After completing this assignment, students recognize various mass communication and persuasive theories, identify the importance of strategy and targeting in PR, and analyze the role relationships play within the profession. This assignment is applicable to a variety of courses within the PR discipline including writing, social media, and case studies. This activity appeals to a wide range of students because it is interactive, allows for creative execution and community engagement. They are excited to learn how their creativity and personalized approaches play a role in their successes as future practitioners. Finally, higher levels of confidence regarding the ‘core six’ and lower levels of anxiety related to the process and prospect of pitching local media based on rubric feedback from professionals (Appendix B).
Blumler, J. G., & Katz, E. (1974). The uses of mass communications: Current perspectives on gratifications research. Sage Publications.
Entman, R. (1993). Framing: Toward a clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43(4), 51–58. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1993.tb01304.x
Galtung, J., & Ruge, M. (1973). Structuring and selecting news. The manufacture of news: Social problems, Deviance and the Mass Media, 1(62), 62-72. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F003803857400800327
Hallahan, K. (1999). Seven models of framing: Implications for public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 11(3), 205-242. https://doi.org/10.1207/s1532754xjprr1103_02
Joffe, J. (2020, June 10). Nine media pitching tips directly from journalists. Spin Sucks. https://spinsucks.com/communication/media-pitching-tips/
Knollmeyer, S. (n.d.). An introduction to Pitches on Muck Rack. Muck Rack Blog. https://help.muckrack.com/en/articles/1054092-an-introduction-to-pitches-on-muck-rack
Lewin, K. (1947). Frontiers in group dynamics II: Channels of group life; Social planning and action research. Human Relations, 1(2): 143–153. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F001872674700100201
Miller, G. R. (1989). Persuasion and public relations: Two “Ps” in a pod. Public relations theory, 45-66. https://doi.org/10.1016/0363-8111(93)90004-V
McCombs, M., & Shaw, D. (1972). The agenda-setting function of mass media. The Public Opinion Quarterly, 36(2), 176-187. https://doi.org/10.1086/267990
Muck Rack’s Guide to Media Pitching. (n.d.-a). Muck Rack. https://muckrack.com/media-pitching-guide
Muck Rack’s Guide to Media Databases. (n.d.-b). Muck Rack. https://muckrack.com/media-database-guide
Muck Rack (2020a). The state of journalism report 2020. https://info.muckrack.com/stateofjournalism2020
Muck Rack (2020, May 28b). How to pitch in 2020, backed by statistics. Muck Rack Blog. https://muckrack.com/blog/2020/05/28/media-pitching-statistics
Petty R. E., & Cacioppo J. T. (1987). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In R. E. Petty & J. T. Cacioppo, Communication and Persuasion Central and Peripheral Routes to Attitude Change (pp. 1-24). Springer-Verlag,. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4612-4964-1_1
Purdue Owl. (n.d.). Journalism and journalistic writing: Introduction. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/journalism_and_journalistic_writing/writing_leads.html
Shoemaker, P. J., & Mayfield, E. K. (1987). Building a theory of news content: A synthesis of current approaches. Journalism and Communication Monographs, 103, 1-36.
Shoemaker, P. J., & Vos, T. (2009). Gatekeeping Theory. Routledge.
Ward, J., Luttrell, R., & Wallace, A., (2020). PR ethics literacy: Identifying moral and ethical values through purposeful ethical education. Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(3), 66-80. https://aejmc.us/jpre/2020/12/22/pr-ethics-literacy-identifying-moral-and-ethical-values-through-purposeful-ethical-education/
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Appendix A: The Assignment: Meet the Media Speed Pitching
This activity enables PR teams to work together to find the right journalists for their class or student run firm client stories, create customized pitches, build meaningful relationships with the local media, an incentive to monitor news and quantify their impact through the Muck Rack software for the client.
Choose the style of your ‘media targets’ based on the level of course you have; for 200-level we tend toward low-medium pressure targets (see below for levels). For 300 to 400-level courses we go for the high-pressure target – the actual media. This gives us an opportunity to both network and practice by syncing up with some of our fave community mentors.
For this activity you will need audiences for pitches, a large open space that you are able to cluster seating arrangements, or at minimum provide a 1:1 setting for an audience member and a student; or Zoom and breakout room access. PR students have three minutes with the audience targets selected to introduce themselves, share a bit about their organizations/clients and to pitch away for their in-class client. These three-minute meetings go fast – which means preparing students ahead of time with a plan becomes important to success and meaningful feedback.
Before the speed pitching you should equip your students with:
- A thorough understanding of theory as described in GIFT rationale
- A thorough understanding of media ethics and PR ethics (Ward et al., 2020)
- Students should be thoroughly briefed on the State of Journalism (Muck Rack, 2020a)
- Instruction on and practice of crafting a newsworthy press release using AP style (Purdue Owl, n.d.)
- Students should write up a client press release on something newsworthy
- Students should use Muck Rack or manually create a local media list based on client activity (Muck Rack, n.d.-a) – from this you should attempt to recruit your speed pitching media member line up
- Students should create an emailable pitch they will base this exercise on; pitching in person this newsworthy idea to local media (Muck Rack, 2020b)
After the ‘Meet the Media Speed Pitching’ activity:
- Students should craft a follow up email for the media they engage with using the Nine Media Pitching Tips Directly from Journalists advice from Spin Sucks (Joffe, 2020).
- Your class should also publicly thank your local media for their time and efforts as well as like, follow, share when possible their bylines to foster a longstanding relationship
Possible audiences for pitches:
Low pressure Medium pressure
Pitch peers in class Pitch your PRSA chapter
Pitch peers on Zoom Pitch university student-led media
Pitch peers in a news writing class Pitch program alumni volunteers
Pitch THE actual local media in person
Pitch THE actual local media on Zoom
Appendix B: Speed Pitching Rubric & Assignment
Appendix C Photos of Speed Pitch Event 2019
© Copyright 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division
To cite this article: Wallace, A.A., Ward, J., & Luttrell, R. (2021). Pitch perfect: Secrets of media relations. Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(2), 203-212. https://aejmc.us/jpre/2021/08/31/pitch-perfect-secrets-of-media-relations/