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10 Tips for Pitching Entertainment Media Outlets

“Unique ideas often start with pitches, and many are surprising”, according to Breanne Heldman, New York bureau chief at Yahoo! Entertainment. She was speaking on a PRSA NY panel on Tuesday about placing entertainment stories.

Other panelists included::
Lauren Brown, Site Director, Ok! Magazine.com
James Chairman, New York Bureau Producer, E! News
Erin Clements, Celebrity News Editor, The Huffington Post
Paola Leva, News Director, In Touch Weekly
Benjamin Wagner, Senior Vice President, MTV News

Below are their tips for breaking through the clutter with original, creative pitches leading to mutually productive relationships. Some appear self-evident, but may be worth repeating.

1.Celebrities promoting brands: These types of stories provide access, Clements said. The outlets will touch upon the brand tie-in, then cover the celebrity’s work. As Heldman added, sometimes it’s even funny, as when they interviewed a pregnant celebrity plugging a rum brand on St. Patrick’s day. All she could do was mention what she’d like to be drinking.

2.Exclusive content is highly desirable, or at least most media outlets prefer to receive it first. As Brown observed, “nothing is really exclusive online anymore, because once it goes online it’s fair game”. But if her site posts an item early on, their readers will share it and build the outlet’s own social media following.

3.Story extension ideas: Sending pitches to extend a big story running for several days is advisable. For example, it may be an expert who can speak about Angelina Jolie’s recent medical news, Heldman said.

4.Finding unique angles is critical, Clements noted. Brown wants the flexibility to add first person spin and avoid a cookie-cutter approach. As Wagner added, for MTV News, merely an announcement of a new album release is a non-starter. (Image at left courtesy of MTV News’ story, “Cannes Film Festival 2013: Our Must-See Movies”)

5.Celebrity images are welcome, especially active and energetic photos, as well as shots of multiple celebrities, according to Leva. These can be placed in many sections of In Touch Weekly.

6.Videos are also popular, as long as they can be customized. Brown said OK! Magazine.com is willing to go offsite to a celebrity’s favorite venue. E!News will accept pre-produced video, Chairman noted. Don’t send videos already posted a month ago on YouTube, Heldman cautioned. And as she pointed out, “A video is not viral until it’s gone viral.”

7.Editor etiquette: It’s best to keep pitching the same editor or producer at an outlet, and not send separate pitches to their colleagues, Brown noted. Otherwise they find out anyway and it gets confusing. Heldman said to use her name in pitches, and at Chairman’s request, no “faux personalization”.

8.Social media contact: The panelists concurred that publicists should only reach out to them via social media if they already have an existing relationship with the reporter or producer.

9.Follow through on what you’re claiming in your pitch or in your event/party invite, Chairman emphasized. Only offer video access to a celebrity or add famous names to a party list if they really plan to show up. Baiting and switching is a universal no-no.

10.Advance notice is preferred for most content unless it’s a pressing news story that they may be able to fit it in at the last minute. Keeping other potentially conflicting events in mind is key. On the day of the Met museum’s costume gala, E!News doesn’t have time for anything other than the red carpet.

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