How to Pitch a Top Journalist Successfully: from Ali Velshi, Formerly of CNN

in writing •  3 years ago 


A business’s marketing strategy is a critical part of its success. Even the most innovative product won’t succeed if customers don’t know about it. In recent years, brands have found one of the best ways to build awareness is through the use of content marketing. The most effective strategies incorporate a combination of high-quality blog posts, guest posts on external sites, interesting social media updates, and video and image-based content. It also goes without saying that you'll want to pitch your story to journalists.

As a journalist, Ali Velshi has spent years interviewing some of the top minds in business and politics. Both through his work at CNN and Al Jazeera America, Velshi learned to identify the ideal interview subject. Recently I sat down with him at Montreal’s C2 Conference, where he described what he looks for when a business pitches their story to him.

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Journalists must filter through a large number of entrepreneurial story pitches on a daily basis. More high-profile business journalists like Velshi say they deal with hundreds of pitches weekly. This means an entrepreneur’s pitch must be extraordinary to stand out. As Velshi filtered through pitches, there were a few things he noticed that made a difference.

“I want to make sure that I'm not interviewing people who are just getting free ad space when I'm conducting an interview,” Velshi says. “There needs to be a mission behind it.”

Pitching a Good Angle

Every journalist is looking for an interesting story. For Velshi, that angle generally centers on the people involved. Behind every business is a hard-working entrepreneur who has put sweat equity into building and growing that enterprise. Velshi is especially interested in entrepreneurs who have invested not only sweat equity but also their own life savings and everything else they have into following a passion. That passion is what often makes a business a success.

“I care less about your financials, how much money you plan to make,” Velshi says. “If I hear one more person tell me about how they maximize their credit cards, I don't care. That stuff's all been told.”

Making a Better Mousetrap

When pitching a top journalist like Velshi, entrepreneurs should focus on conveying their passion. A good business is all about building a better mousetrap. Velshi wants to know why a business’s mousetrap is better and what that business can do to make that mousetrap a success. He’s also interested in the history of a company. All too often, entrepreneurs spend far too much time discussing the products they’re manufacturing or the market they’re reaching. But to a business journalist, that might not be the best way to capture attention.

“The story about what drives people's passion into business is always more interesting,” Velshi says.

The Founding Story

Velshi mentions businesses that print their history on the menu or use it in their advertising somehow. People connect to these stories, since they demonstrate a company’s growth. Consumers can relate to these stories, since they often show how an everyday person can come up with an idea and start a business. Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, Velshi says. We all dream of starting a new restaurant or building something in our garage that becomes a global enterprise.

Velshi wants to hear about that in a story pitch. He wants an entrepreneur to describe the history behind the idea that became a business. What obstacles did that entrepreneur face while building and growing that business? What challenges still exist, even after the business has gotten off the ground and even begun to see success?

“I want to know that story,” Velshi says. “I don't want the PR or fine-tuned pitch about your product. That's uninteresting. That's what I call advertising. That's not journalism.”

For entrepreneurs trying to capture the attention of business journalists, it’s important to focus less on selling their products and services and instead humanize the pitch. The people behind the business, as well as the story of the journey the entrepreneur has taken to build that company are more interesting. Not only will journalists connect with that story, but the readers will find it compelling, as well.

by John Boitnott, July 22, 2016

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Are there some success cases of entrepreneurs who fluffed up their initial pitch but still were able to grab the biz journalists attention?

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I've seen that quite a bit. I'm not going to name names, but if an entrepreneur has known a journalist for some time, then they will be slightly more likely to receive coverage, even if they don't have the best story in the world.