Pitching the Editorial Board: Five Things to Know
The Washington Post recently caused a stir by inviting people to pitch the editorial board. Most editorial boards enjoy hearing from readers and appreciate input – especially if it is thoughtful and well-assembled. But most of them don’t do what the Post did and put up an online form to help you make your pitch. Before you pitch the Post, or any other newspaper editorial board, what should you do? Here’s five things to know.
First, you need to understand what editorial boards do. Many people don’t realize that editorial boards write opinions on community issues. They might commend a community effort, support a call for change, express empathy for a tragedy, endorse a candidate or action, weigh in on a known (or unknown) issue, or hold up for verbal public flogging people who’ve done wrong to the public.
The best way to understand an editorial board and its perspective before you pitch it, is to read what the editorial board publishes – this is often found in your newspaper, perhaps toward the back of the first section, often under an Opinions masthead. For most editorial boards – it’s about public interest. They make a statement or comment that they feel is in the best interest of the community.
Second, research what the editorial board has said in the past on your issue or related issues. This is really important. Thankfully with the Internet, researching editorial boards has become a lot easier. If your newspaper is not accessible online (and you don’t keep copies from your subscription – it is important to read the publications you want to pitch either online or in print), try your public library – they will often have access through specialty databases.
Search for a variety of keywords. Look for issues similar to yours, as well as your issue. Know when the board has weighed in and what it said. Make a list if you need to. This is also a great time to make a list of the board members (many newspapers will list the members in print or online) and familiarize yourself with their names.
Third, you need to pick the issue you want to talk with them about. Many nonprofits and activists are working on multiple fronts. Yes, you might be able to sit down and talk with an editorial board about your organization and issues, but try to single out one thing that the editorial board could comment on that would make a big difference.
This is where your research from the newspaper itself comes into play. If the board has already stated a position on your issue. Good news: they care about your issue. Bad news:you can’t ask them to say the exact same thing again. You need to ask them to do something new that will make a difference – perhaps endorse legislation, applaud an outstanding volunteer or leader, commend a new community program, or hold accountable a person or an institution.
Fourth, get your facts straight. You will need to use only good, reliable data in your pitch to the editorial board. Double check facts and figures. You must know where your data comes from. If the editorial board asks where a statistic is from, you should be able to quickly tell them.
Fifth, write your pitch. Write an email or letter to the editorial board asking them to write an editorial on your issue. Be coherent, brief and on point. This is tough. Your letter should not be more than one page. Lay out your issue plainly. Be clear on how it impacts the community and how far-reaching it is. Point out how an endorsement or comment by the board can be in the public interest (not just in the interest of your organization).
Use your statistics and numbers. Reference if the board has discussed the matter before in print, but explain how what you are requesting is different (if they have written on something related to your issue before – be flattering and point out that you know they have a historic interest in XYZ, but now ABC is happening). Offer to meet in person to review the facts and discuss the issue. Include your contact information. If the issue is time-sensitive because of an upcoming vote, decision, or deadline, contact them well in advance (at least a couple of weeks).
Avoid buzzwords in your pitch. Everyone in the nonprofit world claims they are innovative, leading, collaborative and partnering but organizations or causes sometimes struggle to illustrate how they are these things. Embody these elements in your organization and tone, instead of loading your pitch with fluff and jargon.
Talk to Us: Have you pitched an editorial board successfully? Or unsuccessfully? What do you think helped or hurt your pitch? What advice would you share with others trying to approach an editorial board?
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.