The art of the pitch

In our fast-paced news business, journalists and public relations professionals might only get a few sentences to pitch a story. Learn from newsroom leaders and on-air talent about the fundamentals of pitching, what show executives are looking for and how to separate a good pitch from an amazing one.  

CNBC anchor Carl Quintanilla is joined by:

  • Tom Mazzarelli, executive producer of the TODAY Show
  • Tracey Eyers, executive editor of NBC News’ Race, Equality and Justice Unit
  • Maria Luisa Tabares, director of digital news content for Noticias Telemundo.

Watch the recording of our livestream above, including a live critique of real NBCU News Group pitches beginning at 15:24, or read some key takeaways below.


Four takeaways

  • A news peg – timeliness or newsworthiness that makes people want to watch or read. 
  • Characters – people the story focuses on who ground the piece and add emotion.
  • An original angle – a story that hasn’t already been done before.
  • An audience in mind – the story should be relatable to the publication’s readers or show’s viewers.

How much research and reporting should be done before a pitch is approved?

Tracey Eyers: You want to do due diligence, whether it’s research, making calls, making sure you can deliver. Along the way, things could change. You could line up a voice and a location, and then pitch it out, and it could change. It’s still on you to deliver what you promised. Sometimes it’s an email, and I always say: “Let’s keep it short and sweet, first to get it bought and then develop it out and build out the story.”

Maria Luisa Tabares: If you have the characters identified already, that would be perfect. But if you don’t, at least you have to know which kind of characters you are looking for.

What helps a pitch to get immediately greenlighted?

Tom Mazzarelli: If there’s some amazing visual that you’ve never seen before, or you think is perfect for your platform. Kerry Sanders is one of our great correspondents. He consistently pitches things that have an amazing live shot along with the story itself. Those things tend to get an immediate yes.

How do you know when your pitch is ready?

Eyers: Sometimes you have to trust your gut, which does take a little bit of time. But think: Is this exclusive? Is this timely? Is this original? If I don’t pitch this out now, will I lose the story? Those are things that may make you pitch it without it being fully fleshed out, because of the timeliness.

Mazzarelli: There are times where we say yes, in theory. Come back to us when you can get X and Y or Z, and then there’ll be a final green light. That pitching process can be extended; it’s not an automatic yes or no. It can be, “Hey, are you theoretically into this story if we can get this person or this element?” And oftentimes we’ll say, “Yes, come back to us.”

If you’re new at pitching, how can you establish credibility with your pitches?

Tabares: I think a good story is a good story, independent of where it’s coming from. If you’re new at this, you have a great opportunity to bring something original to the table, and you don’t have to be afraid. We intend to create a culture of pitching so people are not afraid to pitch.

It’s about persistence and getting the right story or getting the things that you’re missing from the original pitch.

I agree with Tom, it’s not always a green light or an immediate yes. Sometimes it takes time, sometimes it’s developed gradually and you give the reporter the option to explore the story a little bit more.