Creating the perfect pitch

(This is a slightly edited version of a posting to blog.ensmedia.co.uk)

It might look like summer outside (at last) but in publishing terms, we are already well into work on the autumn editions, and even starting to plan coverage for early 2008. So I thought it might be useful to post a few guidelines on what I am looking for in story ideas.

Note: this is what I find works for me; it might be that other writers for the titles concerned will have different views.

FT Digital Business

  • Synopses for Digital Business are published up to three months ahead of publication. That means that any suggestions for stories to cover need to be made 4-6 months out. In a similar vein, it might take 4-6 months before I am able to write a piece following a conference, meeting or interview, especially if it is background rather than for a specific piece.
  • Audio/visual content can have an even longer lead time, because the interview has to be tied in to the rest of the podcast and to the print edition.
  • As a general rule, I find the editors are most receptive to stories that are relevant to a global audience.
  • Likewise, case studies/customer interviews need to be with multi-national companies or organisations. There is no bias towards UK companies and indeed, pitches are often more successful if customers are drawn from further afield. US companies are always good, but it would also be good to see more examples from Asia, continental Europe and the emerging markets.
  • For vendor interviews, the spokesperson needs to have a global remit and ideally, be at board level or one level down. It is rare that I would interview someone from a local subsidiary (whether in the UK or anywhere else) unless there was a specific, national angle to the story. So no UK MDs or marketing directors.
  • I’m not too keen on marketing directors generally, unless the story is about marketing.
  • Research needs to be global; EMEA or UK research won’t be relevant.
  • I am interested in stories about what IT does for business, not how IT companies organise or run themselves, or what drives their share price (there are other outlets for these stories).

    (Updated 06 09 07): A quick note on deadlines
    The FT publishes deadlines for its special reports on the online synopses. These deadlines are almost always the deadlines for the writers to submit their work. For FT Digital Business these are around a fortnight prior to publication.

    Often I am working on several stories for the section, so I aim to complete all my research at least a week before the deadline, and ideally, two weeks prior. So please aim to pitch any ideas well in advance of the published deadline. And remember that running orders can and do change from time to time.

    The UK national press
    For the business pages:

  • A UK angle does help enormously here, but it has to be a strong story.
  • Even where the readership is in the UK, it’s unlikely that an editor will commission a profile or interview with the UK or EMEA MD. They want the head of the company, globally, or maybe one of the founders.
  • A large overseas company might not rank above a quoted UK company for coverage, even if it is 100 times larger. Many of the readers of the quality press are investors or shareholders, so quoted companies are always prefered and if their shares trade in London, so much the better.
  • Remember that technology is just one sector of the economy. Tech companies will compete for coverage with all other industries. A recent survey I undertook of UK fund managers investing in the US, for example, found just one pure IT company in their top 10 holdings (it was Microsoft, for the curious).
  • Technology is not just about IT, and I’m interested in technology in the broadest sense.
  • A company that is a heavy user of technology is just as interesting, maybe more interesting, than a technology vendor.

    More on this subject later…

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  • About stephenpritchard
    Freelance journalist specialising in business and technology, based in London (UK).

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