As part of our work on the NPR editorial coaching and development team, we’ve found that stations share many of the same questions and concerns with us. This advice column is one way to help make those questions and answers more public.
Share your feedback via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Submit your own questions for future installments of the advice column in this form.
Question: I have the idea for a blog for my station. How would one convince upper management that this project is worth the time and effort? What tips do you have for pitching digital projects?
We hear versions of this question a lot. Since every station is different, there is no absolute best way to pitch a project (Hey, there’s that ‘well, it depends…’ again!).
But no matter where you are or what your idea is, there are a few things to think about before pitching a project to your manager.
First take a look at it from the audience standpoint. Who are you trying to reach and is this the best way to serve them? If you don’t have that down, it will be hard to convince anyone that there’s a reason to say yes.
One method to do this is by starting very small – can you test out your idea, both to work out the kinks, and to use as a proof of concept?
But before you do any of that, read through the great advice from some people who have successfully pitched a variety of digital projects at their stations below.
(Their responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length)
Andi McDaniel, Director of Content Strategy and Innovation, Twin Cities Public Television
My first response to this question is this: Are you sure a blog is a good idea? As in, given your station's priorities, and biggest challenges, what makes you feel like a blog (or any other digital project you might advocate for), is the best use of limited resources? Start there. Maybe your answer is "it will increase our overall audience" or maybe it's "we need to take more risks or we'll never adapt"-- whatever it is, think through what it is that most convinces you this project is worthwhile.
If and when you decide that in fact your blog idea, or other digital project, is wise for your station to undertake-- dig up your station's strategic plan (or the closest thing you can find), and learn it forwards and backwards.
When you pitch your idea, pitch it in the language of that strategic plan. In other words, figure out how your idea helps your station fulfill goals that your leadership team has already articulated. That way, you're helping your station win a battle it has already chosen-- not suggesting a new battle.
I tend to think that most (smart, thoughtful) digital bets are worth taking-- not because I'm a fan of risk-taking for its own sake, but because digital risk-taking today is security tomorrow-- audiences are changing, and unless we engage in experiments now, we won't have the option of converting them into members tomorrow.
O’Higgins and Raletz both help with digital planning for the Beyond Our Borders series, which looks at how geographic borders affect the daily lives of Kansas Citians online and on-air.
Find a project that aligns with the station’s long-term goals. At KCUR, we are implementing a long-term community engagement strategy and are attempting to reach new, more diverse audiences outside of our main audio core.
The community engagement and digital teams massaged the Beyond Our Borders idea and we were able to pitch it, knowing that it aligned with our overall, long-term goals. Having this early buy-in from all staff was key in getting upper management’s attention.
Make sure your idea is formulated and you can show management other examples of similar projects that are successful. Also, have a timeline and process for assessing success, so management feels comfortable knowing when and how you will determine whether the blog is successful.
Dave Mistich, Digital Coordinator/Editor, West Virginia Public Broadcasting,
When it comes to pitching, it’s best in some cases to see how it works on your personal accounts to gauge whether or not it is worth the time. For #drawWV (which isn't a huge project by any means), I posted the photo to my accounts, noticed the response was huge, sent it to the bosses, and I did a fun social media call-out with it from our main WVPB accounts after I got the ok.
Being aware and able to react spontaneously is key, but so is being prepared.
For example, another project we worked on is an interactive map that detailed live election results. I sought help from another station before I pitched anything so I knew exactly what we were getting into. I also made sure that I had details on what it would entail financially.
Being able to balance spontaneity and preparedness can help your pitch become a reality.
Scott Finn, Executive Director and CEO, West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Finn oversees and receives many pitches for projects in his role as Executive Director at WVPB.
First of all, you need to do some research before you make a pitch, just like you would if you were doing a story.
Who makes the decision about projects like this -- the general manager, the news director, the program director, some combination?
Once you know who you need to convince, what are their major priorities? What's important to them, and how does your proposed project intersect with that?
And don't forget sustainability. As a journalist, it is not your job to raise the money to support your efforts. But you'll get a lot farther if you present credible ideas about how underwriting, grants and individual giving could help support your proposal.
Finally, keep it short. If you can't do the elevator pitch in two minutes and describe your project in one page, it's too long.
Knowing your organization’s strategic mission, doing your research, and thinking audience first are all key to pitching digital projects. Sure, you’ll still probably hear no sometimes, but hopefully this advice will help lead to more yes.
Submit your own question for advice here.
Read the first installment "Should reporters produce stories for radio and web?"