Expert Advice: Pitching Picture Stories to Magazines

Jan 25, 2012
Expert Advice

In July of 2011 Honolulu-based photographer, Marco Garcia, contacted us about a project that he wanted to pitch to magazines around the country. Over the previous few months, Marco had photographed a series of portraits of Pearl Harbor veterans and, after collecting their stories and obtaining a library of images, he was convinced that the project would be a fantastic fit for publications looking for content for the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I worked with Marco to develop a tailored list of news and photojournalism-focused magazines that I thought would be looking for content related to the anniversary, and I quickly started to compile contact information of photo editors, directors of photography, web editors and art directors. My list included large publications such as Newsweek, National Geographic, and the New York Times, as well as smaller, more targeted magazines such as Naval History Magazine and the Naval Institute Press.

Marco originally supplied a large library of images, which our photo editors weighed in on to help him create a strong selection of great images to present. Next, our publicity director Maria Luci took his written proposal and helped him rework the wording in order to present a concise, well-written story that would capture the attention of our prospects. I then began a series of emails to pitch the story, including a few samples of his work and a link to his website. Here is what the email looked like (click to enlarge):

Email sample

Over the next few days, I followed up with phone calls to every contact that I sent the proposal too. The majority of the calls went straight to voice mail, which is to be expected, and it allowed for another opportunity to tell the story. Let’s face it, magazine editors are very busy, and they don’t always have time to chat about future stories when they’re concentrating on closing an issue. I’ve found the most important part of pitching a story is just to have patience. Receiving a return phone call is rare, and I’ll often receive email responses weeks later showing interest in a project.

I was eventually able to get a handful of contacts on the phone to remind them of the story, and I had some great conversations to learn more about what they are looking for and how Marco’s story might fit into their publication. About a week later, something finally stuck. I received an email response from a photo editor at Smithsonian Magazine who was interested in presenting the story to his editors. He liked the images and thought the story would be timely, so we began to correspond about what sort of additional content Marco had to supplement the story.

It was apparent that the photos would most likely be a better fit for the website, rather than the magazine, but this would allow the opportunity for multimedia and a wide reach on the web to people who may not subscribe to the magazine. Marco was able to reach out to his contacts at the USS Arizona Pearl Harbor Memorial, and began to talk about obtaining audio interviews from the veterans. While the audio didn’t end up being used in this case, supplemental content (interviews, slideshows or videos) can add to the value of your package and improve the chances of having your story picked up. Fortunately, Marco did have personal accounts from the stories the veterans told him, and this proved to be a great addition to the photo essay.

After corresponding about the story over the next few weeks, the photo editor confirmed that the photos would run on the website in a slideshow format along with written content for each image. A few months later on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, Marco’s images ran on the magazine’s website. Here’s a screen shot:

Marco Garcia's photos of Pearl Harbor Survivors

Overall, both Marco and the team at Smithsonian were very pleased with the results, and the images proved to be a fantastic addition to a timely story.

To recap, here are the main points to successfully pitch a story:

  1. Have enough content to tell the whole story. A completed (or nearly completed) project is more attractive than just an idea for a project.
  2. Make sure your project is newsworthy and will appeal to a wide enough audience.
  3. Present your story idea, images, and other content in a clear concise way so that even a busy editor can understand it quickly.
  4. Think multimedia. Interviews, audio, motion pictures, and slideshows will add interest to your story.
  5. Have someone edit your proposal. Your project makes sense to you, but it’s important to make sure it will make sense to others. Make it brief, attention-grabbing, and free of any typos and grammatical errors.
  6. Do your research to find publications that are appropriate for your project. It’s better to put a lot of energy into pitching a small group of clients.
  7. Accept the possibility of web use. Not all stories are fit for print, so expect that your images may be a better fit for web use, and refer to tip #4 to make sure you are ready for this.
  8. BE NICE and don’t be offended when you’re rejected or ignored.
  9. Remember that whether your story gets picked up or not, pitching stories is a great way to cultivate relationships with clients who are important to you. So even if it doesn’t work out this time, you’re laying the groundwork for other opportunities in the future.