Simultaneous pitching – views from the other side of the desk
by Lesley Evans Ogden
For freelance journalists and producers, pitching is a make or break activity. And the traditional advice doled out to freelancers pitching their stories has been that simultaneous pitching – pitching the same story to multiple outlets simultaneously – is a no-no. Recently, this blog post by Scott Carney suggested that simultaneous pitching, or something he calls “market pitching” should be the norm. It raised a lot of discussion among freelancers, but I was curious to get the perspective of those on the receiving end of those pitches — editors and producers. So I sent out this request to editors and producers far and wide asking them this question:
Is simultaneous pitching* still a no-no? Why or why not?
(*e.g. to multiple venues with different platforms – print/web, radio/podcast, video/TV, or multiple venues on the same platform)
What I received back was a non-random, completely unscientific sample of anecdotal responses. Nevertheless they represent an interesting round-up of current views from editors and producers working in print, web, and radio.
Here’s what they said:
Steve Wadhams, Producer, Living out Loud, CBC Radio,Toronto
“People who pitch to my show (CBC Radio, “Living out Loud”) would obviously want to tailor the pitch to the show’s requirements (personal storytelling, Canadian story, etc). I prefer they don’t pitch to other shows but if they do they’d have to produce a different version anyway, to suit that show’s criteria. If they want to write something or do a blog, or use the audio in a way that’s clearly different from the way it would be used for a story for Living out Loud, I don’t mind.”
Joseph Rosenberg, Producer, Snap Judgment, National Public Radio
“I’m not against simultaneous pitching in theory, but when it comes to the public radio model, it’s usually not the best way to go, simply because the vast majority of public radio shows can’t afford to pay freelancers much at all, so the economic benefit of always selling a story to the highest bidder would be negligible (when I was a freelancer, I would have had to make at least ten times as much as I did before I could even entertain the thought of doing it full-time).
In the absence of any meaningful amount of money, the real benefit of freelancing in public radio is burnishing your reputation, your resume and – most importantly – your relationships. I got the staff producer job I have now because I freelanced for the show a few years earlier. If I had “market pitched” my story to multiple shows, I might very well have offended the editor who was interested while I waited to hear back from another editor who wasn’t, and I wouldn’t be writing to you today.
But to answer your question more directly:
The way things work right now is that I’ll take anywhere from 1-2 weeks to respond to a pitch. If the only email I received from you was your pitch and then I later learned that I was too slow (or too poor!) to nab the story for my show, well, I guess I couldn’t really complain. That said, if it happened a lot — especially if I was responding within the first week — I would start to lose my patience and eventually stop reading your pitches so as not to have my heart broken again. And if you led me on by rescinding a pitch after we had already begun genuine communication, simply because you got a better offer at another show late in the game — or if you withheld your committal indefinitely — I’d be very upset. Who wouldn’t? You’ll notice I’m using a lot of relationship metaphors. It’s because it’s a relationship.”
Richard Fisher, Editor, BBC Future. [via a series of 3 Tweets, so capitalization & punctuation added]
- “I think yes…[still a no-no] you might win one commission quicker in the short-term, but risks hurting the relationships for the long term.
- Having said that, it’s too easy for editors to sit on pitches & that’s not fair. Ask for reply after a week, then again & so on
- It’d be interesting if someone set up a website where freelancers could advertise their pitches…”
Tracy Hyatt, Editor, WestworldBC Magazine.
“Back when I started 15 years ago, it [simultaneous pitching] was a no-no because every publication wanted to have exclusive content… Nowadays, we’re seeing a lot of the content repeated all over the place. So you don’t really have any exclusivity on any content, or any ideas for that matter.
So back to your question of whether simultaneous pitching is still a no-no… Definitely not. Given that there are less opportunities out there, I’d highly encourage working freelancers and producers to pitch to multiple venues. That being said, when someone pitches me something, sometimes I like to know that they’ve also shopped it out…It doesn’t usually affect me because I usually have an idea of what that [other] publication might be interested in, so in the back of my mind I know – ‘ah they probably won’t take that, or they will’ – and it also encourages me to act faster on it. I want to get the article out before someone else does.
These days, you really want to pitch to outlets that you have a relationship with… There are so few opportunities that you really need to develop those relationships with editors, and that’s usually how you get those stories. When I have a relationship with someone they pick up the phone and tell me about their story and they are usually quite frank – [telling me that] ‘I’ve only pitched it to you’ or ‘I’m going to pitch it to these outlets.’
If I decide if I’m going to take the story – I can work the angle to my readership… Pitching me a theme, a subject, and idea, you’re not necessarily pitching me the entire narrative of the piece. You could have a story that you pitch to me and you could have three different outlets getting three different angles out of it.”
Jim Lebans, Producer, CBC Quirks and Quarks.
“We accept so few freelancer posts that this is rarely an issue for us. But on those rare occasions, we generally don’t have an issue with our freelancers serving several masters, whether it’s magazine/newspaper work, blogs, or other platforms.
Sometimes it actually helps us as it enables sharing the costs of travel/etc., essentially giving us more reporting than we could pay for by ourselves.
Caveats would be that duplication on the same platform would be an issue (we don’t want what is essentially the same re-purposed piece on another radio program). And a key issue would certainly be disclosure. We would certainly want to know that the reporting is being shared elsewhere, and with whom.”
Jim Handman, Executive Producer, CBC Quirks and Quarks.
I think it’s still a no-no. And I really appreciate when freelancers ask first.
Laura Helmuth, Science and Health editor at Slate magazine.
I think there are ways to do this that won’t irritate editors. His [Scott Carney’s] way probably will, and there aren’t all that many editors in the world. The problem is that it takes an editor’s time and concentration to engage with a pitch and decide whether it’s an obvious yes or no, or maybe something that would work well with a slightly different angle… and then there go 10 minutes, which is trivial in itself but adds up to most of the day for many editors. If an editor assumes the pitch is just for her publication (and that is still the default assumption) and replies and then finds out the story has already been sold, that’s super irritating. It’s happened to me a few times for pitches that I replied to on the same day, so it’s not like the writer had waited around and then tried another publication.
If a writer includes a mention in the pitch that she is working on this big story and thinks there may be multiple stories that could come of it and is suggesting this angle for X publication, that implies that she’s also in contact with other magazines and is completely fair and fine.
OR, if it’s time-sensitive, it’s totally fine to say “since this pitch is time sensitive, I’m pitching it to a few publications at once.” That has the three-fold effect of not surprising or irritating an editor if it’s bid on by multiple outlets, broadcasting your transparency and trustworthiness, and engaging the editor’s competitive spirit.
I would advise against Carney’s method until the industry standard is to market pitch. This may happen, and for freelancers’ sake I hope it does, but you probably don’t want to be on the vanguard. (In principle I’m all for collective action, but the cost to individual writers is still too high in this case, I think.)
So is simultaneous pitching still a no-no? Yes, say some. No, say others, suggesting that perhaps the landscape for pitching is gradually shifting. For many, the answer is a more nuanced maybe. Ultimately, a common thread from the advice above is that success in freelancing, including the success in pitching, often comes down to relationships. And we all know that relationships – whether personal or professional — are complex, dynamic, and ultimately fostered and nourished by a back and forth of common courtesy.
What are your own thoughts about and experiences with simultaneous pitching? Editors, producers, writers, we’d love to hear them as comments below.
For interest, here’s a sampling of older posts from around the web on simultaneous pitching:
Lesley Evans Ogden is a science writer-producer based in the burbs outside Vancouver, BC. She sometimes wishes there was an algorithm for the perfect pitch. But thinks life as a freelancer might be boring if there was one. Say hi on Twitter @ljevanso