August 24, 2007

PR Interview: 8 Pitch Tips so You Get Featured in the Chicago Sun-Times

SUMMARY: This 10th-largest US daily has eight Pulitzers and is read by more than 2.6 million people every week. Earlier this year, the newspaper and Web site received a makeover and now boast more interactive features and a format that’s easier to read. We interviewed their business editor and Tech Matters columnist to find out what gets them interested enough to call you back.
Contact information
Daniel Miller
Business Editor
Chicago Sun-Times
350 N. Orleans St., 10th Floor
Chicago, IL 60654

Brad Spirrison
Business Columnist
Chicago Sun-Times

Miller served as chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission, publisher of Crain’s City and State newspaper, editor of Crain’s Chicago Business and Chicago Daily News. He joined the Sun-Times in July 1999 and edits the daily and weekend business sections of the newspaper.

Spirrison received his bachelor’s degree from Emory University and his master’s degree from New York University. He served as producer for Fox Sports and CBS and as associate editor of Private Equity Week. He is a co-founder and president of He writes the weekly Tech Matters column for the Sun-Times.

Circulation and readership
Total weekly readership: 2.6 million; weekday total average paid circulation: 382,796; Sunday readership: 1.4 million; Sunday total average paid circulation: 333,490. Source: ABC reader profile study March 2005-February 2006.

Examples of editorial coverage
The Sun-Times' main sections are: News, Commentary, Sports, Business, Entertainment, Lifestyles and Roger Ebert’s movie review column. The newspaper’s business section includes Technology, Currency, Futures, Personal finance, Portfolio and Stock Market.

Web site
The newspaper’s “jump2web” feature allows readers to locate the stories that interest them online, where they could access additional information that is related not only to the story, but also to their particular communities. In addition, the site has nine newsletters, including Sun-Times PM (a free downloadable afternoon edition with news, sports, stocks, crossword and Sudoku).

Those who prefer reading off the screen have the option of browsing the daily epaper that is included in the print subscription price. The benefits of this choice are enhanced navigation features, such as search by keyword, columnist, section and content. Also, readers can click on hotlinks to get more information on covered topics.

The site contains 14 blogs on topics, such as health, shopping and travel. On a similar note, they run a specific weekday feature related to Chicago lifestyle. These two-page features are: Monday’s The Ride, Tuesday’s Health, Wednesday’s Travel, Thursday’s Shopping and Friday’s Neighborhoods.

Sun Times Online has received the prestigious John C. Dvorak Award (Outstanding Online Newspaper) and a Peter Lisagor Award for design.

How to pitch
Miller’s four tips:
#1. Know whom to call. “Read the stories, note the bylines so you know who covers what beats.”

#2. Know when to call. Daily newspaper headlines are different from weekly ones, and reporters’ deadlines are different from editor’s deadlines. “When you pitch by phone or email, ask what time of day, day of week is best for a pitch that’s breaking news or features.”

#3. Know what to call with. Miller emphasizes the range of articles that area newspapers run: “A Sun-Times story is different from a Crain’s story or a Tribune story, and all are different from a WSJ story.” Note the section’s departments to find the appropriate space for your story.

#4. Know when to retreat. Their editors may not be interested in another story on the same tired topic or the subject may just not resonate with the editor. “Don’t try to argue him into accepting the story.” Spirrison concurs: “It’s annoying when publicists can’t take no for an answer.”

Spirrison’s four tips:
#1. Advances on news are welcome news to reporters.

#2. Publicists’ genuine interest in a particular topic might just land them an interview.

#3. Companies with little or no connection to Chicago-area business are wasting their time.

#4. Tailored pitches are a must. “If it is a form letter or semi-personalized with little or no relevance to my coverage area, it is not likely that I will reply.”

How to contribute to the Sun-Times
Readers can add to certain parts of the newspaper. For instance, Acts of Kindness is a section in which readers relay admirable deeds of Chicagoans. With What’s My Line, the audience gets a window into Chicago’s most interesting jobs. Our favorite section is ‘This Much I Know’ -- advice from the city’s dwellers on secrets to a great life.

If you have complaints, comments or suggestions, fill out their feedback form here:

Meet the Sun-Times’ editors
Meetings on site at your area of business works best, Spirrison says. “You get the individual within the context of what they do.” While he does accept lunch meetings, he has found that, while the company might be great, it’s not the most efficient use of professional time. However, he occasionally attends local conferences.

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