A simple guide to Irish Media Deadlines by MediaHQ.
‘Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing’ – Miles Davis
Being successful with a pitch to a journalist is like that line from Al Pacino’s famous speech in the movie Any Given Sunday. He says that in football, as in life, the margin for error is so small that one half a step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it. In pitching, one-half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it. PR is like football when it comes to timing and just like a well-timed cross can be headed straight into the back of the net, a well-timed email, press release or phone call can get your story on some of the biggest shows in Ireland. Here are a few tips to help you understand the importance of timing and deadlines when pitching stories.
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Pitch on a Sunday
- Irish Times
A recently retired Irish Times journalist told us that he worked every second Sunday, but dreaded the slow pace in the office at the weekend. Monday to Friday would see a tsunami of emails but Sunday was different. Government Departments, Gardai and public bodies never sent press releases on Sunday’s meaning he had fewer emails and less content to choose from. He felt more relaxed on a Sunday and open to new ideas and pitches. This was backed up by a tabloid reporter who worked with the Daily and Sunday Mail. Sundays are a day when they are searching for content. Pitch then. Schedule the email if you are off.
- Local Radio
Consider this about local radio. No one wants to work on Sunday as it is the most boring day in the newsroom. The few press releases that were sent in made it on air. For the most part, the Sunday slot is given to part-timers, interns and retired journalists who were doing a nixer. If you are pitching to national media on Sundays, including a pitch to some of the larger local radio stations. They have big local audiences.
- Newstalk Radio
Newstalk radio operates with a skeleton staff on Sundays. The only Primetime (Monday to Friday, 7am – 7pm) show that would have any producers in the station on Sunday is the Breakfast show. They source Sunday papers for content for Mondays show. It is a great time to pitch to an often tired producer who just wants to wrap up the show and get home. A senior Breakfast show producer would start in Newstalk offices around 1pm or 2pm on Sunday and officially work until 9pm -ish. Contact them around 2.30pm when their mind is still fresh.
- Communicorps Network News
Communicorp runs a common newsroom based in Marconi House in Dublin 2 which creates news for Today FM, Newstalk and local stations like Dublin’s 98FM. The group also has the network news contract to supply 28 local and regional radio stations with national news clips and an out of hours service. Every one of those 28 local stations will have access to the national news clips which they can use on their own in-house bulletins from 8am to 6pm. As most local radio newsrooms close after 6pm, they use a standard Network News bulletin on the hour until their own newsroom reopens again the following morning at 8am.
Getting a news clip into the Network News bank is one of the best kept secrets in the business. Communicorps Network News is understaffed, in particular on Sundays. They need content. One interview or clip in the system has the potential to be broadcast across 28 local stations with a combined listenership of over a million people and repeated every hour for up to eight hours. It is an incredible target. If pitching to the Communicorp Newsdesk, make sure and send an email early and follow up with a call. Be sure not to call near or before the top of the hour because they are either getting ready to go on air or are on air reading a bulletin. A quarter after the hour is the best time for a call. Sinead Spain is the head of news and is often on the desk. Ask for her first.
Normally, pitch early in the day
- The Irish Times
The average Irish Times journalist starts at 7am or 8am every morning. A journalist we spoke to in the Irish Times described himself as being more receptive to approaches in the morning and more reflective on what kind of stories he wanted to create. He was starting with a blank canvass and looking for content to bring to the editorial meeting which usually took place around 11am. The first thing he would do is check the news desk emails and then his wider emails. There would be a “tsunami of emails” to get through so most were skipped or opened on the basis of what was in the subject line. Don’t forget, it is 8am and he has to have a few stories to present at the editorial meeting at 11am. He is busy. If you send it at 8am or 8.30am, then you pop up directly in front of him as a new email.
After 10am and he is already working on stories and ideas for the editorial meeting so you have probably missed the boat. He would do another check of his emails again before he went to lunch but the pitch would have to be even stronger to grab his attention at this stage because he has already presented his ideas at the editorial meeting. His advice is never to send a press release in the afternoon. Never. He describes how hectic things can get around 4pm in the print newsroom as the print deadline approaches and articles need to be submitted for sub-editing. At that stage, he mused, the story would want to be a falling government to make it into the following day’s paper. The Irish Times generally went to print before 9pm every day.
- The Irish Independent
The Irish Independent is similar to the Times. Staff are in early in the morning and would have two editorial meetings, one mid-morning and the other in the afternoon around 4.30pm. If pitching breaking news, then contact the newspaper early in the morning. 8am is a good time to drop them a mail with news content. You can pitch up to 11am if the breaking news piece is strong but the earlier the better. The editorial team starts with the back pages and works their way up to page one. They would wrap up the paper around 8pm to go to print. Feature pieces come from the day before. The sweet spot to hit the Indo with a feature piece is at 8am on Tuesday morning. The feature staff just start their week and are looking for fresh content for the Weekend Magazines. By Friday, they will have filled the pages.
- The Maura and Daithi Show on RTE ONE
The Maura and Daithi Show on RTE ONE has two researchers, one assistant producer and one senior producer. The team come into the Cork offices at 8am. Their first production meeting is at 9.15am. That is a general production meeting for the show. Directly after this meeting, they have a news editorial meeting at 10am to decide what stories they want to cover in the live news panel at 4.30pm on the show. If you are trying to get an item covered on the news panel you have to pitch it between 8am and 8.30am at the latest. Follow up before 9am and ask for Brian Hurley who is in charge of the news agenda. The news panel itself goes out between 4.30pm and 5pm. Panellists are normally booked months in advance and it is possible to pitch panellists for the show. Due to Covid19, they are currently booking panellists on a weekly basis. The best time to email or call the show is between 8am and 8.30am at the latest. They are more focused on health, entertainment, food fashion and light items. They advise to pitch up to three weeks in advance for a feature item. We are told they have a soft spot for Irish surveys on the show. They meet at 10am on Friday mornings to plan the structure of the following weeks show so a call at 9am on a Friday morning could be good timing.
- The Newstalk Breakfast Show
The Newstalk Breakfast show crew starts arriving into Newstalk from 5am. The producers and researchers work in two shifts, the first runs from 5am to 2pm and the second runs from 2pm to 10pm. For the Breakfast show always try and catch someone at the start of their shift when they are looking for content at 5.30am or at 2.30pm. Those deadlines give them a half hour to settle in and grab a coffee. On the early shift the Breakfast crew will first scour the papers and sit down for an editorial meeting somewhere around 6am. Once they decide on that morning’s breaking news content, they will start chasing calls before the show comes on air at 7am. After 6am, the schedule is already decided so you may have missed the boat. There are a number of less time sensitive items on the running order which would have been set up from the day before so that is why it pays to target the evening shift producer at 2.30pm or 3pm when they are fresh. The show’s team typically have a conference call with the presenters at 6pm or shortly after to finalise a rough outline of what will be on the show the following morning.
- Morning Ireland
Morning Ireland on RTE Radio 1 has twice the amount of staff that Newstalk Breakfast has. It’s the biggest and most successful news radio show in Ireland. The editor Shane McElhatton is a thoughtful editor who takes his time considering each item. His normal working hours are from approximately 9am to 6pm depending on what’s happening. There are two shifts – one goes from 4.30am to noon and covers the programme on the air. On this shift is the editor for the day, two presenters and an online producer. The other shift goes from lunchtime to some time between 10pm and midnight depending on what’s happening. It is generally covered by two people. The show team has two briefings in the evening one at 7pm and one after the 9pm news. Whilst all of this is going on the news, business and sports desks of RTÉ are feeding into the show. It is a big production.
- The Pat Kenny show
The Pat Kenny show normally reserves the first hour of the show for breaking news. That is 9am to 10pm. The team arrives into the station from 7am and starts by reading the papers. Most of the content for the first hour of the show is taken from the papers. They tend to chase the same spokespeople who were used in the papers on air. They would have an established list of spokespeople so try and get on that list. If you want to get on the radio, it helps to first get in the papers. After 10am, the show usually focuses on less time specific items that it has prepared from the day before. There are a number of weekly slots like Ask the Expert and a weekly slot with Prof. Luke O Neill. The best time to contact the show with breaking news content is between 7am and 8am. After that, the show’s team are chasing guests and not interested in new segments. For less time sensitive items, email the show at 12pm. The show is just coming off air and the team will have a quick post show meeting and start looking for new items for the following day.
Don’t assume all shows prefer a pitch at the crack of dawn
- The Hard Shoulder on Newstalk
The Hard Shoulder on Newstalk team will start arriving into the office from 9am and start working on content for the show immediately. The show opens with breaking news and follows a similar format to the other shows on Newstalk. As the show goes on, it focuses more on feature pieces and regular slots. The best time to email the producer Mark Simpson is around 9am to catch them when they are most receptive and open to ideas. Producers find they are more open to ideas in the first hour they are in the office. After that, they start getting tired and bogged down in the business of the show. The show will be largely put together by early afternoon, 2pm, and goes live at 4pm. Unless you have pitched them before 10am, leave it.
- The Sean O’Rourke Show (replacement TBA June 2020)
The Sean O’Rourke Show runs between 10am and 12pm. A final running order for the show is put together for 9.30am. They meet after the show, not before it like other radio shows. Most of the show’s segments are filled from the day before with a few gaps left to be filled on the morning of the show. Their focus is largely news. The best time to pitch the show is before 9am for that day’s show or after the show between 12pm and 2pm for the following day.13. The Ray D’Arcy ShowThe Ray Darcy radio show production meeting takes place between 10.30am and 11am every morning. The items for that day’s show are normally decided then. The team comes in at 9.30am and reads the papers for an hour before each pitching ideas at the production meeting.
A researcher on the show has said that the best time to email them is 9.30am making it one of the first emails they open when they arrive. She also said they tend to go with emails that are on top of the pile, because “you start to lose interest when you hit email 50”. You should follow up with a call just before the production meeting at 10am. Don’t pitch the show after 10am.
- The Ireland AM Breakfast show
The Ireland AM Breakfast show runs from 7am to 10.30am. A producer comes in at 4am to get things started. She is joined by a researcher at 6am. The rest of the team don’t come in until 10am. We spoke to a former senior producer on the show who said they get a lot of pitches but that the best time to pitch an idea is between 11.30am and 12pm Monday to Friday. The team has a de-brief directly after the show at 10.30am for half an hour. They don’t like direct calls to their mobiles but are open to texts and emails or by calling their landline. The team prefers not to take calls during the live show and put together most of the show from 11am onwards. Sunday is not a great day to pitch this particular show as they only tend to have a junior researcher in the building.
- The Irish Daily Mail
The Irish Daily Mail operates two shifts for staff, 11am to 7pm is the main shift and they operate a second 1pm to 9pm shift for a smaller number of staff. They have a morning news conference on the floor of the Daily Mail at 12pm where news items are picked out for the day. Most staff will take lunch after that meeting and spend the afternoon chasing the stories they were allocated at the 12pm meeting. There is little point in pitching a tabloid after 12pm unless the story is important breaking news. From 11am to 12pm, journalists have just come in and are under pressure to get stories for the news meeting at 12pm. Email them anywhere between 9am and 11pm to make sure you are at the top of their inbox and if you must follow up with a call, do it after 11am and before 12pm. Several tabloid journalists have said they don’t like taking calls as they are on a tight working schedule.
- The Star
Like most other Tabloids, the Star newsroom will have a conference on the newsroom floor around mid-morning. Reporters will spend the afternoon chasing up on the details of the story. Email the Star reporters between 9am and 11am for maximum exposure. The same rule of thumb applies to the Irish Sun and the Irish Mirror. The Mirror are particularly good for publishing content presented in the format they like.
- Ireland’s Regional Radio
Most regional radio stations have one leading current affairs show in the morning that typically runs between 9am and 11am or 12pm in some cases. Contacts for all those shows can be found in MediaHQ.com. They are powerful shows in that they usually attract a large local listenership and will be easier to get on. Below are some examples or regional radio current affairs show schedules: • Radio Kerry – Kerry Today, 9am – 11am. • Limerick’s Live95 – Limerick Today, 9am – 12pm • Corks Red FM – Neil Prenderville show, 9am – 12pm • Clare FM – Morning Focus, 9am – 11am. • South East FM – Morning Mix, 10am – 12pm• Galway Bay FM – Galway talks, 9am – 12pm• KFM – Kildare Today, 9am – 11amThe regional radio current affairs show crew typically start between 7am and 8am and work until 4pm or 5pm. Almost all of them have just one member of staff and the presenter so are resource-starved. Those journalists will also be involved in the general functions of the newsroom. Most of them will put the bones of the show together the previous day and leave very little to put together on the morning of the shows. If your content is location-specific to that area and of high breaking news value, contact the show just before 8am. If it is less time-specific and in particular if it is not specific to the area, contact the show 15 minutes after they come off air. They have a cup of coffee and sit down to plan the following day’s show and this is when they are most receptive to a pitch.
Learn to understand deadlines
- There are no definitive rules
When it comes to deadlines. Normally the right time to pitch to a journalist and a show is the time at which it suits that individual journalist best. If in doubt about a shows or newspapers deadline, use MediaHQ to get their number, call up and ask them when they would prefer a pitch. Most journalists will appreciate that you asked. If you are pitching breaking news and it is a valuable scoop, then pitch it as soon as possible. If your pitch is a feature piece or isn’t time sensitive, you won’t have much luck pitching it an hour before the print or broadcast deadline.
- Real Deadlines:
The Irish Times doesn’t go to print until 9pm every night but as we have seen above, the real deadline is 11am in the morning when journalists bring their ideas to the editorial meeting. The real deadline for the Today show with Maura and Daithi is not when the show goes on air, it is 9.15am when they go into their first production meeting for news stories. For feature stories, the show has a pitch time of two to three weeks. Understanding deadlines is more about understanding when a producer or journalist makes the decision to include an item or not and what factors they use to help them to make that decision.
To get this right, you need to develop ongoing relationships with production teams. You should know their habits, times of their production meetings, how they make decisions and what time they would be most open to hearing a pitch. That information is gold.
- Local print media will give you a print deadline over the phone.
For example, the Southern Star in Cork goes to print on Wednesday night for publication on Thursday. Similarly, Kerry’s Eye in Tralee goes to print at 12pm on Wednesday for publication on Thursday. If you have a feature piece and submit it at 11am on Wednesday, it is too late and will probably get lost between the cracks. Most of the paper will be filled at that point. Most local papers come out on Thursday, Friday or in some cases Saturdays. They will be most in need of fresh content at the start of the week on Monday morning or at the latest, Tuesday morning. Pitch at 9am Monday morning.
Feature pieces and deadlines
- Know the team behind the show
Pitching a feature piece requires some understanding of the show and the team behind it. Shane McElhatton, Editor of the RTE Morning Ireland radio show has a keen interest in historical matters. That one small piece of information could make all the difference in knowing where to pitch a historical item. Shane is considerate and likes to spend a day thinking about how he could cover the feature on the show. So don’t pitch him a piece on Thursday afternoon expecting it to be covered the next day.
- Know the talent behind the show and who makes the calls
Ivan Yates on Newstalk is known to insist on covering anything to do with horse racing and the industry. He calls most of the shots when it comes to what makes it to air. A previous colleague of Irish Independent columnist Sarah Carey said she would jump at anything that related to the divide between rural and urban Ireland. A good PR practice is to have a spreadsheet of the interests of the presenters and their teams that they are pitching to. You can get this by speaking to journalists, listening to their shows and reading their articles. Also, find out who largely makes the decisions. On the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk, it’s Pat Kenny but on RTEs Morning Ireland, it is more likely to be the Editor, Shane McElhatton
- Deadlines for feature pieces are longer
Deadlines for feature pieces are further out than normal so give yourself plenty of time to pitch them. The Today Show on RTE prefers a two to three week pitch time for feature pieces. Newstalk can be a little more flexible and informal and tend to have lead in times of days for feature pieces. Most of the monthly magazines can require feature pitches three months in advance.
- Over commissioning of articles
One issue to be aware of is magazines and newspapers over commissioning feature items so that they have a bank of content at all times. A former Irish Times journalist said that it became a source of great frustration to the Irish Times journalists that feature pieces were getting delayed in a backlog of commissioned articles. Some would be approved but never printed. In many cases, the article may end up getting printed after you need the publicity. Try and find out if there is a backlog of commissioned pieces and when they will get around to publishing your pitch.
- The Covid19 impact and deadlines
Media outlets are under incredible pressure since the beginning of the Covid19 outbreak. Every media outlet has implemented pay cuts and temporary layoffs. With this in mind, it is likely that staff are under pressure to produce more content in a fast-paced busy content cycle, for less money. Don’t be demanding when it comes to inquiring whether your content has made the cut. Be realistic about what type of content media outlets are looking for in a crisis. Whilst the news cycle is calming down, it is still wall to wall negativity. Media outlets realise that their customers want some positivity so they are actively looking for cute stories of resilience, coming together and community spirit. Can you provide that? Also, don’t forget that most journalists are largely working remotely so maybe using their gmails and mobiles more. Maybe start a follow-up call with a chat about how lockdown is going for them? Journalists, although tough, are just like everyone else.
Understanding deadlines and pitching at the right time will make the difference between a successful pitch and a wasted effort. There are no universal rules that make pitching and deadlines an exact science. Great pitching requires a deep understanding of the media landscape within which you are pitching. You should know who is behind every major show, the time they come into the office and what time they make decisions. Most of this information can be put together with the help of MediaHQ and a few phone calls. Build a database of specific interests of presenters, writers and journalists and know who calls the shots on a particular show or editorial function. Experienced PR people know that to put the ball in the back of the net, to land your pitch on some of the country’s biggest shows, you have to know the right deadline and the right time to press send or pick up the phone!
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Jack is a media innovator with over 20 years of experience at the most senior level in the Irish communications industry. He has worked in marketing, journalism, and media relations. He is a former political spokesperson and government advisor, as well as an award-winning corporate PR practitioner.
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