Blake Farmer has a place on our team’s “Favorite Reporters” list. He’s responsive, collaborative and sharp. Public radio stations hold a lot of power in your media relations strategy. He provides some insight into how the public radio system works and how to pitch.

What do you think is the hardest element of a good story to get right in a pitch? What do people/companies struggle to “get right” in pitching you?

Unscripted people are often the hardest element to find in order to tell a compelling audio story. Usually, in my beat, these are patients, though they might also be front-line health care workers like nurses and physicians. The trouble is, I don’t want someone who has been coached and basically sounds like a spokesperson. But it’s nice to have some help getting me in front of these folks so I can find the right voices.

What kinds of stories do you like to tell? 

Stories with action are a much easier sell because action usually generates sound. And sound-rich stories are automatically more engaging than a story in which I have to get really creative to come up with some movement in the piece.  

The public radio sweet spot is an active story that also ties in with a national trend. So I’m less sold on pitches about a company or organization being the first or only to do whatever. Often, I’m more motivated by the possibility of spotlighting a trend or highlighting a broader issue, maybe with a little twist.

What’s your favorite pitch you’ve received that turned into a great story? 

A lab company pitched me a story about a new drug test that could tell if hypertension patients were actually taking their blood pressure medication as prescribed. This was interesting, on its face, because I didn’t realize compliance was a big issue.

I took a tour of the facility, saw the testing in action, and the company’s experts explained how it worked. But that wasn’t a very engaging story.

So I went to a local hypertension support group to find some patients who could talk about the temptation to not take blood pressure meds because of the lousy side-effects (like low energy and even low sex drive). They were marvelous. And at their gathering they talked about diet and took their blood pressure, which provided enough action to make the story move. But their unscripted discussion about the issue is what made the story memorable. One recalled how her father died because he didn’t stick with his daily blood pressure regimen, and she confessed that it had been tricky for her too.

What should readers understand about pitching their public radio station and NPR? 

Every public radio station is different. Mine doesn’t air many straight interviews. We leave most of that to the national hosts and focus our time on producing enterprise stories with multiple voices that uncover something new. But some stations have a daily show that depends on interview segments.

How can/do PR reps make your job easier? 

Don’t over-sell your story. Make sure people are available for interviews since press releases don’t talk. Understand that the piece almost certainly won’t be exactly what you were hoping for.

Top 3 things to have figured out/ready to go in your story before pitching a reporter especially for radio: who is available to talk, what kind of non-staged action is possible, how does this story fit in a broader context

Fill in the blank: I’m over covering groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings.

Thank you to Blake for the insights! Follow his coverage and his Twitter.