Tip One: Find out when their press day is
And never, ever call them on that day. Firstly, because it won't have any effect, and secondly because you will annoy the editor involved and they will always think of you as an annoyance. How do you find out when the press day is? Phone them up and ask whoever answers is the easiest. For a lot of publications it is simple to work out. If a local newspaper is published on a Tuesday, press day will be Monday.
Tip Two: Pitch stories when they are looking for them
To follow on from the previous example, they will be having an editorial planning meeting to decide what will be in the next edition. Probably about 11 am on Tuesday morning. So an ideal time to send the correct person an email pitching a story would be 9-10 am on Tuesday. If you have formed a relationship with the journalist concerned, you could ask them when's a good time to pitch.
Tip Three: Learn the Media Cycle
With a lot of online news sites, content can be uploaded immediately. However, more traditional media have news cycles, which can be very long. Monthly magazines have their features planned a year ahead. In other words, if you want to pitch something Christmas-related, it probably needs to happen around August or September. Not later. The good news is that most magazines' advertising department will send you the features calendar, in the hope you will advertise, for example holidays in June. That would tell you that you could pitch something holiday-related for the June issue. That usually means 6 weeks before it is published.
Tip Four: Tell stories
The media need people-centric narratives. Company X have just released a new widget is not a story. How a teenage boy invented a widget to clean football boots in an eco-friendly way is. For a real example have a look at Boot Buddy.
James Randerson, a Guardian editor, says, “Email is mostly best for an initial approach. Include a clear and concise top line that sums up the story. If you are pitching news, this is probably the top line of your story. Follow that with 100 words or so of context and background. This should be information that backs up your top line and helps to explain its significance. Then give a brief summary of who you are including which publications you have worked for previously. That will help your editor to get a feel for your writing credentials.”
Tip Five: Be polite but persistent
If you receive no reply to your email, and you probably won't, then you should wait a few days (unless it is an urgent news piece) and follow up, with either an email or a short polite, phone call. I generally follow up three times unless I get a definite no. This is a guideline – if I phone up and someone says, “She's on holiday. Back next week.” I can be pretty sure that the editor hasn't read my emails so I need to retry say on the Tuesday after she returns – reckoning that on the Monday she will be far to busy catching up.
Finally, you always need to keep in mind that media people aren't intentionally rude, they are just snowed under with emails. Be polite, especially on the phone, understand their needs. Then, even if you don't get a result this time, you are setting up a good line of communication for the next time.