Journalists receive hundreds of emails every day. So, how can you ensure your pitch doesn't end up in the trash bin?
In this post, I’ll share my top tips for writing a pitch that will actually get noticed by the media.
During my 20 years working in PR, I have noticed that the pitches which get picked up by the media are those which:
- Get straight to the point.
- Address the recipient by name – be sure to spell the name correctly!
- Present an idea in a succinct statement which suggests a realistic story opportunity.
- Quickly highlights the high points of the company’s recent achievements, if you have any.
- Are not pushy.
- Are not overly friendly, or too formal either. Never start your pitch with ‘Dear sir’ or a plain ‘Hi’ on its own.
- Look like you have done your homework in order to provide a useful idea that is aimed at the recipient – rather than the media in general.
Sounds like hard work? Well, it is. It’s like selling without the remuneration at the end. Hopefully, your reward payment will be in the form of coverage and links.
Here are a few tried and tested rules to follow:
- Read the journalist’s previous written work. Check their interests and their tone of voice. Are they friendly or formal?
- Read their content thoroughly and avoid statements like: “I noticed you have covered mattresses and pillows last month. Would you be keen to write about that again?”
- Deliver a ‘ready-made’ story. It is our job to let the reporter know how your idea would make their life easier.
- Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes. Would you like to receive the email you are sending them?
Understanding Your Target Publication
Once you know what publication you are targeting, make sure you understand what their writing style is. For example, would an infographic about sexy lingerie, no matter how tastefully done, be appropriate for the Guardian’s website? Yes, they write about consumer products but realistically would they use it? The answer is probably not.
In PR the Story is King
People love a good story and editors are no different. Identify the story you want to pitch then:
- Present your story’s angle in a succinct way.
- Don’t go for the hard sell.
- Get your timing right. Start by sending an email, then leave it for at least an afternoon, or a day, then get in touch again.
If the idea is a good one, some reporters will respond right away. Some reporters may even be courteous enough to respond even if they don’t want to use your story.
Calling or Not Calling?
In the 90s, calling a reporter after sending an email was the norm in PR but in 2017 this is only considered necessary in urgent cases. For example, is the paper going to print tonight, or tomorrow, and you want to make sure they received the email they were expecting from you? In this case, calling is your best option. Cover your back by ensuring they have all the information they need.
Black Friday is another good example of this. When your window is so small (e.g.: 48 hours, a weekend only), calling a journalist may be helpful and is less likely to be seen as annoying.
If you decide to call, always refer to your earlier email, and as a matter of courtesy, re-send it so they can refer to it as they chat it through with you.
If you can’t reach the reporter, don’t call back repeatedly. They could be on holiday, or at a trade show, or press conference.
If you leave a message, one message a day is ample. Even if a reporter has their mobile number in their email signature, refrain from using it unless the matter is genuinely urgent. They’ll appreciate the courtesy you show by reaching out in the ways they most like to be contacted.
Me, Myself, and I
Unless you are the White House, Buckingham Palace, or MI5, as a rule, general news about your company is unlikely to be an interesting topic for highbrow reporters to cover. Your company needs to be part of a broader story, or have an important message to deliver.
Offering exclusivity is a good way to get a reporter’s attention, if you are prepared to do so.
Crawl Social Media sites
Use social media to look for useful information. I find Twitter particularly useful for getting clues about where a journalist is on a particular day, and what are they doing. For example, if they tweet that they have just landed at the Furniture Show in Vegas that may help explain why your email has received no reply.
Recently, I’ve also noticed that journalists will respond to direct messages through Twitter faster than they respond to emails. Use this to your advantage but avoid coming across like you are stalking them!
You must take it on the chin and respect the journalist’s final right to decline a pitch, or not to reply to your email at all. Don’t get upset, or take it personally.
When you feel the urge to send a mass PR pitch in future, please bear these points in mind. You too can win the PR jackpot by pitching a unique story with a great angle!