12 tips to help you ace your next pitch
As a professional journalist, I spend a good portion of my work week reading pitches from hopeful publicists. While some of the pitches I receive are on-target and incredibly useful, the majority, sadly, are not. And so instead of being able to work on a story or find a useful source, I waste far too much time wading through off-topic or wholly incomprehensible pitches.
While many publicists learn key techniques during their studies or internships, there are some basics that aren’t included. The so-called soft skills that involve building and maintaining relationships instead of randomly peppering people with pitches in the hopes that one will be on target.
Here’s the thing, really great publicists understand how to connect their clients with the right journalists. They also understand that creating an ongoing relationship with the right reporter could prove more valuable than a single PR hit. And really great publicists also connect with journalists to understand both their likes and pet peeves.
In no particular order, here are some tips on how to better work with reporters while pitching or relationship building. We’ll be adding more advice in upcoming posts as well.
1. Make your message matter.
You have a limited number of words – and the writer you’re contacting has a limited amount of patience. While it can seem abrupt to get to the point immediately, try not to use so much flowery language and exposition, that the journalists you’re pitching stop reading mid-greeting. Be polite. Be friendly, and get to the point before they tune out.
2. Don’t make them figure out what you’re saying.
I can’t tell you how many pitches I receive that make absolutely no sense to me. Don’t assume that the journalist you’re pitching has any understanding of your client’s mission or messaging. In fact, assume that they’ve never heard of your client before. Try to offer a bit of background, or at the very least clarify what it is that you’re pitching.
3. Keep relevant information easy to find.
Oh, joy! Your pitch is on target and timely and the writer you’re pitching really wants to find out more about the company you mentioned. Only you forgot to include a link to their website and left out the CEO’s name and otherwise neglected to include the critical information that allows a reporter to do a bit of a deeper dive into your client.
4. Personalize or individualize your pitch.
While you’re busy and likely feeling pressure from your client or boss, that shouldn’t come across in your pitch. Take the time to include the reporter’s first name and spell it correctly. There are few things that cause me to tune out immediately like an email that begins: Dear [WRITER].
5. Skip the hearts and flowers.
Unless you know each other well and have professed our undying friendship, don’t start with an affectionate greeting or end with anything too personal. And while you’re at it, skip the x’s and o’s on pitches to total strangers.
6. Create a fantastic subject line.
Challenge yourself to pique the interest of the journalist in question. Try to set your pitch apart from the get-go by creating a subject line that’s almost irresistible. I receive hundreds of unsolicited pitches daily, when doing a quick scan through my inbox I inevitably read the emails that sound interesting.
7. Create a relationship, not a one off.
When pitching a reporter, understand that as well researched as your pitch is, it might not be relevant. But the next one might. By creating an ongoing relationship with a writer you sometimes bypass the crowd and they might come to you first for sources or pay more attention to your pitches the next time around.
8. Feedback is your friend.
For some reason many publicists bristle when being told their pitch is off-topic or irrelevant. If a writer is taking time to respond, it’s possible that something about your pitch did catch their interest. Pay attention to their feedback and fine-tune your next pitch.
9. Don’t underestimate freelancers.
Back in the day, publicists would prioritize pitches so staffers at print magazines were their first choice. While things have changed drastically— especially with the growth of digital journalism — some publicists still haven’t quite figured out how to work with freelancers. Depending on how many outlets the freelancer in question contributes to, you could be pitching a dozen publications instead of just one.
10. Do your homework.
It is not a journalist’s job to educate you on who they write for and what they write about. It also is a huge turnoff to be pitched a topic they haven’t written about in years. Look up their profile on Muckrack or a similar site to have an idea of what their recent stories are about and who they’re writing for before pitching. Or check out their social media profiles to see if they’re posting recent stories which will give you a bit more intel as well.
11. Don’t keep asking when a story will run.
Writers spend a good portion of their day, well, writing. In addition to that, they network with editors and other writers, research their stories, edit their stories, find sources, interview sources, promote their work on social media and more. If a reporter tells you that they don’t know when a story will run, trust them on it. Sending follow-up emails won’t magically make a run date appear. It will annoy them though.
12. Don’t pout if your client isn’t featured.
At the end of the day, there’s always an editorial hierarchy. A reporter might love your client’s quote and then have it edited out of the final version. Trying to make a writer feel guilty about it won’t cause them to sneak your client back in, it’ll probably make them avoid you in the future.
At Segal Communications we understand that while we work for our clients, journalists are our partners in the process.