Pitching to journalists is an essential part of PR, and it’s crucial to get the process right if you want a notable media outlet to cover your story. Remember that pitching is a skill in itself and taking some time to master it will pay dividends over time as your clients land coveted TV spots or hit the headlines. These days journalists’ inboxes are flooded with pitches, and it’s impossible for them to cover all the stories on offer, so making yours stand out – for the right reasons – is key. Here’s some advice on how to do it.
For those who are new to PR, let’s begin with a quick overview of exactly what a pitch is. Essentially, it’s a short message that outlines what your story is, why it’s interesting, and why the journalist that you are contacting should cover it. It’s your attempt to capture their attention and make them want to find out more. These days almost all pitching is done via email, although it’s also possible to do it over the phone or social media – if the journalist in question requests this. You can normally find out an individual journalist’s or publication’s preferences for how they want to receive pitches online. Remember that a pitch is not the same as a press release, which provides journalists with the entire story so that they can cover it without even needing to contact you.
Sending a generic email to thousands of journalists in a scattergun approach is much less likely to achieve meaningful results compared to sending a few personalized pitches to people who you know will be interested in your story. This method saves you time on irrelevant pitches and also ensures that you look professional. In addition, if you tailor your messages, you will find it easier to build meaningful relationships with journalists and work with them on a regular basis. At a very basic level, that means addressing the recipient by name wherever possible rather than using a generic greeting.
Take the time to find out what sort of topics a specific outlet or individual journalist covers, and target only those to whom your pitch is relevant. For example, you don’t want to send a pitch about a new tech product to a sportswriter unless there’s a clear reason! A good way to do this is by looking at the sort of stories they have published before, the different sections on their website, and their background. Some might even explicitly list the sort of pitches they are interested in receiving online.
One surefire way to get a journalist’s attention is to offer them something that they can’t get anywhere else. A good example of this is unique data.
For this article at The Guardian, UK payday loan broker CashLady reviewed their own customer data and found out that NHS staff were most likely to apply for a payday loan. No one else had this information and it provides a unique statistic, so it was always likely to result in a successful press release.
Other factors that might grab a journalist’s attention include exclusive interview opportunities and stunning high-quality photographs.
Even having a unique take on an old topic can work, as long as you make it clear in your pitch why it’s original. You should also check what stories the journalist you are contacting has covered before – if they have recently written about something very similar, they might be reluctant to cover your story unless you can make it obvious why yours is unique or a good follow-up to the previous piece.
As well as being unique, your story needs to be timely. Essentially, you should be answering the question ‘why now?’. Perhaps you could link your pitch to a recent or upcoming event, or another issue that has been in the news lately. One factor to consider is whether a story that’s too similar has been covered very recently (whether by the same journalist or someone else), because that will decrease the chances of yours being picked up. Other aspects to think about include whether you’re better off sending a pitch or a press release, and whether there’s a local angle you could include too.
Journalists are busy people, and they often receive hundreds of pitches a week. To maximize the chances of yours getting fair consideration, keep it short and to the point. Aim for around 100-200 words, if possible, although more complex stories might need more than this. Start with the pitch rather than wasting time with small talk (unless you already have a personal link with the person you’re contacting) and aim to get your reader hooked with the first sentence. A clever title can help with this.
You should include your pitch in the body of your email rather than sending it as an attachment. That’s because it makes it easier for the journalist to read, and also reduces the likelihood of your email getting caught in a junk mail filter. It goes without saying that you should also proofread your message carefully before you send it. If you’re not confident at this, use an online tool or get a colleague to check your pitch for you. Spelling and grammar mistakes can cause an instant rejection – don’t give your recipient any excuse to press delete without even reading the whole pitch!
Every journalist will have their own preferences when it comes to you following up on a pitch, but the general consensus is that it’s ok to do so. However, it’s better to follow up via email rather than phone unless someone specifically states that they prefer phone calls. Likewise, don’t follow up too quickly or it’s likely to be seen as pushy or annoying. A week is normally considered best practice, unless there’s a specific upcoming event or other reason that means you have to contact a journalist sooner. Finally, only follow up once. If you don’t hear back after that, it’s a safe bet that either you have the wrong contact details or the journalist is not interested in your pitch.