If you’ve ever pitched a story to the media before, you’re probably familiar with the sinking feeling that comes with a failed or unanswered email pitch. In my previous experience working in PR, I’ve written countless emails to journalists. Some went well, while others fell a bit short. It took time and practice to know exactly what mistakes needed to be avoided and a great deal more practice to learn what caught journalist’s attention and started the conversation.
For those of you looking for tips and tricks learned over time on how to write a pitch, look no further. Below, you’ll find helpful steps you need to take prior to sending your pitch as part of your overall marketing strategy and best practices gleaned over time.
The first step in how to write a pitch for journalists is writing down exactly what you’re hoping to achieve. It’s important to be well-prepared to communicate your request when the time comes.
If your company is releasing a new product or expanding its services, then you might want a feature story in the tech section of the newspaper. Or, if your company is active in social causes, you might consider a human interest story in the lifestyle section. It’s helpful to find 2-3 articles that are similar to what you’re hoping to have written about you or could have benefited from featuring your brand. Study the articles and ask:
Based on the articles you’ve studied, determine the type of press coverage you’d like to attain.
You should know everything there is to know about the company being represented for the pitch so you can speak intelligently to what they do and can craft a story that’s intriguing and believable. It’s helpful to come prepared with a cheat sheet or company one-pager so you can quickly offer factual information and share points of interest.
When you pitch to journalists, you’re hoping to be interviewed. Journalists and reporters move quickly, so you should be prepared to interview at a moment’s notice. Write your cheat sheet before you begin pitching, so you’re prepared and available when a journalist shows interest.
A 2017 survey of 1,500 U.S. and Canadian journalists found that the most significant factor that inspires journalists to pursue a story is when the person pitching displays knowledge of their past work, interests, and strengths.
Make a list of reporters that you’d like to pitch to and be sure to pitch to ones who regularly write about similar topics for publications that serve your target audience. Go ahead and get to know a bit about each journalist you want to contact. Seek out reporters’ bylines to learn more about their background, and familiarize yourself with each journalist and be able to tell them, genuinely, what you like about their writing.
When writing your first email, be direct and professional. It’s important to approach them in a manner that’s both intelligent and genuine. Don’t direct your emails and press releases to “Hello “X” Reporter.” And don’t just say “Greetings.” These will most likely get deleted and tossed right away. Find and use the journalist’s actual name.
We would also recommend not including any attachments. Like most people, journalists are wary of viruses and careful about opening attachments from people they don’t know. If your press release is short, you may even consider including a copy/paste version of the entire release at the bottom of your email. If it’s longer, try including 2–3 paragraphs with a link to read more.
The first email you send should explain why you’re writing and what you’d like them to do for you. Make your subject line clear and specific without trying to sell yourself.
For many journalists, some press releases can get way too long! Don’t include everything you know on the topic. Do your best to keep your press releases to one page—and then fill in the minute details after the journalist shows interest.
It’s good to practice basic inverted pyramid style of writing, placing the most newsworthy info in the lead (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?), flowing to the important details in the body, and concluding with greater background on the subject.
You’re halfway through our list of steps on how to write a pitch for journalists! In your effort to be short and sweet, don’t fly past the important details. You’ll want to read back through your writing and include key dates and times. There’s nothing worse than trying to notify people about an event and completely forget to include start and end time.
Be sure to also go back through and check spelling and grammar. Don’t give a reporter reason to write you off just because you forgot to check your work.
If you’re going to offer journalists supplementary materials like photography, video, B roll, documents, etc., make sure they’re all ready before you make your pitch. Assume your pitch will be so good that a journalist will want to learn more. Don’t scramble around to create/assemble what you’ve already promised.
In an effort to be prepared, check to see if the publication you’re pitching to accepts photo submissions. Don’t assume they’ll be sending out their photographer to capture your story. Take some pics yourself or book a professional photographer. They’ll come in handy even when you have other pitches.
Before sending a pitch, know your reporters’ timelines. Find out if they need your info two weeks before, a month before, or even five minutes before. Don’t email all pitches on the same day just so you can wipe your hands clean of the task. Your pitches will make an impact if they are thought out and hit at the right moments. The journalists will appreciate it and will likely give your pitch attention.
After your pitch has been made and sent out to Journalists, make your contact info easy for them to find on your website. Pro Tip: Stop only allowing people to get in touch with you by filling out a contact form. It’s like requiring people to know the secret password before entering your business.
It’s time for the last tip on how to write a pitch for journalists. Know that connection with journalists can happen a couple ways. Be sure to find them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., and see how they interact with others in their space. Some only have a handle because someone told them they needed to have one. Others engage via social media regularly. See which ones do and consider sharing your pitch ideas there.
Again, keep it short and sweet, with a link to more info. If possible, try and grab coffee with journalists who best align with your company news. Get to know more about them and their preferences. Do they want full press releases sent to them? Do they take phone calls? What’s their lead time? It’ll help you stand out from the crowd and ensure you’re not wasting your reporters’ time.
Public Relations is an art, not a science, so do your best not to beat yourself up if the first time isn’t a success. It might not be the right fit for that particular journalist, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a better fit for someone else. Take the time to follow-up if need be so you know how to write a pitch to tell your business story for the next time an opportunity arises.