How to Write a Media Pitch Journalists Won’t Hate
I’m a recovering journalist … a veteran of almost 20 years as a daily newspaper reporter and editor. Now, I interact with reporters and editors almost daily, and the art of the media pitch has changed considerably in the past 10 years. So, I asked our leading writer, Libby Baldwin, to give us a bit of an update on story pitching tips and techniques. All PR people, listen up! – Andrew Bowen, APR, CEO of Clearview Communications + PR
By Libby Baldwin
Consider this familiar scenario: You have painstakingly crafted a perfect press release. You’ve got the attention-grabbing opener, just enough details to whet the whistle, great quotes that inspire even greater questions. No reporter, editor or blogger in his or her right mind would pass up this extraordinary new story, product or business. You’re a seasoned professional, and you know what they’re looking for. You send it off to every media outlet under the sun, and ready yourself for an influx of emails.
They don’t come.
Here’s the hard-to-swallow truth: Reporters get dozens of press releases every day, sometimes hundreds if they’re in a larger market. Your release may be flawless, but so are most others. Most likely, unless you have a way to stand out from the crowd, your release will be scrolled right past and disappear into the ether. So read on for these surefire ways to get noticed.
Relate your story to their beat
The number-one thing journalists want from PR folks: do your research. Take the time to find out what that specific reporter writes about, and personalize your pitch with a clear explanation as to how it relates to their beat and their local community. Don’t just email blast an entire newsroom; a crime reporter is not going to care about a new fleet of vegan food trucks. As a reporter, if I open an email with my name at the top but I see a subject that’s got nothing to do with my beat or my area, I’m probably just going to mark your emails as spam, because it’s clear that you sent the same pitch to everyone and just changed the first name. It’s equivalent to avoiding all of the Nigerian princes that seem to want ME to keep their millions safe.
Make it easy to follow up
The second: Make it easy for the reporter to follow up. Include a list of quotable experts and their contact information. Anticipate the questions you’ll be asked, perhaps by preparing a fact sheet with pertinent, trackable data. Send photos and video with full permission to use it; staff photographers are dropping like flies these days too. If you provide good sources of background information and reliable experts on the subject, your pitch is a lot more likely to turn into a story.
Know when to take no for an answer
The third: Know when to take no for an answer. There are many factors that go into deciding whether a story is worth precious ink, and in today’s reality of decaying journalism, most of them have nothing to do with how good your pitch is. If the reporter says no, simply accept and follow up in a few weeks or months to see if anything has changed. Don’t “circle back” eight more times in the next three days to ask if your pitch was seen. Treat reporters the way you would treat a date that hasn’t called you in a week: if he wants you, he’ll come and get you. If he doesn’t, well, he’s just not that into you.
Craft your subject line to draw them in
Finally, don’t underestimate the subject line. Most of the time, that’s the only part of your pitch that gets read. Make it count. Try drawing attention by using the reporter or editor’s name and their specific city. Think of your subject line as your micro-pitch: You’re trying to appeal to how this might help readers, or you’re trying to spark such curiosity that the email demands to be opened. Don’t be afraid to be funny or even throw in a curse word or two. DO be afraid, however, to do the reporter’s job, as in, “Here’s a story that’s PERFECT for your readers!” Never, ever do that. Just say no.
There you have it. Go forth and pitch!