Pitches are an integral part of PR, yet a surprising number of professionals don’t know what makes a pitch successful. They are often left wondering why a particular journalist never takes a briefing.
In search of the best pitching advice, I have attended a few seminars on the topic and compiled a list of what elements media folk consider to be the most important components of a pitch.
1. Do your research on the journalists and publications that you want to pitch. Don’t waste the journalist’s time—and your own—by pitching irrelevant stories. Though this may seem obvious, you’d be surprised how often it happens. To avoid doing this, find them on social media, and learn their interests and what they’ve been writing about.
2. Stop broadcasting, and start building relationships. Think: How am I going to target my key people? Tailor your pitches to key journalists instead of just blasting the same message to everyone. A bonus: Once you’ve built a relationship you can ask questions like, “Why didn’t you cover my last pitch?” “What can I do to get my client covered?” “Is there a story coming up that might be a good fit for my client?” You can strengthen these relationships by offering helpful tips and useful information. Remind the journalist of any previous occasions that you’ve worked together.
3. Journalists value stories, not vendor-centric releases. Always ask yourself, “What is the story?” OK, your client released a new product, but why should we care? The answer to this question should constitute the focus of your pitch. De-emphasize your client, and highlight its newsworthiness or its importance to a user.
4. Get and use customer testimonials. Do you have access to end users? Get them to talk about the value of your product/service. It is important for the PR team to meet with the sales team at least once a month, because salespeople have valuable insights into customers that the marketing team doesn’t have. Offer your salespeople incentives for getting customers to talk about products, specifically if they agree to be contacted for a story. When it’s too early to have an end user, remember to focus on the problem your product/service solves, rather than on the vendor.
5. Track publications. See which articles get the most clicks. Which keywords get articles more hits? If you use this information in your planning stage, you’ll be more likely to get your article placed. Journalists are under pressure to write stories that generate lots of clicks and interest, so learn what those are. Is there an interesting trend you can provide insight into? Right now on Bloomberg, the most-clicked on articles are about Goldman-Sachs and Apple.
6. Help the publication drive traffic to your article. If your articles get tons of hits, the publication is going to want you back. Clicks equal money for them. Getting more hits also helps to solidify your relationship with the journalist, because more hits make you both look good.
7. Keep your pitches short. Most writers bail out by sentence three (the patient ones might give you a whole paragraph), so make sure you get to the meat right away. This also ties in with point No. 8.
8. Start your pitch with the pitch, not small talk. Journalists don’t have all day to read your life story and credentials. Jump right into the meat of the story. Answer who, what, when, where, why in the first few sentences. Once you’ve hooked them, then you can share the long list of companies you’ve worked for over however many years. Give them a reason to care right away.
9. When answering HARO or other journalist service requests with reactive pitches, the subject line should be the same. Journalists, like you, also work under deadline. They don’t have time to flip through clever headlines looking for email responses to their inquiry. Lay it out for them so your email doesn’t automatically get filtered out.
10. Find the perfect title/subject line. The average knowledge worker receives 93 emails a day. For journalists, it’s far worse. Don’t get lost in the clutter. Stand out from the noise with a clever, catchy, and direct title.