In survey after survey, journalists consistently cite e-mail as their preferred method of contact—provided the pitch is relevant and targeted to the particular journalist, that is. What else can you do to keep your e-mail pitch from being deleted? Here’s a quick rundown of the advice I’ve found most effective at getting pitches noticed:
1. Attention-grabbing subject line. With e-mail, you only have a second to grab the recipient’s attention. Assuming your news is relevant, the most attention-grabbing subject line might be your release headline. Try to avoid humor in the subject line, as some people might not get the joke. You should also try to avoid common words used in junk e-mail or spam, such as “FREE” or “Congratulations.” Also be sure not to use excessive punctuation, such as exclamation points or dollar signs—commonly used by e-mail spammers. Use a quick, descriptive subject line that leaves no question of what your e-mail is about.
2. Keep it personal. If you really want to keep your e-mail from being deleted, make it personal. Demonstrate that you understand what the journalist writes about and that you’ve done your legwork. You should NEVER cut and paste a pitch or use mail merge software of any kind to switch out names and details in a pitch. Journalists can smell this tactic a mile away and will almost always click the delete button.Write the pitch as though you were e-mailing a family member about the news. You should have that level of comfort and knowledge of the recipient before sending. If you tailor the pitch to an individual, you are much more likely to receive a response. If you do cut and paste, or try to mail merge, you will screw up. You will call him a “Mrs.” and you will call John “Sally.” Don’t do it.
3. Keep it brief. Long e-mails get deleted by journalists in an instant (unless they know you really well or asked for a thorough pitch). Consider keeping your pitch to three to five sentences. If you have a lot of information to share, link those resources from the pitch, but don’t try to cram it all in. Journalists are used to being pitched via Twitter these days. Shorter e-mail pitches are more likely to be read by journalists than short ones. See how few words you can use in your pitch. Keep rewriting your pitch until you get it down to as few words as possible. You’ll be surprised how good you’ll get at this after a little practice.
4. What do you want? Make sure you specify what you are looking for. If you want the journalist to interview your spokesperson about the story, say so. If you’re offering an exclusive, make sure you point that out. If you just want to provide some background for future consideration, say so. Don’t make the journalist guess about what you want.
5. Ask what you’re doing wrong. If a journalist is unresponsive to your pitch, or they give you a no answer, be polite and ask them what you could do better. Ask them what would make your pitch interesting or compelling to them. Ask them if there’s something you should keep them in the loop about in the future. You’ll be surprised what you can learn by asking a journalist for their opinion.
6. Where did you get the e-mail address? Did a journalist sign-up to receive your news from your website, or are you e-mailing a journalist based off information in a media database? If you want to ensure your e-mail gets to the appropriate person, verify the e-mail address first. Many journalists have multiple e-mail addresses and only want to receive e-mail pitches at a certain address. If you aren’t sure where the e-mail came from, call the general information or editorial phone number for the outlet and verify it. Even if they give you a generic e-mail address, use the preferred method of contact for improved success. Don’t spam. Nobody likes spam.
7. Never mass distribute. Most PR software and news distribution services are built for mass distribution. Just to make sure we’re clear on this, don’t mass distribute. Pitching a large number of journalists at one time, or via cutting and pasting your pitch one at a time and changing the name is lazy PR. It’s also one of the top reasons journalists complain about PR people and their pitches. Mass distribution of your news, while not technically spam, is one of the least effective ways to get a journalist interested in your news.
8. Give them more than they need. Most journalists like to talk to multiple sources or organizations for a story. Can you provide some additional resources in a pitch? Do you have a bunch of statistics or reputable research the journalist might be interested in? Offer that up in the pitch as well. Anticipate journalist needs and let them know you’re thinking about more than your needs to secure publicity for your clients. Include links to related articles that have been written or some other nugget of information that will make the journalist say “wow, this PR person worked their tail off on this pitch.”
9. Picture this. Do you have images to support your story? Include a link to them in your release. Look at a publication before you pitch it and see how they use photographs and informational graphics in their stories. Try to mimic the look and feel of those images in the ones you provide. When possible, include unbiased, descriptive captions for your images to help journalists understand what they are looking at. It’s also a good idea to provide a wide-range of image sizes and file formats, available for download, through the site.
10. Think long-term and short-term. Is publicity coverage the only successful outcome for your pitch? PR pros are often looking for instant gratification. They want to send a pitch and have the reporter call them back to schedule an interview. In some instances, e-mail can be used to build longer-term relationships with journalists, which make that former scenario more likely in the future. Consider alternative success paths for your e-mail pitches and start thinking long-term. Some examples might include:
- Make links to your online newsroom prevalent in your e-mail signature
- Invite journalists to subscribe to receive your news via RSS or e-mail from your newsroom
- Include your social media links on your e-mail signature (e.g. Twitter, Facebook)
- Encourage journalists to check out your company blog
- Include a P.S. message that states if the journalist is NOT the appropriate contact that they let you know, so you don’t repeat the mistake again in the future (or so you can contact the best person with the news)
11. Best time of day to send your pitch. I personally don’t believe there is a best or a worst time to do anything. That said, some people smarter than me have looked at the best and worst times to send e-mail in the past. In a recent eROI survey, almost 50 percent of respondents report sending e-mails at midday (10 to 2 p.m.) is best. While there’s no guarantee your e-mail is more likely to get opened at this time, it can’t hurt to try. Every industry and media outlet is different. For example, midday would probably be the wrong time to send an e-mail pitch to an evening assignment desk editor. As for the best time to send a press release, I’ve already covered that one in a previous post.
12. Build the list. There is one instance I can think of where mass e-mail pitching is acceptable—when a journalist has requested it. The best way to build and maintain an accurate e-mail media list is to do it yourself. Offer a sign-up option in your newsroom and segment the list based on interests (e.g. press releases, new hire announcements, product launches, exclusive opportunities, press conferences, etc.). Only send journalists the information they have requested. Over time, you can build a well-targeted list.
13. Be courteous. Beyond all else, be polite to journalists. Regardless of how you are treated, remember that courtesy goes a long way. Say please and thank you—regardless of whether or not they write about your news. Be respectful of journalist e-mail preferences and include a (working) opt-out link and your contact information in the e-mail. Finally, show that you respect them as a professional and READ THEIR ARTICLES. The number one pet peeve journalists have regarding PR professionals is they don’t read their stuff. If you read what journalists write, you’ll easily double the success rate of your pitches.
Pitching is like anything you want to get better at, you need to practice. Use trial and error to figure out what works over time. If you follow some of these tips, you’re sure to get better results.
Jeremy Porter is a veteran public relations professional with more than 10 years of experience developing and managing strategic public relations programs for clients. He is the founder of Journalistics.com.