3 ways to sweeten pitches to freelancers

Independent writers usually work with multiple outlets. Here’s how to engage with these prolific contributors—and transform a single pitch into multiple stories.

It’s harder than ever to win placement with top media outlets.

Because of downsizing, many in-house journalists now shoulder even more responsibilities and no longer have time for PR calls or emails.

Yet staff cuts also mean more outlets rely on freelancers to help fill the news hole. What’s more, most busy freelancers claim multiple outlets as clients.

These contributors could be your “back door” to coverage. Here are three ways to successfully hook them:

1. Entice them with multimedia offerings. “Journalism jobs have changed dramatically in the last few years,” says Tamika Cody, a former financial journalist who now covers Southwest Florida for the E.W. Scripps site HelloSWFL as a multimedia investigative journalist. “We all now need images, video and even podcast-worthy audio.”

Her advice is to think beyond text when you pitch. “Call out multimedia assets or opportunities in the first sentences of your email,” she says.

Cody is pitchable on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, but she warns against sharing pitches with multimedia assets in an open social forum.

“Stick to email or DM so your visuals don’t get shared before we have a chance to use them or shoot our own,” she says.

Register for PR Daily’s Nov. 2 “Freelance Journalists Pitch Tank” to hear how to score mainstream media coverage with six freelancers who work with outlets ranging from Forbes and CNBC to Fortune, Allure, Teen Vogue, The Washington Post and more.

2. Try coffee or conferences. Nothing transforms cold pitches into warm exchanges quite like meeting freelancers in person.

“It’s always great to meet people face to face. That’s a superb way to understand what companies or researchers who pitch me are trying to achieve,” says Adi Gaskell, who writes on innovation for outlets like Forbes, BBC and The Huffington Post. “While I’m located in London, many of the startups I cover aren’t, so travel is a fundamental part of the job.”

In the past year, he has traveled to meet companies from Budapest to Tallinn, the Isle of Man to Oxford. “Technology and entrepreneurship is global now, so I’m certainly up for traveling,” he says.

Gaskell thinks conferences are a great place to meet freelancers. “I travel to a lot of conferences as an attendee, and other freelancers do the same,” he says. “I’ve also spoken at events like Health 2.0, EdTechX and The World Festival of Youth and Students.”

His point? “Trips are great,” he says, “but be prepared to cover expenses if you want us there. Also consider the time cost involved. I was recently invited to India to meet with a startup, and while costs were covered, the round trip would take up an awful lot of time, which was eventually the deciding factor.”

3. Follow on social media—but don’t pitch. “It’s a good idea to follow freelancers on social media long before you pitch them,” says New York-based writer and editor Lily Herman, whose recent successes include bylines in Teen Vogue, Allure and Glamour.

She warns, however, against sending DMs or email to freelancers just because you’ve followed them or favorited some of their tweets.

“I have people who follow me on Twitter and then immediately send pitch emails suggesting we’re ‘friends’ or closer than we really are,” she says. “That can really make a freelancer feel uncomfortable.”

Herman believes social media should be used to build relationships, not to pitch. “I get thousands of Twitter notifications every day, so a twitpitch will get lost,” she says. “I also don’t have Twitter DMs open.”

She feels the same way about LinkedIn and Facebook. “Those aren’t better vehicles for pitching than Twitter,” Herman says. “Stick to email unless the freelancer indicates a preference for social media pitches on her profile.”

She says Mallory Blair, co-founder of Small Girls PR, gets it right.

“We became Twitter friends when I was in college,” Herman says. “She invited me to stop by their offices and say hello when I was in the city. She follows freelancers’ careers, where we are in life, and invites us to meet in person. I now have a good relationship with her entire team, because Mallory reaches out to writers she finds interesting long before she needs them.”

Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and webinar manager for PR Daily’s PR University. Freelance contributors Adi Gaskell (BBC, Forbes , etc.), Barbara Thau (Forbes.com, CNBC, etc.), Lily Herman ( Allure, Teen Vogue, etc.), Tamika Cody (HelloSWFL, Accounting Today, etc.) and Dylan Baddour (WaPO, Vox , etc.) will reveal more trends and pitching tips in PR University’s Nov. 2 webinar, “Freelance Journalists Pitch Tank: Contributors Offer a Back Door to Top Outlets.”

Lily Herman is a New York-based writer and editor whose recent bylines include Teen Vogue, Refinery29, Allure and Glamour. She’s also published work on Fast Company, Mashable, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Business Insider, and more. You can check out her personal website and find her perpetually on Twitter.

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