5 crucial tips for avoiding reporters’ virtual trash bins

Don’t let the time you spend crafting your pitches be for naught. These insights can help you entice journalists and increase your chances of securing media coverage.

If you’ve ever pitched a story, you’ve probably sent a lot of emails only to get meager response.

It’s the harsh reality of trying to garner exposure: Not everyone will be interested.

So, why do some pitches work and others get the silent treatment?

Writers, agencies, PR firms, businesses, startups, kickstarter campaigns and everyone else is out there trying to get an editor’s attention, but most fail, despite their best efforts.

It doesn’t matter how many times you copy and paste a pitch nor how big your automated mailing list is: If you don’t make your pitches appealing, no one will care.

Lucky for you, here’s advice from several editors at Fast Company and Inc.:

1. Know the publication you’re pitching.

“Most PR people do not read the publications they are pitching, or at least they do not read them closely enough to comprehend what makes a story work for ABC magazine/website,” said Bill Saporito, editor at large at Inc. “They craft a one-size-fits-all pitch and then blast away.”

This shotgun approach with mass emails might get one or two publications interested, but more often than not, it’s going to fail. Publications receive countless emails from tons of people every day. One more generic PR email is not going to stand out.

“If you go out with the same exact generic pitch to five or 20 different publications, expect to come back empty-handed,” he said. “If you can’t tell a story tailor-made for a specific audience—and if that story doesn’t potentially matter more to that audience than it does to your company’s marketing department (most people get this formula precisely backward)—then wait to pitch it until you can.”

2. Check the masthead.

Knowing a little about the publication and what they cover goes a long way, but it’s all for naught if you’re sloppy about targeting.

Put simply, it doesn’t do you or the recipient any good if your thoughtful pitch is sent to the wrong person or the wrong department. According to Kris Frieswick, Inc.’s executive editor, information on journalists’ beats (areas of specialization) can be found in the masthead—the list of staffers found inside most publications.

Also, please get the person’s name and gender right.

3. Understand that less is more.

Crafting a precise, specific message to a journalist takes time. Incessant follow-up emails with revised pitches will only undermine your credibility.

“If you’re in my inbox with a new pitch every day, you fundamentally suck at your job and are wasting your clients’ money,” says Rich Bellis, associate editor at Fast Company. “There’s no conceivable way your clients have newsworthy things to share with me or my readers on a daily or even monthly basis—period. Less is more. It’s a relationships game. Get to know what your editors cover, how they like to be pitched, and save your ammo for when you’ve got something really good.”

4. Get personal; get to the point.

Bellis also encourages the writer to get personal when telling a story.

“Ask yourself: What change out there in the world have I directly brought about already? Whom does that change affect right now; how significantly; and does it point toward the future for this industry/this customer set/this major intractable problem nobody’s solved yet? It’s a fairly high bar, and it should be.”

Meanwhile, for Frieswick, this means streamlining language: “If you send us an email, pretend that you’re explaining what your company does to a 10-year-old.”

Do so, she adds, not because they’re stupid or incapable of understanding what’s being said, but for a more practical reason: “Truthfully, we can’t know all the jargon from all the different industries that we cover. So, if you can reduce what you do to real basic stuff, that is going to be tremendously helpful in cutting through all the clutter that we have to deal with on a daily basis.”

5. Know your audience.

Just as important, know something about the particular person you’re pitching.

Bellis explained what separates a good pitch from a bad one:

“They’re one to two paragraphs long at most; they reflect a sharp awareness of what I cover without reciting back to me a litany of recent stories I’ve written. Editors and reporters know what they themselves wrote. The weird PR tic of saying, ‘Oh, hey, you wrote about this one thing, which reminded me to tell you about this other related thing,’ is totally counterproductive. … It frames even potentially good stories as seemingly redundant right off the bat.”

He concludes that the key for those pitching him is being specific in their approach and knowing what they want to write about: “They tell me exactly what the news or key idea is right in the subject line. They also don’t try to pitch me multiple angles in one go.”

Remember, initial impressions are pivotal. Writers must do everything they can to make themselves stand out. A clear, concise message that tells a good story the first time will go a long way.

Those who work on their craft and remain persistent with their message will eventually break through; the rest will get relegated to the spam filter or the waste bin.

The lesson: Think about what you are doing. Don’t just pitch the same tired template over and over. If it’s not working, you’re doing something wrong.

Take advice from those who are bombarded with hundreds of pitches every day. They know what they’re talking about.

Elijah Masek-Kelly is the founder of PowerfulOutreach. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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