5 pitching guidelines from seasoned journalists

A PR pro shares what she learned recently from two reporters who get bombarded daily with story ideas. These takeaways could spare your pitch the trash bin.

During my PR tenure, I’ve found one truth about media relations: There is no perfect way to pitch every journalist.

PR pros seek a secret sauce for landing a story every time, but it’s not that simple.

I recently attended a writing workshop in San Francisco. The goal was to come out as a better press release writer and a more knowledgeable email pitch machine.

Easily the most beneficial portion of this conference was the closing 15-20 minutes, when two reporters—one from Thrillist and the other from the San Jose Mercury News—took the floor to give tips and answer questions.

Their invaluable insights serve as great reminders for those of us in the PR field. They proved solid resources for great stories.

Here are the five best takeaways from their insight and feedback:

1. Subject lines aren’t headlines: Unless you work for Starbucks, don’t include the company name in the subject line. It’s a waste of characters. Journalists typically see only the first three or four words of the subject line (the presenter advised us never to go over seven words), so make them count.

2. Don’t make light of sensitive topics: PR pros sometimes tie together concepts without regard to their significance. Though it’s tempting to latch on to hot and controversial topics, do not “play” with something that is a serious/big issue, e.g. domestic terrorism, rising crime rates in metro areas, abortion, etc. Before you pitch, think about how their readers would comment on a playful take tying a product or brand to a highly sensitive subject.

3. A subtle approach is more effective: Efficiently tell whomever you’re pitching the “new take” of the product or brand. Show how a company or product responds to a need relatable to their readers—don’t try to paint them out to be “martyrs” or saviors. If you can’t get to that honest, transparent point, it might be a good sign that you don’t have enough meat and bones to your story.

4. Let them do their jobs: The panelists stated they don’t want to be told, “This might be a good story” in pitches. That’s what they get paid to decide and cover. Present your offering without a hard sell-it is a pointless waste of characters. Give them one sentence to a single paragraph with, “Here’s why this is cool and applicable to what you do.” Be a resource, not a salesperson.

5. If you can’t deliver, don’t bother: Journalists often receive pitches pegged to celebrity appearances or involvement. Both panelists admitted those are super enticing, but if you can’t guarantee access to those “big names,” you’re in trouble. They had no hesitation in saying they would not only ignore the pitch, but they also warned that some journalists will blacklist PR folk for dropping the ball.

A version of this article originally appeared on The Abbi Agency.

Topics: PR

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