6 easy email pitching guidelines

You have a better shot at reaching journalists if you personalize your messages, research reporters’ publications, keep it concise and write sizzling subject lines.

If you want to reach a journalist, email is still the way to go.

More than 90 percent of journalists say it’s the best way to pitch a story idea. That raises the question: What’s the best way to make your email pitches resonate?

Here are six pieces of advice:

1. Personalize your pitches.

Each email should be unique, crafted specifically for the journalist you are pitching.

As Michael Grothaus writes in Fast Company:

When you reach out to a journalist, you’re asking them to dedicate their time researching and writing about your company. So why wouldn’t you show them the same respect and get to know what they cover and the kind of stories they’re interested in?

Tailoring your emails is about respect, but it’s also about effectiveness. Generic, bulk pitches simply don’t work. Ninety-five percent of them go unanswered, so go above and beyond to grab attention.

2. Demonstrate research.

According to Cision’s 2017 State of the Media report, 82 percent of journalists say PR professionals can get better results by researching their media outlet. Also, 58 percent of influencers and journalists say a PR pro’s knowledge of their past work, interests and beats is what drove them to pursue a story.

The Forbes Communications Council echoes this sentiment:

To break through the volume of emails reporters receive, you need to know them inside and out. Every time you see a story that relates to your business or platform, add that reporter to a list and follow their social media accounts.

HubSpot’s Rachel Leist adds:

Researching what they have written about in the past, who they have interviewed, and what types of articles they write about … will help you personalize your pitch and grab the attention of a journalist who is constantly inundated with generic, often irrelevant pitches. This also helps you build a relationship that will make it easier for you to get your stories published in the future.

3. Focus on your subject line.

Like a headline, an email’s subject line draws a recipient in. Strike a balance between intriguing and “clickbait.”

Other egregious subject lines include:

• Anything beginning with “re:” or “fwd:”

• “Press release”

• “Interview opportunity”

Contently published a handful of tips from reporters. Jennifer Ortiz, senior editor at Marie Claire, says, “Starting a subject line with something like ‘Story Idea:’ or ‘Pitch:’ is a quick way to get lost in my inbox.”

Eric Sullivan, features editor at Esquire, looks for “wording that is both attention-grabbing and explanatory, that uses lively language, [and includes] just five or seven words that guarantees what follows is worth reading.”

The subject line is precious real estate; don’t waste it.

4. Be short and straightforward, and show value.

Journalists are inundated every day, so brevity is essential.

There’s no consensus about ideal length, but most people agree on three aspects of email pitches. They should:

• Be as short as possible (with bullet points for easier reading)

• Get to the point quickly

• Demonstrate value for readers (and relevance to the journalist’s work)

5. Offer exclusivity.

According to Harvard Business Review, the most attractive characteristic of a content pitch is “exclusive research.”

Keep these tips in mind:

Offer something new. Not every story merits “exclusive” status, but if you have an interesting, timely story, offer it to a targeted reporter.

Set a timeline. Offering an exclusive is a great way to build a relationship with a reporter, but set clear expectations. Give them a timeline to accept the piece; if they don’t respond, move on to the next contact.

Keep your word. When a journalist agrees to cover your story, honor the agreement by keeping the news under wraps until his or her story is published. Letting “exclusive” news leak early will kill your relationship with a journalist.

6. Attach nothing.

Attachments increase the likelihood your message will go to spam. Besides, an email pitch isn’t intended to be a complete resource. Imagine proposing marriage and having a list of guests and vendors available to hold the wedding immediately. It might work, but it’s presumptuous.

Reporters do love visuals. To provide multimedia elements without annoying journalists, include a link to materials they can view at their leisure.

A version of this post first appeared on the Cision blog.


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