It’s been a few years since I left the newsroom, but in my time as a reporter I saw enough bad pitches in my email inbox to give me nightmares to this day.
Now that I have joined the “dark side,” as reporters like to call it, I want to share the six steps to not just writing the pitch of a reporter’s dreams, but that can also cut through the clutter and get your clients in the news.
1. Remember that you are a bull rider. With continuing consolidation and increased demands, journalists are busy. Others are just lazy. Either way, you have about eight seconds before the journalist bucks you off of his back and hits the delete button. Make those seconds count.
2. Get past the preview pane. Six of those eight seconds will be spent reading your subject line, so it stands to reason this is where you should focus the bulk of your creative efforts. Is it worthy enough to warrant reading on, or is it destined for delete? Easily, eight out of 10 PR pitches I got in my inbox were never opened because the subject line didn’t hook me. Give the journalist just a nugget. Tease them. Think of that tempting Yahoo!, Buzzfeed, or Mashable headline that you just had to click on. Make that your subject line.
3. Keep it casual. Don’t use “Mr.” or “Mrs.” Certainly no “To Whom It May Concern.” Write like you are old pals. Use “hey” or “hi,” and the reporter’s first name. Do not cut and paste a press release into a pitch. This is a conversation, not an information dump. A press release is formal and formulaic. A pitch is quick and casual.
4. Do your homework. You want a journalist to cover something? That may take their entire day. So take five minutes out of your day and learn what that journalist reports on. Then, make it obvious that you consume his or her work in the first sentence, saying something like, “I saw your article on X, and I thought this story about Y would be perfect for you and your audience.”
5. Answer the question, “Why should the journalist’s audience care?” If you can’t answer this question for them, in two sentences or less, then they can’t sell the story to their editors/producers. Arm the journalist with the ammunition they need to fight for your story in an editorial meeting. This is the why. If you can’t answer the why, you won’t get covered.
6. Also answer, “What exactly are you offering?” Don’t forget to also have the essentials of who, what, where, when and how. Take the following and use it in every email: ‘If you are interested in X, let me know how I can help set up Y (Y being what is available i.e. phone interview, photo opportunity, b-roll, etc.).” Help journalists tell the stories you want them to tell by making it easy for them. Your contacts and your clients will thank you.
Daniel Novick is a senior manager of content marketing for Golin. Before joining the “dark side” of PR, he honed his content creation skills as an Emmy-award winning television news reporter, anchor and photojournalist.