It seems like a good time to go over what makes a good PR pitch.
Oh, no reason. Well, maybe it does have something to do with the constant stream of reporters complaining about the terrible pitches they’re receiving from seemingly clueless PR professionals right now.
Folks, I know we’re all just trying to do our jobs. Public relations professionals play a variety of roles for a variety of different people. And when it comes to our relationships with journalists, sometimes that role is “punching bag.” That’s okay! We still love journalists.
And if you remember these three key steps when pitching, journalists might just come to love you, too.
1. Do your research.
This is especially important right now: Even if you’re familiar with a journalist’s work, it’s a good idea to check up on what they’ve been covering lately—and how frequently, since coronavirus began dominating the news cycle. Many journalists have pivoted their beat to cover the virus or have slowed coverage of other topics. You’ll need to keep this in mind when pitching.
As always, you should only pitch reporters who truly would be interested in covering your story, so you’re not wasting anyone’s time—yours or theirs. Now is the perfect time to review journalists’ Twitter activity, too, and see if they’re already roasting your unfortunate brethren and their poorly worded or ill-timed pitches.
Basically, apply a bit of extra preparation and some restraint. If the journalist isn’t in the right place to receive your pitch for whatever reason, then don’t pitch them. It could end up hurting your future relationship with this person if you do.
And this is not the time to be garnering a bad reputation: Take it from someone with a name no one ever forgets.
2. Keep it brief.
No one wants to be reading emails right now. Do you want to be reading emails right now? (That’s what I thought.)
So why would you send long-winded emails? Even if your pitch is a story match made in heaven for a particular reporter, they won’t have a lot of time to dedicate to reading it. So, keep it brief.
There’s no need to work every single detail into your initial pitch. If the journalist is interested in learning more, they’ll follow up. And they’ll appreciate you not wasting their time. Write out a list of all the information you would like to share with the journalist and pare down what must make it into the pitch and what you’ll save for any follow-up.
Your original pitch can be as short as four or five sentences (note that bullet points are particularly easy on the eyes). Briefly include:
- Some kind of hook. Maybe this is where you mention that you saw they covered a pertinent topic or you provide an interesting statistic.
- A brief introduction to your client as related to the subject. Don’t write the story for the journalist. Just offer an interesting direction for them to explore and a source of expertise (your client).
- The call to action. Tell them what you want them to do or what you can do for them in simple terms: “Click here to read more/watch a video/see for yourself,” or “Let me know if you want to set up an interview/attend the event/learn more.”
Get those essentials into the shortest email you can before hitting send!
3. Read the room.
Pretty much all anyone can talk or think about right now is coronavirus. Nothing like this has ever happened before in our lifetimes, and it’s affecting every aspect of our lives in unprecedented ways. This means we need to tread lightly these days, and not ignore the elephant in the room.
One basic tip on pitching in times of crisis is don’t, unless you have something relevant to offer — or you have no choice (and if that’s the case, I really am sorry).
We can all learn from the blistering response to Hot Pocket pitching itself as comfort food in the days after Sept. 11, and now we can also cringe along through The New York Times article roasting a PR professional for pitching her lingerie client at the height of the coronavirus.
Those in the industry know that nothing in PR is executed alone. The reality is that the individuals publicly mocked for these major missteps probably had a team that faltered, too. Don’t fall into that same trap. Discuss pitching plans with your teams, plan together to chart the best way forward, and open those lines of communication with your clients on calibrating how best to tell their stories right now.
If the product or service isn’t helpful to the situation our world is in right now—and remember that journalists see right through those stretched “Hot Pocket” angles—then it might be best to give pitching a rest for a while. Keep monitoring your key journalists and the stories they’re telling.
Follow their lead.
Pal Hollywood is an account executive at Sterling Communications, a Silicon Valley-based tech PR firm.
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