Public relations campaigns live and die by their pitches.
Whether it’s an emailed press release, a tweet or the dreaded cold call, the merit of the message you craft will determine whether a reporter picks up your story or ignores you completely.
But how do reporters, editors and producers determine what’s worth covering and what isn’t?
Take it from a journalist: Choosing what to write about every day isn’t an exact science.
Sure, there might be topics or types of stories that we favor over others, but as in any other business, media outlets must adapt to what their customers want. Because most news outlets follow their trends and traffic reports, the story you landed last month might not necessarily work out if you try a similar approach this time around.
So if you clicked on this article for a tried-and-true, guaranteed formula for getting press coverage, stop reading. You’re not going to find one. However, if you’re looking for advice on crafting the “perfect pitch”—one that a reporter will read, engage with and respond to—you’ve come to the right place.
Here are five key components that most journalists look for in a great pitch:
1. An interesting subject line. Email subject lines act as a built-in filter for a busy journalist’s inbox. We will usually judge at a glance, sometimes before even opening a message, whether a pitch is going to interest us. If the subject line doesn’t catch our eye, that email is destined for the trash. Don’t waste your precious space with meaningless filler words; get to the point, and give us the gist of your pitch. Do this well, and we’ll immediately recognize your email as something we want to read and learn more about. If you’re stuck, Jenna Goudreau offers a few excellent tips and examples of effective email subject lines in this Business Insider article.
2. A personalized greeting. This is perhaps the easiest thing to get right, and yet too many PR reps still get it wrong. If you’ve done your research, you already know the journalist’s name and publication, so why not use it? Reporters are much more inclined to read an email when they can clearly see it’s meant for them. “Hi Nicole” or “Good morning Nicole,” for example, are perfectly acceptable ways to open a pitch. What’s not OK? “Dear Sir/Madam,” “Hi X,” or, worst of all, the wrong name entirely. The same rule applies if you’re referring to a publication by name in the body of your email. Copy-and-paste pitches may save time, but they’ll tarnish your reputation if you accidentally tell a New York Times writer you loved his or her article in the Boston Globe.
3. A compelling premise. Set the stage for your pitch. Are you discussing your client’s latest research? Start off with an interesting statistic that grabs the reporter’s attention. Want to position your client as an expert in his or her field? Open your message with a broad statement about an industry trend before homing in on your client’s take on it. No need for a long-winded expository paragraph, though. Your opening line should pique the journalist’s interest enough to make him or her want to read more.
4. The five W’s. Journalism 101 dictates that news stories should contain what’s known as the “five W’s”: Who, What, When, Where and Why. This isn’t necessarily true of all published articles, especially in an age of clickbait and quick trending stories, but the basic idea behind the five W’s still holds true. Journalists have limited time to review and consider each pitch they receive, so they appreciate it when you cut to the chase: Tell us who your client is, the subjects he or she can talk about, and why we should care about it. Not sure why a reporter should care? Refer to PR expert Amanda Kane‘s handy list of what makes a story newsworthy. A few possible reasons include impact/significance, timeliness and human interest.
5. A fit for their publication. Do your homework, and make sure your pitch fits with the publication’s coverage and the writer’s beat. Yes, it takes time to track down and read recent articles from each of the dozens of reporters you’re pitching, but it’s time well spent, and your efforts will pay off in the long run. A good approach is to offer a story on an unexplored or unique facet of a topic a journalist covers frequently. For instance, you could say, “I’ve been reading your coverage of small-business security, and I thought you might be interested in exploring cyber insurance a little further.” Reporters are under constant pressure to come up with fresh, original content, and they’ll be grateful to know that you want to help them fill in coverage gaps rather than add to the noise.
Nicole Fallon is the assistant editor of Business News Daily. Follow her on Twitter @nicolefallon90. 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.