Recently, my team at Communications@Syracuse asked 25 communication professionals for their takes on the most crucial elements of a PR pitch. Responses included qualities such as relevance, personalization and brevity, but one of the key themes that emerged was the importance of making sure your pitch is timely and on topic.
“Why now?” was a common refrain among our respondents, who wrote that answering the question of why your topic is relevant today is the most important aspect a journalist will be looking for. As Denise DiMeglio, vice president at Gregory FCA, wrote, “Why should the reporter care about, explore or write about this topic today? … ‘Because your client wants to talk about this story, sell more product, generate leads, etc. now’ is not a sufficient answer.”
Any communication professional will tell you that your pitch must be tailored to the journalist or editor at hand, but personalization goes beyond that.
“The story or topic you’re pitching must somehow tie into broader news or trends affecting the industry today,” DiMeglio continued. “On the other side of that, be aware of current events or news that could conflict with the reporter’s ability to tell your story at the desired time, and plan accordingly.”
In addition, knowing your audience and your industry is crucial if you want your pitch to be noticed. David Cumpston, director at Landis Communications Inc., pointed out that even if there is no industry hook at the moment, it’s important to find an angle from which a journalist might write:
“To me, the most crucial element is to explain up front why you’re pitching the reporter that you’re pitching (meaning, why do you think they or their readers will care), and why do you think this is a story now.”
Putting in the time up front to connect your story to a trending industry topic or event will pay dividends when it comes to getting your client’s message picked up.
Katie Hocker, account manager at Merritt Group, took this a step further, suggesting a communication professional look outside of the industry to the media landscape as a whole.
“Why is what you are talking about relevant in relation to the entire media landscape and trends?” she wrote. If there’s no angle in your industry, spin the story in a way that will make your pitch relevant to a larger audience.
It’s more than just anecdotal: Timely pitches are successful pitches. So how can you ensure your pitch is timely and effective, when trending topics and events often sneak up on you?
1. Be educated and aware
Don’t let topics sneak up on you. Be the communication professional who’s “in the know” — know the themes and trends of your industry inside and out, and stay abreast to breaking news so that trending topics don’t catch you by surprise.
2. Be data-driven
Arm yourself with data about your client, company and industry. Providing data along with a targeted thematic pitch is one of the fastest ways to get journalists’ attention. The more exclusive your content can be for them, the more likely they are to craft a story from your compelling pitch.
In addition, exclusive or even curated data will help you stand out from the crowd of communication professionals clamoring to make their voices heard when a certain topic is trending.
3. Be prepared
The more you’re prepared (and the more you’ve thought about how your brand or client might react to any given situation), the less you’ll have to fumble around when breaking news happens. Frontload your preparations for hypothetical situations and know how your pitch might tie in. You’ll save yourself time and work when situations arise.
The importance of preparing a timely, relevant pitch cannot be understated. At the same time, clumsy attempts at trying to be timely can make you and your brand look desperate.
Instead, be the person with a well-written pitch that fits with the news cycle and the angle your preferred audience will benefit from and enjoy, rather than an angle that only benefits your client.
Jenna Dutcher is the community relations manager of the online master’s in communications program, Communications@Syracuse, and current Communications@Syracuse student specializing in journalism innovation. Dutcher earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary.