Oct 17, 2017 / in Comms Best Practices / by Jim Dougherty

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that journalists continue to prefer email as the primary means of contact, with more than 90 percent indicating it as the best way to directly pitch a story idea. You also may not be surprised that there is a lot of conflicting advice about how to make your email pitches resonate. It’s difficult for PR practitioners is to sift through all of the disparate advice and to come up with a sound strategy to engage journalists.

What I want to do in this post is to look at consensus best practices for email pitches using insights from PR experts and journalists. I’m sure there are recommendations that will set you apart even further, or that certain journalists respond well to, but the focus of this piece is the pitch advice that most people agree on.


Want more advice for getting your story placed? Get the Ultimate Guide to Writing a Great Press Release


1. Address Pitches on The “to:” Line, Not “bcc:”

Each email pitch you make should be unique - not necessarily in the content you are pitching, but uniquely crafted for the journalist that you are pitching. 58 percent of influencers and journalists said displaying knowledge of past work, interests and beats is what drove them to pursue a story.

In a Fast Company article, How to Get a Journalist to Read Your PitchMichael Grothaus raises an important question related to this issue:

“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?”

Automated PR pitches increase the amount of noise that your email must cut through, and they put journalists on high alert for shenanigans. Additionally, mass-emailed pitches aren’t even very effective. With 95 percent of pitches going unanswered, sending a mass pitch is a guaranteed way to ensure you will be ignored.

2. Demonstrate Research

82 percent of journalists say PR professionals can improve by researching and understanding their media outlet.

Forbes Communications Council, a group of communications, PR, public affairs & media relations executives echo 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.”

The Cision® media database makes this process easier, but many journalists and PR practitioners note that using a media list requires research to demonstrate that your pitch would be a good fit.

HubSpot Marketing Manager Rachel Sprung describes how lack of demonstrated research reflects poorly on the PR professional:”Blindly pitching a journalist without performing any background research is a bad move.”

3. Focus on Your Subject Line

Don’t do this!

Like a headline, the subject line of an email draws a recipient in. Of course, there are plenty of ways to generate interest, but you should not try to “click-bait” the media.

Other particularly egregious subject lines in an email pitch might include:

  • Anything beginning with “re:” or “fwd:”
  • “Press release”
  • “Interview opportunity”

Contently published a round-up of valuable advice from reporters on the subject of subject lines.  Jennifer Ortiz, senior editor at Marie Claire said, “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.”

Most journalists and PR practitioners agree that the subject line is a crucial aspect of the PR pitch and should be thoughtfully crafted.

4. Be Short, Straightforward And Show Value

The consensus opinion of journalists is that brevity and economy are crucial aspects of an email pitch. It’s easy to understand why given that most journalists receive multiple pitches each day.

There is a varying opinion about the ideal length for an email pitch (suggestions include 20 words, 100 words, one to two paragraphs and everything in between). While there isn’t a consensus about the length of an email pitch, there are three aspects of email that most people agree on:

  • Economical — email pitches should be as short as possible (most people recommend using bullet points where appropriate).
  • Straightforward — email pitches should get to the point quickly and should rarely deviate.
  • Valuable — email pitches should be able to show value for readers (and relevance to the journalist’s past work).

5. Offer Exclusivity

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

To effectively offer an exclusive keep these tips in mind:

  • Offer something new — Not every story is exclusive worthy, but if you have an interesting timely story then offer it up to a targeted reporter.
  • Set a timeline — Offering an exclusive is a great way to build a relationship with a reporter but you should set clear expectations. Give them a timeline to accept and if they don’t respond by that time then you need to move on to the next influencer on your list.
  • 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. Offering an exclusive and then having that news leak early is a great way to kill a relationship with a reporter.

6. Attach nothing

This is a pretty universal opinion. Aside from the fact that it increases the likelihood that an email will be sent to spam, an email pitch isn’t intended to be a complete resource and many journalists may find this off-putting. Imagine proposing marriage and having all of the people and resources available to have the wedding immediately — it could be done but it is a pretty presumptuous way to propose.

However, it’s important to remember that reporters love visuals. In Cision’s latest State of the Media report, journalists said they “always” or “often” use multimedia elements 70.5 percent of the time. To provide multimedia elements without annoying reporters include a link in your pitch that they can use to view and download them.


So many variables are in play when you are trying to generate PR buzz. Not every tactic will work with every journalist, but these six guidelines should serve you well for many of your email pitches.


For more PR pitching best practices, check out 8 Essential Pitching Tips to Get Results 

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About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.