Cheat Sheet: How to Pitch a National Journalist

Guy Kawasaki likes HARO

Our latest installment of pitching tips comes from the Help a Reporter (HARO) conference call with Peter Shankman and four top-tier journalists at national publications:

Sarah Needleman, WSJ small biz reporter (@sarahneedleman on Twitter)

Barb De Lollis, USA today hotel spots (@barbdelollis on Twitter)

Hilary Potkewitz, Crains New York (@hilpot on Twitter)

David Moye, AOL weird news (@davealtstrat on Twitter)

Below we’ve got some do’s, don’ts, and some definitelys when it comes to pitching reporters in order to obtain media coverage:

Put this rumor to rest finally: when is the best or worst time to pitch?

It depends on the reporter’s schedule. Most prefer pitches via email so they can look at it in their free time. Take into consideration that you should work around their schedule, rather than your own.

Do journalists like to receive phone calls anymore?

Email is best for first contact because of its ability to put everything out there and avoid the awkwardness or time insensitivity of a first phone call. It’s also beneficial when you link to your client’s website in the email so the journalist can get more information if they wish. Be sure to highlight in bold the most relevant bullet points a journalist can scan really quickly. That way, the information gets across quicker. As always, keep it short and sweet—a brief pitch in an email is easier to digest.

What guarantees a journalist will open the email?

Subject lines. A good subject line garners interest. Don’t put “press release” in the subject line, and don’t mass send emails. Tailor your pitch to the journalist. The best subject lines are short, sweet and indicate if you’re looking to pitch a trend versus a profile—trends catch more attention.

Body of the email. While reading, most journalists give it about one sentence to decide whether to keep or toss the pitch, so creativity and relevance counts more than ever. The word “exclusive” catches attention but overusing it will get you ignored—sort of like “the kid who cried wolf.” Asking a “quick question” in an email is also is a turn off. There’s no such thing as a quick question…you’re probably just pitching in the end, so be honest about what you are doing.

Other tips:

1)      Don’t just send a pitch with a link—explain the pitch! Saying “You have to see it in order to understand it, I can’t explain it” is not a good tactic. Reporting news is about storytelling—how can you tell your story if you can’t put it in words?

2)      The same rules apply if you are responding to HARO queries–respond quickly, briefly and to the point. What are you pitching and why does it work for the outlet? The best pitches often have bullet points with data and answer the question: “Why now?”

Pitching Tip

3)      Attachments in emails? Never on the first try. They are often auto-filtered into the spam folder, and journalists don’t want to make the extra click just yet—you’ve got to convince them first.

4)      Press kit or snail mail? No thanks. The majority get tossed in the trash unless they are unusually creative or aesthetically pleasing.

#1 mistake PR people make when pitching: trying to drum up news about their client. It’s better to put your client IN the news, than to make the news about them. Tell the journalist how your client can be a part of the news happening in the world: can they be an expert commentator?

Pitching Tip

Mistakes to watch out for when you’re pitching that make a journalist say “no thanks”:

1)      Pitching off topic.
2)      Not knowing what the journalist covers.
3)      Not knowing their readers.
4)      Not knowing what they consider news or relevant.
5)      Not offering a time frame or news peg.
6)       Spelling the journalists name wrong or publication wrong, making untrue claims or putting them on a wild goose chase for information are all no-no’s.
7)      Don’t set unrealistic expectations, for example, you’re setting yourself up when saying –“this is the perfect person for your column…” stay humble.

Pitching Tip

Our #1 pitching tip? Don’t pitch….yet.

Send a good ‘ol Peter Shankman style karma email. Letting them know you’re there when they need you turns the tables and increases the likelihood that you might be contacted for a story. Here’s a quick example: “If you’re ever doing a story on ______, I’ve got a couple expert sources you can speak with. Let me know what matters to you, and if I can be of help, you can reach me at _________.”

It’s not a pitch, it’s a karma email! Remember that: K-A-R-M-A.

What are some of your tried and true pitching tips? Any tips here surprise you?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like: Source Success with Help a Reporter (HARO)