With so many social media tools, news feeds, aggregate sites and deadlines competing for a journalist’s attention it can be virtually impossible to figure out what makes for a successful pitch. PR professionals need to stand out from the sea of distractions to get their message read by a journalist or blogger. Unfortunately, getting your message in front of an influencer is only half the battle. Convincing a media contact to actually write about a company — that’s even more challenging.
So, how do you stand out in a journalist’s already inundated inbox without resorting to tricks or gimmicks? And, even if a journalist likes your pitch, how do you get the story covered? Let’s review some strategies that are not only proven to work from the PR perspective, but that are also supported by journalists, bloggers and media influencers.
1. Know Who And What You’re Pitching
Before you send a pitch, you should know what topics the journalist does and does not cover. It will take some investigating and digging through past articles, but it can pay off. Pitching a topic that a journalist or publication doesn’t cover, or one that she’s already written about, will waste your time and cast you in a negative light since clearly you couldn’t be bothered to make the effort.
Just because a general topic has been covered by a reporter before doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t pitch it. If you can come up with a unique angle, you could piggyback on the previous article. Refer to it in your pitch, explaining why your story will take another approach to the subject.
If you’re trying to pitch bloggers, you can often find details on what sort of stories they’re looking for, if they even accept pitches. Look on their About page or anything else targeting PR professionals.
Journalists and bloggers say that more than the actual pitch, other factors swayed them to cover the news, such as the PR contact displaying knowledge of their past work, interests and beats. Also, 24 percent of influencers and journalists said that providing product, event, or issue details caused them to pursue a story. So spend the time necessary before you craft your pitch to ensure that your story is a good fit for a particular journalist.
2. Use Email For the First Point of Contact
Sure, a phone call is direct, and the popularity and reach of social media are impressive, but 90 percent of journalists agree that email is where they want PR pitches to come from. The nature of email allows journalists to open yours when they have time to read it. A phone call, on the other hand, can be jarring and throw them off of their productivity. The last thing you want to do is anger a journalist when she’s in the middle of writing a story.
Always do your homework to find the email for the specific journalist you’re trying to pitch, rather than sending to the black hole a publication’s website lists for pitches. If, for example, you want to pitch the Technology section, find out who writes for it, then find his email. It may be listed on the About Us section or another page dedicated to journalist bios, but know that some sites deliberately don’t publish contact details. In that case, do a search for the journalist or connect with him on LinkedIn.
Cision® Communications Cloud™ can help you cut through the work it can take to identify influencers and provides updated contact information at your fingertips.
Pro tip: never write a generic greeting line like “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Editor” unless you want your pitch to be ignored.
3. Make Your Subject Line Sizzle
If you can’t summarize what your email is about in the subject line, your pitch stands little chance of being read. Catching the journalist’s attention in that subject line is critical — it is, after all, what makes her decide whether or not to open your email. If it’s boring or gives no indication of what your email is about, she’s likely to move it to her trash folder.
There are several ways to pique curiosity in the subject line. You can include just enough details to make people want to open your email (“What does a chimpanzee have to do with brewing beer?”), or you can include a teaser of the news (“Get the exclusive story of the merger between X and Y”). You can also use statistics you’ve gathered (“79 percent of business owners are failing to do this one thing”).
Some PR pros find success using “TIMELY” or “TIME-SENSITIVE” in the subject line, but don’t abuse it. The pitch should actually be time-sensitive, otherwise, journalists will think you’re crying wolf. If your news is under embargo until a certain date, use “EMBARGO” in your subject line.
4. Know The Publication’s Audience
The best PR professionals know which journalists to target, but they can also explain why the pitch fits the needs, demographics, or interests of their readership. We can’t express enough the importance of ensuring your pitch is relevant. Even though every PR person should know this, still 80 percent of influencers get irrelevant pitches from brands.
Who is the audience? What stories resonate with them? Which are they sharing on social media or commenting on?
Remember, you’re trying to sell this media influencer on your story. That means you need to be able to explain why the issue is important to her audience, and why they will care. If you know what sells to that audience, you’ll have an easier time getting the journalist to buy it.
5. Find The Story in Your News
Every public relations professional has encountered the client who pushes a press release that isn’t all that exciting or even newsworthy. Your job is to make it newsworthy, in a natural way. The key to success? Storytelling.
When you can take your client’s not-so-newsy news and turn it into a compelling story, that’s when journalists perk up. Read other human interest stories and take note of what appeals to you. Put the human aspect into your brand’s story, and your audience will be able to relate.
And if you find it impossible, be honest with your client or employer. Not everything needs to be turned into a press release. It may be better writing it as a post for the company blog than wasting a journalist's time.
6. Be Accessible
Journalists work on tight deadlines, and one of their biggest pet peeves is not being able to reach the PR person who sent them an email when they need additional details. They take note of who replies in five minutes and who takes a day or more (guess which they’re more excited to work with?). Being available to provide additional details, quotes, or photos is imperative if you want the coverage.
It can be helpful if you bundle up everything a media influencer may need to write the story: brand logo, product or event photos, executive bios, media kit, press release, et cetera. Put everything in a folder in the cloud and send the link. This will minimize the back-and-forth emailing that can eat up a journalist’s valuable time.
If you’re active on social media, be sure to offer your profile details as additional points of contact for the influencer to connect with you. If it’s important that a journalist write about your brand, the least you can do is be accessible.
7. Always be Helpful
Relationships are a two-way street, so if you’re looking to build and sustain rapport with journalists, it’s important that you’re not just contacting them when your company or client wants coverage. Consider how you can add value to a reporter or blogger, even when there’s nothing in it for you.
Nearly 31 percent of journalists find it valuable when PR contacts share their social media stories. Whether the stories cover your brand or not, giving a little social media support is a great way to show that you’re paying attention and eager to help this journalist reach more people with her content.
Other ways you can help include meeting deadlines, providing ample resources for the story, and simply being in touch even when you aren’t pitching. Journalists say that PR contacts that selflessly work to develop the relationship are the ones whose pitches they always open first.
8. Don’t Send Attachments
This should be a no-brainer by now, but there are still PR professionals who send email attachments. Resist the temptation to send that high-resolution image or explanatory PDF until the journalist expresses interest in covering the story and requests specific attachments or details.
Alternately, you can provide a cloud-based link to photos and press kits so that they’re in the email, should the journalist want them. But sending attachments is a surefire way to end up in the spam folder.
9. Pay Attention to The Timing of Your Pitch
A big part of successful pitching is also knowing when not to pitch your story. Doing a little reconnaissance work before emailing a journalist, you might see on Twitter that he’s on vacation — or worse, at his grandmother’s funeral. He might be at a major conference, or just under a deadline. Clearly, this isn’t the ideal time to pitch.
You can also use what you discover on social media to your benefit. Ask about that vacation when the journalist is back in the office. You’ll show that you’re paying attention to him, which will make him perk up.
Additionally, if you have access to a publication’s content calendar ( Cision’s Influencer Database can connect you with those), you can time your pitch to align with what editors are looking for.
10. Be pushy (but polite)
It may sound like counterintuitive advice, but if you’ve done everything else right, you could stand to be a bit more assertive. Journalists get dozens, if not hundreds, of emails every day, and sometimes they can’t open every one. By reminding a journalist of your email, you push your pitch back to the top of the list, where it stands a better chance of being opened and read.
If you don’t hear back within a week, follow up with a second email. If you don’t hear back then, drop it. It’s also acceptable to follow up via social media. Sometimes tweeting a journalist to see if he got your email is a great way to remind him to find your email and read it.