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Eleven Tips for Crafting a Pitch That Wows Journalists

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • What journalists want to hear from you
  • Common pitfalls to avoid when pitching story ideas to journalists

Knowing how to pitch your story idea to journalists can make the difference between their pursuing it and using you as a source in their stories, and their rejecting or even ignoring your pitch. What follows are 11 tips for developing pitches that journalists will seriously consider.

But first, here's a little background information about a journalist's work environment today, and why effective pitching is so important.

With deep cutbacks at most media outlets, journalists are being asked to do more with less and to cover multiple beats. The pressure to produce and to meet deadlines can be intense. Journalists are bombarded with pitches every day, all day long. The pitches arrive via phone, fax, email, and even social media sites. Because of the high volume of pitches they receive, journalists cannot consider them all and get their work done, too.

So, here are 11 tips that'll ensure that your pitch cuts through the clutter and gets attention from the journalists you're targeting.

1. Email your pitch


Many journalists prefer to receive pitches via email because a story idea can be more completely developed in a written message and because they can read and reread it at their leisure. Also, if they are not interested in your story idea now but think they may want to pursue it in the future, they can save your message and easily access it later.

In general, pitching journalists via the telephone is a waste of time because many of them let their incoming calls go to voicemail, and many never even listen to their messages. And those who do tend to return calls only from people with whom they have established relationships, unless a message from a stranger really jumps out at them.

If you submit your pitch via fax, you have no guarantee that the journalists you want to reach will ever receive your fax, much less read it. Finally, most journalists prefer not to be pitched via social media.

2. Don't send attachments

If you send attachments with your email, your message will likely never reach a journalist's inbox.

3. Grab attention with your subject line

Journalists, in general, will not open and read emails with subject lines that are generic or unclear about the topic of the pitch, or those that demonstrate the sender's cluelessness about which audience the journalists write for. Give journalists a reason to read the body of your message!

4. Perfect your pitch

Your message should be well organized and free of grammar and spelling errors. Problems with your writing are apt to detract from your message.

5. Get to the point

Put the most salient parts of your pitch in the very first sentence of your message. Many journalists will not take time to scroll through your email to figure out exactly what your story idea is.

Also, keep your pitch short—no longer than three brief paragraphs—and use bullet points when possible to clearly convey details. Remember, many journalists read their emails with a finger on the delete button.

6. Put your pitch in context

Your story idea needs to be about more than just your business. For example, tie your pitch to the news of the day, a current trend, a recent report, or an interesting new statistic.

7. Make it relevant

Be clear about why your story idea would be of interest to a journalist's readers. For example, why will those readers care about your idea? How will it help them? How can they use it?

8. Make it easy to pursue your story

As already noted, many journalists are under pressure to turn out stories and meet deadlines. So, including time-saving links in the body of your email may encourage a journalist to pursue your pitch rather than one that did not include links. For example, you could provide a link to your website, a video, a photo, a fact sheet, a whitepaper, a recent study, and so on.

9. Be discriminating

Don't blast your email out to every journalist in your database. Figure out who is most likely to be interested in your pitch. If you are not sure what topic certain journalists write about, google their names and read about the publications they work for.

Also, if any journalists recently wrote about the subject of your pitch, don't contact them unless you can offer new information or a different angle on the topic.

10. Get personal, but not too personal

Don't send the same exact pitch to every journalist you target. Personalize your pitches by greeting each journalist by name at the start of your message, commenting on something the journalist wrote about recently, or explaining why you think your idea would be perfect for a journalist's regular feature, for example.

However, avoid acting chummy with a journalist you don't know. That will be a turn off. Keep things professional.

11. Don't be a pest

Many journalists don't mind if you send a follow-up email or two after you've pitched them. But if they don't respond, assume that the journalists are not interested in your idea and don't continue contacting them. If you do, you'll risk being perceived as a pest, which will likely eliminate the possibility that the journalists would seriously consider any future pitches from you.

(Image courtesy of Bigstock, Young Man Shocked.)


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Mary Reed is the owner of Mary Reed Public Relations, a public relations and marketing firm based in Austin, Texas. She has also ghosted 21 nonfiction books.

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Comments

  • by Jacob Stoller Tue Oct 11, 2011 via web

    Great post, Mary - you've consolidated a lot of important aspects here. The one addition I would make is to review the editorial guidelines and calendars for magazines of particular interest. That way, you can pitch a story that relates to the main focus of an upcoming issue.

  • by Robin Thornton Tue Oct 11, 2011 via web

    Mary,

    Will definitely keep this as a definitive reference. At mononews, we suggest the same guidelines to our clients and provide identification of targeted journalists specifically for our clients' news -- to your point "be discriminating". And, we offer the option to send sseparate "needs adapted" releases to relevant groups of reporters, by geography, topic and media type.
    Thanks for the great article!

  • by SpencerBroome Tue Oct 11, 2011 via web

    Making it relevant and personal are always necessary. The last thing you want a journalist to say is, "What am I supposed to do with this?"

  • by Don Tepper Wed Oct 12, 2011 via web

    All good tips. If there are any key tips, I'd say they're "Make it relevant" and "Get to the point." I can deal with some of the other possible flaws. "Put your pitch in context" is good, but part of my job as an editor is to already be aware of context--the news of the day, for instance, and how the pitch fits in with that.

    So why do so many pitches lack so many of those elements? It's easy to blame inexperienced or inept PR people. And that's certainly one reason. But another tends to be the higher-ups in the company who have their own warped concept of what works. And usually that means cramming the first paragraph with hype about the company: "industry-leader," "cutting edge," "unique," "advanced design," and so on. Someone needs to knock these egocentric CEOs upside the head and explain the real facts of life to them. But that's not going to happen, and so we are forever faced with pitches that violate most--if not all--of the guidelines presented in the article.

  • by ME Hernandez Tue Oct 25, 2011 via web

    I hope a lot of people especially listen to the "Don't send attachments" and "Be discriminating" tips. I have a lot of emails I would consider including in a segment of a news site, but there's nothing in the text of the email. There's only a PDF attached with text that can't be easily copied. Just put the text into the body of the email please.

    Also, people send stories about subjects that we would never and have never covered. It's a waste of everyone's time.

  • by Christa M. Miller Tue Nov 29, 2011 via web

    I sit on both sides of the fence. As a blogger/trade journalist I get pitches that, even when they follow these guidelines, still seem canned -- it's like the PR person "followed the rules," but they're still focused on what they want, rather than on what I and my readers will get.

    Far preferable are the PR pros who seek to build long-term relationships with me, a mutual give and take based on conversation rather than pitching, about what a great fit we are for each other. Those experiences have been so good that I've been trying to work out how to build them into my pitching efforts!

  • by Ken Magill Tue Nov 29, 2011 via web

    12. Avoid acronyms and industry jargon.

    13. Avoid leading by stating the obvious like: "The holiday shoppig season is make or break for most retailers." Don't just craft a pitch that's relevant to the reporter's readers, lead the pitch with what's important to the reporters' readers.

  • by dstrand Tue Nov 12, 2013 via web

    Great post. For more along the same subject line you can check out our 3 part series written from a high tech journalist's perspective
    http://blog.strandmarketing.com/blog/bid/236034/The-Attention-Seekers-Guide-to-a-High-Tech-Journalist-s-Mind

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