The “art of the pitch” is a vital skill in the PR world. Although it’s far from easy to craft a memorable pitch, fundamental mistakes commonly crop up in the industry, even among veterans—all of them entirely preventable.
We’ve outlined six key qualifications your pitch needs to stand out among media outlets. Collectively, these tips form a road map toward avoiding these common errors. These guidelines won’t guarantee you a media placement, but they will send you well on your way toward delivering a clear, engaging message that will make an impression on your chosen publication.
1. Pitch a fresh topic that is connected to a storyline that you would want to read
It’s all too easy to take an overly narrow view on your pitch—but keep in mind that regardless of the particulars, you will be pitching to a media outlet committed to delivering newsworthy stories. And when working with the media, remember they are in the business of storylines and trends. Yes, we have a job to do to help our clients get more awareness, but the currency we use in working with the media is news, storylines, narratives. So before you send out a pitch, make sure your pitch adds value to a wider conversation. Ask yourself: what is its broader significance? If you’re finding this question difficult to answer, it may be time to re-work your pitch a bit further before sending.
2. Confirm a good fit between pitch and publication
In short, do your research. So many PR professionals discount (or flat-out neglect) this key step. At best, insufficient research leads to missed opportunities (without thorough research, how will you find the publication that aligns best with your story?) At worst, it indicates a lack of professionalism to media outlets. Don’t commit the gaffe of pitching an idea the publication has already written about. Always do a keyword search in the publication’s archives on Google, to make sure your topic hasn’t been covered recently. This is an easy step to forget, but it’s time well-spent. And above all else, spend time reading the various articles in a given media outlet, see the treatment they use for their reporting, identify the types of headlines the outlet uses as well as any ongoing series. For example, Business Insider often publishes articles on startups and fundraising, and has a series on the decks that startups have used to generate different amounts of funding.
3. Write a winning email
Take the time to craft an email concise and engaging enough to be absorbed – it pays dividends. Don’t make this an afterthought. After all, the person you’re pitching has hundreds of emails to read (one survey estimated writers receive about 100 pitches a day), and you’ll want to leave no stone unturned when it comes to making yours stand out. Remember, you want the reporter to open up the email so writing a memorable subject line is a great way to help with this, but make sure it’s not too sensationalized – otherwise, it will likely be no more effective than a generic subject line. If it reads like clickbait, it’s worth a refresh.
Beyond the subject line, structure your email so that the import of your pitch is clear within the first few sentences; don’t get lost in the details. A good rule of thumb is depth over breadth. Rather than aiming to be as comprehensive as possible, constrain your pitch to two or three key ideas and expand on them. You’ll only have a small window of time to pique a journalist’s interest. It’s best to avoid padding your word count with unnecessary information.
Finally, keeping your email to a reasonable length simply demonstrates respect for a journalist’s time. Your email should only contain as many words as it takes to communicate your key points.
No matter how enthusiastic you are about your pitch, don’t presume your recipient has the bandwidth to read a novel.
4. Make it personal
Even if you end up sending your pitch to a handful of media outlets, it’s important that every one of those emails is tailored to its recipient. Try to avoid the temptation to write a re-usable template for mass pitching – journalists will be able to recognize a copy-and-paste job immediately. Instead, look at ways to make the email more personable.
Also, keep in mind that publications are not static entities. They are collectives of people, and the makeup of those people changes frequently at any organization. Make the effort to keep track of these personnel changes at your chosen outlet. Introduce yourself to any new staff members, and ask what kind of stories they generally look for. Even if you don’t plan to pitch right away, it’s never too early to start building good will.
5. Don’t self-promote
A pitch should never be about you. Remember, the journalist wants to know about your story and/or message, how it will resonate with their audience, and how your client will provide value to the reporter’s ongoing work. Even in conjunction with a valuable story, self-promotion is a turn-off for most readers.
In addition to highlighting your client’s background, accomplishments or motivations, look to strengthen your pitch with statistics, anecdotes, and other relevant forms of hard evidence. Explain how this evidence relates to some sort of broader significance for your pitch. At the end of the day, your primary goal should be to provide value for the publication you’re pitching.
6. Be smart about follow-ups
Being overly persistent is a surefire way to alienate journalists and to potentially get blacklisted. As with most aspects of great pitching, this comes down to respect for your audience and their time. Take comfort in knowing that if it’s the right time for the publication to run your story, and you’ve checked all the boxes above, a response will come. If not, the journalist is not interested in the pitch. If this happens, move on, and don’t be discouraged. You’ll find the right media outlet for your pitch soon enough.