Our Top 7 Tips For Pitching To Journalists
When pitching to journalists, they first thing they’ll ask is “why do people need or want to know about this now?” This is commonly referred to as the ‘hook’ or ‘peg’ for the story, i.e the reason for covering it. But when your mind is constantly in overdrive running your business, it can be tasking to think beyond ‘now’. But you see, PR is all about timing, as monthly publications often work three to six months ahead, while weeklies are typically five to six weeks ahead. While you might catch your breath working with online publications who have much more flexibility, if you’re opting for radio or TV placements, you could be looking at a year-long timeline. Needless to say, if you’re not up to speed on your monthly PR planning a year in advance, you’re most likely missing out on media opportunities on a daily basis
Don’t make the mistake of planning your PR entirely around one type of media content either, for instance just news articles. Make sure you brainstorm all possible opportunities for newsjacking and taking the story further. This way, you’ll have a greater chance of one of them sticking. Some types to inspire you include reviews, news, features, interviews, opinion, ‘how to’ guides, first person pieces, brand ambassadors, User Generated Content, and influencer outreach.
To begin, you need to understand how these journalists plan their content. One way is that they usually refer to stories and ‘on’ or ‘off’ diary. But what on earth does that mean?
‘On diary’ is typically attributed to predictable events - annual holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or even important political events, for example. This often means that journalists will plan furthest in advance for these stories, carrying out research, interviews or collating case studies.
‘Off diary’ refers to the events of which you can’t easily predict. In social media content, this is better known as ‘reactive content’; it can range from surprise celebrity appearances to natural disasters such as an earthquake.
Let’s get stuck into our top 7 tips for writing a pitch that journalists will actually read:
1. Nail your subject line
As you can probably imagine, the email inboxes of journalists are overflowing and they need to skim through quickly to find great content ideas. To make their job easier (and give you a better chance) label your subject line with ‘story idea’ or ‘opinion article idea’. They’re far more likely to open those emails.
2. Use the subject line to sell them on your email
To increase your chances even further of getting a journalist to read your email, use 10 words or less to summarise your story. Keep it simple and don’t use wordplay. This isn’t a newspaper subtitle, you just need to tell them quickly what you’ll be talking about if they open your email.
3. Get to the point
While you might be tempted to give a lengthy or thorough overview of who you are and your brand, the journalists aren’t interested in your business. They’re interested in content they can use. Either give them the background at the end of your pitch or if they ask you for it.
4. Summarise… Again
Swiftly introduce your pitch idea again in the first line of your email - repeat your subject line if you need to. For example, your subject line could go something like “Opinion article idea: Why Claudia Winkleman is right to argue the gender pay gap” and then the first line of your email (after addressing who you’re talking to) might read like “I was wondering if you’d be interested in an opinion article from myself on why I think Claudia Winkleman is right to argue the gender pay gap?”.
5. Avoid an overly-formal tone of voice
Keep your email casual and personable, employing strong visual examples. Try saying your email aloud - does it sound like an idea you’re telling to a friend? Then you’ve got it.
6. Don’t attach files
Chances are they don’t know you - would you download or open a file from someone you don’t know? We didn’t think so. Additionally, however, journalists just don’t have the time and can only pay attention to what is right there in front of them at that time. Try pasting your press release in the body of your email. Worst case scenario, if they want more information, they’ll ask for it.
7. Offer relevant visuals
Trying to describe a product or a venue? If you have quality images, paste them in the body of your email or include them in your EPK (electronic press kit, i.e press release). Make sure they’re not pixelated, but that they’re also not huge files that’ll crash their browser!
Haven’t heard back? That’s normal, no matter how much experience you have or whatever reputation your business already has.
Depending on how time sensitive the piece is, send over a follow-up email to the same email address as before. Simply forward the original email with a courteous note asking if they’ve had a chance to look at your email yet. You could also give them a ring if you have a phone number for them, as long as it’s not during absurdly peak times such as press day or in the middle of a breaking news event not relevant to your email.
If you’ve tried them a few times, it’s safe to assume they don’t want your content. Of course, don’t harbor sore feelings - it could just be that it’s not suitable for that particular publication or media outlet. From this point, you can try your pitch elsewhere. As with anything, this takes practice and you’ll learn from your mistakes. Try altering your subject line, your timing to make your email more concise. You’ll get there eventually.
Written by Alannah Rose and originally posted on Cue Marketing July 2017.