Pitching – it’s a crafty business, but somebody’s got to do it. And, no, I don’t mean everyone should. An effective pitch is not a one-off kind of deal. It is the work of a dedicated individual – one who takes the time to do the research, understand the writer and creatively structure the pitch.
So, who am I talking to? I’m talking to you, PR person! If you’ve ever pitched a story to a reporter, editor, blogger or media personality, these best practices apply to you. Regardless of the medium, make sure you keep the following things in mind:
BEFORE THE PITCH
- Familiarize yourself with the publication – Ask yourself: Why this paper? Why not another? Get to know the publication you are about to pitch. What topics are covered? How often are stories published? Who is the audience? Does your story lie within these parameters? If not, then discard your pitch.
- Who is the writer? – Take some time to learn about the writer. What is his/her beat? What topics does he normally cover? Where is he based? What does he like doing in his free time? Taking the time to write personalized pitches often reap rewards in the form of relationship-building, respect and stories.
- What are some recent topics he/she has covered? – Take a look at past stories to get an idea of the specific topics the writer has focused on. Can you justify pitching this reporter based on their written history? If you can’t answer this question, then throw away your pitch.
- Why does your story fit his/her audience? – Always ask yourself this question: Is what I’m pitching going to appeal to this writer’s audience? If it takes more than 10 seconds of reasoning and/or justification to proceed with your outreach, then discard the pitch. Your time will be better spent pitching a more targeted writer and publication rather than lessening your reputation and credibility with another.
- Is your story a follow up to something the writer has already written? – Get to know the writer you’re pitching. Referencing some of his/her previous work lets him know that you took the time to understand his beats, writing style and place within the publication. You’d be surprised how rare of an occurrence this is.
WITHIN THE PITCH
- It all rides on the subject line. – If you were a reporter, which of these two emails would you be more prone to read based on the subject line?
- Justin Verlander Pitches
- Justin Verlander Pockets His 2nd No-Hitter – Available for Comment
Writing a catchy subject line can be tricky, but you’ve got to consider what is going to make that writer open your email before anything else. Targeted, lively subject lines, like the second listed above, do the trick. The subject line should answer the age-old question: Why is this news?
- What is his/her tone? – Take a look at his/her writing style. Is it formal? Is it casual? Better yet, look at his bio. How is it written? What is included? This can often advise your tone when addressing the writer. *As a rule of thumb: Traditional media are typically more formal and standardized in language, while bloggers tend to be more conversational.
AFTER THE PITCH
- Follow up. – Now, I’d be lying if I told you there wasn’t some debate about this particular bullet. Not in the action of following up, but in the timing sense. Typically, one would follow up after sending the pitch. Some prefer to call right after sending so the pitch is familiar and easy to locate in the writer’s inbox. However you decide to do this, clearly identify yourself and make sure you are calling at a good time before diving into the details. Remember to keep in mind, why is this a good story for this particular person, publication and his/her audience? This is crucial.
Now, I know this might seem like a lot of work, and trust me, it is. I’m not going to kid around with you. Sending out a mass pitch or unpersonalized email is way easier. So, why do I do it? Other than the reasons I have listed above, I can’t tell you how many times I have received a personalized email in return from writers thanking me for the time I have spent qualifying my story for them and their publications. It’s a reputation I am proud of and the reputation I encourage you to create with your contacts.
So, good luck, and pitch away!
If I have left any best pitching practices out, please feel free to add them in the comments. I am happy to pick up some new tips whenever possible!