5 steps to a killer PR pitch

By Jack Murray

Have you ever wondered why some ideas for PR pitches to journalists succeed and some fail miserably? And is there a way to inject a bit of science into it and give your next pitch a better chance of succeeding.

I started out in a political press office in Dublin on January 4 1999. Over the following five years I was involved in hundreds of PR pitches to journalist. Some days we would write seven or eight statements by lunchtime. At that pace none of the rejections were taken personally–there just wasn’t the time. But over that period I learned some key lessons that I use to this day, which I’m sure makes each pitch sharper.

Here are my top five tips:

1. Make it personal

If you’re sending a pitch to a journalist make sure that you connect with them on a personal level. What does that look like in practice? Maybe you mention a story they did that you liked. If you know about an interest they have or an acquaintance you have in common – mention it. People forget that the most powerful thing you can do when you are communicating is to make a personal connection.

I’m not advocating being chummy for the sake of it or being false. You should genuinely try and make a connection. On MediaHQ we have a personalisation field that allows you to add a person’s first name to a pitch email. If you are writing a pitch email to a number of different people, one of the common pitfalls is to think of them as a group and not individuals. This is not done on purpose but often it can lead to you inadvertently using language that isn’t personal because you are addressing a group in your mind’s eye. Remember you convince people one at a time.

2. Reduce it to a single sentence

What is your story idea in a single line? How compelling can you make it? How can you grab the journalists attention in a few words?

We pitched an idea to Ireland’s most listened to radio programme, Morning Ireland, for our client For the first time, Ancestry had digitised 90 years of personal adverts for missing Irish people in the Boston Pilot newspaper.

So what was our line?

45,000 adverts digitised, for the first time, tell the story of the missing Irish in the USA.

The missing Irish–45k Boston Pilot adverts digitised for the first time.

The catchier you make it the more chance you have of success.

3. Make it exclusive 

Can you give the story to just one journalist, and get a result? There are a few words that are music to a journalist’s ears, but none more so than the word ‘exclusive’. (Well maybe–Junket)

In the TV show ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ each contestant has four lifelines. Phone a friend is one. I often think offering an exclusive is like phoning a friend. Firstly, you need to be happy with the outcome if the pitch is a success, bearing in mind that you are unlikely to get any other coverage. Once you’re satisfied with that condition it’s time to pitch. If you’re successful then everyone’s happy. When pitching an exclusive always put a time limit on it. “It’s yours exclusively, but I need to know by tomorrow at noon.”

If your exclusive pitch isn’t a success then you’ve lost a lifeline, but you’re still in the game. In cases like these ask the journalist for honest feedback, and take action. You might need to tweak the approach and the story. This recently happened on a story I pitched to a Sunday news editor. He wasn’t interested but based on his feedback, I did a general pitch to two radio programmes and had success.

4. What is your story strategy?

One of the key ingredients often lost on PR people is story strategy. So you’ve come up with a good idea, you’ve fashioned it into a really snappy news line. What’s next? You need a strategy. Here are the key questions:

Who are the audience that you are trying to attract?

What is the way to get the most out of your story?

  • Media/PR release.
  • Social media post.
  • Pitch to a group of media.
  • Pitch to a single journalist.
  • Local media.

Once you’ve decided on an approach then you need to put meat on the bones.

Here are the key questions:

If it’s a media list who should be on it? With MediaHQ you can build it in seconds.

If it’s a social media post – how will you support it and what’s the best way to execute it with images, video, and timing.

If you are pitching it – who are you pitching it to. With MediaHQ you can do personalised group pitches or individual pitches.

5. What way are you formatting your pitch?

If you decide to pitch – what should your pitch look like? Here is a suggested structure that I feel always gives me the best chance of success.

Subject: Story ideas–“Your killer one line” or

Exclusive for you “Your killer one line.”


Hi “ Insert journalist’s first name”

(The ability to pull first names into the press release is a feature is available on MediaHQ)

+ Personal paragraph. Make a connection.

+ Why is the story great? Put it in context. Who are you offering to talk to them? Why is that person great?

+ Give a bit more detail. Give some highlights of the story in bullets:

It’s great because.

And this great nugget

And this cool fact

+ What are the next steps and how will you follow up. Leave your mobile always.

+ A pleasant goodbye.

And there you have it, five great steps to a killer pitch.

Are you following the above steps, writing a killer press release, but not getting your message to the right audience? With over 6,000 contacts on our database, we have the tools to help you make the news. For more information please click here or call Gaye on (01) 254 1845.



Jack Murray

CEO at MediaHQ

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