Your pitch is the first interaction a journalist has with your story. You need to make sure it’s strong.
Do you know when, where, who and how to pitch a story? Or are you struggling with becoming ‘pitch perfect’?
To survive in PR and to get your story heard your pitching prowess needs to be ever-evolving and updated. You need to know of new norms and ways of doing things. What worked before might not work again.
This article aims to give you a detailed look at how best to pitch your story taking some from our own PR experience and learnings into account. We will focus on the importance of
- Getting it right from the beginning
- Making sure your pitch is journalist friendly
- Choosing the right timing.
- Formatting your email correctly
- How to follow up
Get it right from the beginning
Your story, no matter how good it is, is going to go nowhere if you have a bad headline.
Through our own press release distribution software we’ve seen many press releases not do as well as they should have simply because their headline wasn’t good enough. Either it was too long or it simply wasn’t eye-catching enough to stand out in a journalist’s already overcrowded inbox.
So what should your headline look like:
- It should be short and concise – it should fit fully in an email subject line.
- It should sum up your story in one sentence.
- It should be eye-catching – if you can include a pull word in your headline “revealed”, “best”, “new”, “study” or “worst” work well here.
- It should make the journalist want to read more.
- “Revealed: 100 years of Getty Photography goes online”
- “New study reveals 40% of young people not registered to vote”
- “New study reveals which gender is the worst drivers”
- When pitching just use your headline as the subject line of your email. Don’t overcomplicate things.
- Do use some of the key words above in your email – remember you’re trying to grab their attention.
- Make sure you have a story to begin with – ask yourself “is my story media ready?” if the answer is no, start again.
You can find some more handy headlines tips here.
Make sure your pitch is journalist friendly
Journalists are busy people. On average online journalists write eight stories a day, that’s one every hour.
To keep up the pace they don’t have time to wait around. A study from 2014 found that journalists spend less than one minute reading each press release they’re sent. So you need to make sure yours catches their eye.
First of all, make sure you are sending your pitch to the right journalist. It may sound simple but always make sure to send your pitch to a journalist who writes about your topics and works in your field. For example, if you are pitching a story about a tech product, don’t send it to a sports journalist.
When sending your pitch to a journalist make sure you include everything they will need. Send your press release in your email, pasted in after your pitch. Make sure they have access to any quotes or photos they might need. Also make sure they have the full description of the product or service you are talking about, including price and links.
Your job is to make the journalists life as easy as possible. This will increase your chances of getting your story picked up.
Make your press release look perfect
Words are important, but the way your press release looks is also crucial. You need to make sure your press release is an eye catching as possible. You only have a few minutes to stop a journalist in their tracks and make them fall in love with your story.
Here, headline font sizes are crucial.
As we’ve already said always paste your press release into the bottom of your email. Make sure to paste it so it resembles the attachment, that means fonts, colours and logos included.
Make sure your headline stands out. Make it a larger size than the other text in your email, if your company has a standard or company colour use it here too. Make sure your headline is the first thing a journalist will be drawn to when they open your email.
Also make sure your sub-heading and any bullet points at the beginning of your press release are bolded too. This information is the most important part of your press release and needs to stand out.
Choose the right timing
For a successful pitch timing is everything. Deciding when to pitch can be the difference between your story getting picked up or it falling flat.
PR pros often use ‘gut feeling’ to judge when to send their pitch. Experience and instinct take over and you end up choosing a date just because it feels like the right thing to do. While this can work well for a lot of campaigns it is risky, sometimes your gut instinct is not always right.
Instead what we recommend is sitting down and planning your pitch day. Ask yourself, when is the best time for this story?
Earlier on in the week is always better, that’s a given. As you get closer to the end of the week it becomes harder to pitch stories.
If your story is connected to a specific date then it’s a bit easier, but if not, some days are better than others.
Here’s what we have learned:
Sunday for Monday – the weekends are slow, so journalists are usually looking for a good story for their Monday papers on Sunday. Send your pitch at 11am, this is the time journalists usually arrive into the office on a Sunday. It’ll make sure your pitch is one of the first things they see.
Bank holidays are a gold mine – long weekend are great, time to relax, catch up on your shows, do a bit of gardening but did you ever think how great they could be for your pitch? Bank holidays are another time when journalists are looking for stories to fill column inches. Sending your pitch in late on a bank holiday Monday morning could spell success for your story.
Format your email correctly
When sending your pitch one long paragraph of text simply isn’t going to cut it.
You need to make sure you pitch email is inviting and easy to read. It needs to be formatted in a way that will make the journalist read more.
Pitch emails should be brief and to the point. You don’t need to overcomplicate things by adding in unnecessary information.
Here is what works well for us:
To open write a short paragraph, two or three sentences, on your story. Concisely explain what the story is about, explain why it is relevant to them and why It is newsworthy. Make sure to really sell your story here, make sure you’re including all the best points about your story and make it as relevant to the journalist as possible.
Then pull three or four pieces of information from your press release, make sure they are key highlights from your story. These can include some interesting figures from your story, a great quote from your spokesperson or the key stat or piece of information. Try and make sure these pieces of information are eye-catching and most of all interesting. Don’t include anything boring here! To make it easy to read for the journalist put these nuggets of information in bullet point form.
To finish off your pitch email give them all of the necessary information. This includes letting them know when the press release is being issued, if it’s under any embargo, links to additional information and details about a spokesperson is available. If the journalist has made it this far that means they’re interested. Make sure you include all the necessary information here. Don’t leave anything out.
If you’re offering it to the journalist as an exclusive make sure to include that at the beginning of your email. Let them know you are happy to offer it to them and them alone, no one else has been sent the story. It’s best practice here to set a time limit. If they don’t respond within a certain time period they know you will contact someone else about the story. This will help entice the journalist to your story even more.
Doing follow-ups with journalists are tricky. Do you call them? And if so, when? You don’t want to risk annoying them.
Numerous studies have shown that journalists hate follow up calls. As we have already learned, journalists are busy people and more often than not your follow up call will do more damage than good.
One simple way to overcome this is to put a time limit on your pitch. Politely let them know that if they don’t get back to you within 24 or 48 hours then you will have to move on. Journalists know you need to get results too.
Putting this limit on your pitch works perfectly for PR pros. You know where you stand and can move on to another pitch without risking damaging a relationship with a journalist. It works for the journalists also as they don’t have to deal with the “did you get my email?” phone calls.
If you insist on following up with journalists after a pitch, remember it doesn’t always have to be a phone call. Some PR pros opt to follow up over social media rather than over the phone. A short DM on twitter, “just making sure you got my email” usually does the trick.
If a journalist comes back to your pitch with a no, always remember to ask why. Why did they pass on the story? Asking this simple question can provide you with a wealth of information, it can help you alter your pitch for the next media outlet and improve your pitching technique and your story overall.
Your pitch check-list
So when it comes to pitching and getting the most for your story, here are the key things to remember:
- Always lead with a strong headline.
- Make sure you make life as easy as possible for the journalist.
- Choose the right day and time for your pitch.
- Send a nicely formatted email.
- Don’t bombard the journalist – give them a deadline to get back to you by.
- If they say no, ask why – improve your pitch and start again.