You’ve spent days trying to craft the perfect pitch. You’re sure you’ve thought of the perfect subject line, created a relevant hook, proofread the document three times and even injected a human element into it. You click send, close the tab and move onto your other tasks, anticipating an email or phone call requesting an interview with your company’s CEO.
But, before long, it’s 4:00 PM and there’s no sign of response. You wait another hour. Then another day. Then weeks. And then you’re faced with reality: nobody really cared about what you had to say.
This situation is all too common for many businesses, no matter what industry or sector they’re from. With most journalists receiving hundreds of emails a day, it’s easy to have your seemingly carefully crafted persuasive prose buried under an avalanche of humdrum pitches. As brutal as it sounds, if your pitch isn’t perfect, there’s a good chance that it’ll be ignored.
So, what are some tips to ensure this doesn’t happen to you?
1. Know your audience: The crux of pitching to the media is discovering your audience. This begins with asking yourself, who is my audience and where do they look for information? These questions will not only help you shape your story, but also assist you in pinpointing which media outlets and journalists will be useful in appealing to them.
2. Make sure your story is relevant: It’s remarkable just how many emails reporters get that are untargeted, irrelevant and un-newsworthy. Formulate your pitch to answer the one question journalists ask themselves – why should I care? While key details and contact information are important, you need to provide ample context that journalists will find interesting, timely and significant. When drafting your pitch, make sure you include the five Ws (who, what, when, where and why), and consider whether the story is relevant to your target audience at the specific point in time. Is it original? Is it newsworthy? Why does it matter now, and not in six months’ time?
3. Get straight to the point: A PR pitch is much like an elevator pitch. You’ve only got a few seconds to capture the journalist’s attention, so you need to make it concise and impactful. You should be able to tell your story in a single, clear sentence. Make sure your headline clearly states what the story is about in a captivating manner. Get straight to the facts, and avoid making exaggerated points or using buzzwords. Don’t lose sight of your purpose: telling a story worth reporting in a short amount of time.
4. Tailor your media list: Based on your story and the type of news you’re looking to tell, determine the scope of your media outreach. If you send your pitch out to every man and his dog in the hope that someone will reply, chances are, you’ll end up disappointed and worse, blacklisted. For stories that will have a broader appeal, you may consider pitching to a wider audience. However, if your news has a local or regional appeal, narrow your list down so that it only includes journalists that cover the specific area.
5. Get to know your target journalists: Read their work to determine whether your story is relevant to their beat, publication or interests. You can even check them out on Twitter. Be certain your story is a good fit for them, and if it’s not, remove them from your list – pitches blasted out to hundreds of others (i.e. mass-sent BCC’s) are sure to get binned and get you blocked.
6. Give them a heads-up: Most journalists despise unsolicited phone calls. They’re in meetings all day and face tight deadlines, so getting a call unexpectedly can be very disruptive to their workflow. If you’re planning to follow up on a pitch via phone, make sure you clearly state this in your email.
7. Go the extra mile: Before you click send or pick up the phone, make sure you have all your materials ready to go – your media release written and sent out, your images and other multimedia assets are set, and your spokespeople are available for interview. Be prepared to answer questions on the spot (brainstorming possible questions prior can help) and to provide additional materials on request.
8. Be prepared, polite (and patient): Pitching to journalists over the phone can be very intimidating, but it’s important to know that you’re in control of the situation. Before you even think about picking up the phone, make sure you rehearse your pitch out loud. Yes, there’s a chance you’ll still stumble over your words or accidentally give out incorrect information, but remember it’s not the end of the world. Take a deep breath, introduce yourself, let the journalist know why you’re calling and ask them if it’s a good time to chat. Keep it concise, and above all, really believe in your pitch and the story. You should never underestimate the way your enthusiasm can rub off on someone else.
Pitching to a journalist isn’t rocket science. At the end of the day, it’s all about putting yourself in the journalist’s shoes and asking what type of stories you would want to be receiving. If you’ve got these points covered, then you’ll be well on your way to achieving your media relations goals!
With over 20 years’ experience in communications, political advisory roles and journalism, Jo Scard is one of Australia’s foremost strategic advisers to corporates, not-for-profits and government. Jo is a respected former journalist in the UK and Australia working with ITV, Associated Press, Seven Network, SBS, ABC and Fairfax. She co-authored the best-selling book The Working Mother’s Survival Guide with the Seven Network’s Melissa Doyle.