How to Pitch Journalists: Pro Tips from a BuzzFeed Contributor

Does your blogger outreach campaign consist of sending formal press releases to multiple journalists at once? Or, are you ignoring smaller blogs and Tumblrs and opting to pitch highly authoritative sites instead? Well, guess what? You’re going about it the wrong way. Well, according to the perspective of a contributor at the popular site BuzzFeed, you are.

I recently had the opportunity, thanks to the lovely folks at Muck Rack, to attend an exclusive presentation on how to pitch journalists. The journalist providing an insider’s perspective was BuzzFeed’s own, Ryan Broderick. During the presentation, he shared advice for blogger outreach specialists, like myself, whose goal is to get the content they’re promoting covered by major media outlets. To be honest, I was quite surprised by the insight he had shared.

Before pitching, put yourself in a journalist shoes and imagine what their usual workday is like. According to Ryan, “it’s complicated.” Throughout the day a journalist is bombarded by tweets, updates on Facebook, GChats, and of course the occasional pitch via Twitter. Turns out, they gets pitches all day long (big suprise, right?). Surprisingly, he does practice inbox0 and reads every email he receives. Mostly, he gets a lot of pitches promoting YouTube videos and  ultimately believes PR people have an uninformed view of what matters on social, meaning they aren’t aware of what content will spark human emotion..

Here are tips from Ryan  on how outreach specialists can create better pitches and start changing the perspective of journalists who have received one too many pitches that don’t relate to the content they report on.

Tip #1: Cater the Pitch For New Media Journalists

First, get into the mentality of a new media journalist, remember their job is to report in real time. In order to do so, try to create an email that speaks their language.

Remember that being brief, yet personal, is key. Remember how Ryan said that his usual work day is “complicated” and constantly interrupted by one distraction after another? Keep this in mind while crafting your pitch and try to come up with an email that is to-the-point, but also is personalized enough so that the receiver knows you put some time and effort into getting to know their writing style and topics that they cover.

Get a new media journalist to care, it has to fit the kind of content that works in new media (sounds obvious, right?). Well, apparently this is one of the reasons why Ryan believes PR professionals have an uninformed view of what matters on social networks. The example he used was that you shouldn’t pitch a print idea, such as an incredible interview opportunity or press release, to a new media journalist. Instead of pitching traditional media opportunities, press releases, and articles, pitch content that contains the human element that makes something shareable. To make your content more interesting, include in your pitch how you would like people to interact with the content you’re sharing. Instead of explaining or simply summarizing only what the content is about, explain how and why you think their audience would react to it.

Explaining the human element of the piece or product you are pitching will allow the journalist to see why their audience will be interested, make sure this is the main focus of your pitch.

Tip #2: Be Personable and Stir Up Emotion

The email itself can be just as important as the content you’re pitching. Take time to craft one that will catch the attention of the receiver and doesn’t sound like they’ve been BCC’d. The pitches that stick out to him are the ones that don’t feel like they’ve been sent to hundreds of other journalists.

When the content you are pitching appeals to the emotion, that works best, according to Ryan. Begin your email by genuinely complementing their reporting style, or maybe retelling your reaction to a recent story they wrote. Or, begin by explaining why the content or product you are pitching might appeal to the interests of the journalist and his/her readers.

Make sure your intentions are genuine and let them know that you’re reaching out to them personally in order to create a mutually beneficial partnership.Specifically, in the body of the pitch, explain where you’re from, how you’re familiar with what they cover, and feed their egos. This doesn’t mean compliment them on every article they’ve ever written. What this means is that you should explain why their personal writing style and engaged audience would be the perfect fit for the content you’re promoting.

 Be pragmatic about what the journalist will get out of the partnership you are presenting. As Ryan honestly put it, he will work with someone if they understand that relationship and are willing to help him, as long as he doesn’t feel like he is just flipping what they wrote or produced.

Tip #3: Remember, the Internet is like a Cocktail Party

A common misconception among PR professionals is that journalists don’t want to report on something that’s already been reported on, according to Ryan. His reasoning: most viral products, Internet celebrities and shareable content operate the way that memes do. For example, Grumpy Cat was a deformed cat that made its way into the scene via Reddit and worked her to being an Internet sensation organically.

Organic shares, such as ones that stem from a placement on Mashable, can be generated in the opposite fashion. He provided a real-life example of an instance in which he personally picked up a story that had already made its way through the ranks of other sites. Earlier that day, he saw an interesting story on Guyism, noticed it was picked up by Gawker, then he reported and shared the story on BuzzFeed.

 He believes you should talk to the “little guys” first because he sees this situation happen so frequently. If you want something to be covered by a major travel site, pitch the channel that will lead you to that. For example, reach out to travel Tumblrs and lower-tiered travel blogs.

Pretend the Internet is like a cocktail party and you want to make a good impression. You don’t just jump in the middle of the crowd and scream “look at me, you should listen to all the cool things I have to say.” Instead, you mingle and network with individuals first and get them interested in you, gaining supporters one new friend at a time.

The Takeaways:

  • Remember that the stories made to catch a journalists’ eyes were made for humans, not for bots.
  • You’re targeting new media journalists with short attention spans & more laid-back preferences, so make it personal and don’t forget to explain the value of the offer you are providing them with.
  • Cater your pitches accordingly, and you’ll be making a journalist’s inbox a much better place, and the reputation of an outreach specialist seem more like a new best friend rather a solicitor.
Do you agree with the tips Ryan shared, or were you a little surprised? Sound off in the comments below.

Disclaimer: Ryan Broderick wasn’t available for comment. These tips are coming from the perspective of my own interpretation of his presentation for Muck Rack.

Britt Klontz

Britt Klontz

Britt is a PR Consultant who studied television production and traded in her video camera for a laptop and Internet connection.  After interning at an Internet marketing agency during her last two years of college, she knew she wanted to be at the...   read more

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7 Comments

  1. Relationship is the key to target Journalists, I suggest there is no need to any pitch, We should accept google is smarter than human and instead of focusing link building related stuff focus on users interests, all Journalist will follow you automatically

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  2. Quite some interesting tips here. I wasn't really aware of that journalists don't care much if a story was published somewhere else before. Thanks for the great advice!

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  3. Very impressive post. I am starting an outreach program for an app from next week , this should definitely help. Also, one thing that evades me is how to craft the perfect email headline when you are pitching to these guys? After all, not everybody practices inbox zero and I fear my email might not even get open.

    Thanks!

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  4. Rajesh Magar

    Was nice to read you interpretation and completely agree with the statement that marketer needs to feed people egos. It is complected but anyway it's part of art to get in to mind of those user and make them feel that you are coming with something which is great for them and you too.

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  5. I have a hard time with outreach because it feels like that guy in the movies trying to hit on the girl at the bar - desperate to get her number (aka a decent article written about his content). I have to remember that journalists signed up for their jobs knowing they'd essentially be playing the dating game with outreach specialists and PR pros. When the goal of both people playing the game is a long, happy relationship the intro conversation is honest, easy, and fluid. Unfortunately, when the PR person acts more like a shark, trying to get as many dates as possible, it makes each journalist feel cheap and used - and much less likely to be a heavy advocate of the PR person's content. Thanks for the tips Britt!

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  6. I completely agree with Ryans tips. At the end of the day, it's all about building relationships. I mean, these are people too. Also, I always look at how I would read the pitch, and if I'm not happy reading it, then I'm not sending it.

    @DanielHorning: "it feels like that guy in the movies trying to hit on the girl at the bar – desperate to get her number (aka a decent article written about his content)."

    Really good way to look at it. Imagine going up to a girl and the first sentence out of your mouth is asking her to meet your parents? You probably won't have much luck. You have to make yourself known, familiarized. From there, you say hello and introduce yourself, and so on. Never go for the hard close right from the jump.

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    • @kevinraposo,
      The problem with starting a relationship is that many small clients don't start a PR campaign until they have something specific to promote...then they're in a hurry to get the attention of journalists.

      Britt shared some great insight; stuff we never thought of before but will certainly promote to our community.

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