If you’ve ever pitched anything to a journalist, you’re probably familiar with the sinking feeling that comes with a failed or unanswered email pitch. In my time working in PR, I’ve written countless emails to journalists. From the good (instant, enthusiastic responses), the bad (no replies after hammering away at my keyboard for hours on end), to the downright ugly (one response from a particularly disgruntled journalist simply read “Why would you do this?”), I’ve seen it all.
While this journey hasn’t always been plain sailing, I’ve learnt a lot about what works — and even more about what doesn’t. Here’s what this process has taught me.
Before you pitch to anyone, make sure you…
Do your research
Not knowing a journalist's beat is tantamount to accidentally calling someone you’ve just met the wrong name. Journalists get bombarded with hundreds of emails every single day, so the least you can do is make sure you’re pitching a story that’s relevant to them. Do your due diligence to avoid starting off on the wrong foot. There are a handful of key questions you should always investigate first: Does this journalist still write for the same publication? Are they still covering this topic? Has their job title changed, and if so, will your content still be relevant to them? And do they tend to cover similar content, or was an article they wrote about something similar a one-off?
it's been seven months since I moved out of the fashion & beauty dept, and yet a solid half of the PR pitches I get in my inbox are F&B-related. c'mon y'all.— existential dread but with tinsel (@jameslokehale) May 22, 2018
Don’t pitch self-serving stories
No matter how well disguised you think your motives might be, any journalist worth their salt will see straight through your spiel, almost guaranteeing your message will be deleted before they’ve had a chance to consider it.
Don’t pitch a story that’s already been written
I know how tempting this can be. If they’ve already covered that, they must be interested in this, right? Not necessarily. If you go to a journalist with a story that’s too similar to something they’ve already covered, you’ll only end up looking like you haven’t done your research. That said, some topics do run on and on — but revisiting more niche stories can be overkill, so use your common sense to work out which category yours falls into.
When you publish a story on a specific topic, and then are flooded with PR pitches about that exact topic... I guess I get it, on the off chance of doing a follow-up or as an FYI. But for the most part, these pitches are irrelevant b/c I'm not going to do the same piece twice.— Michelle Ruiz (@michelleruiz) March 19, 2018
When writing your pitch, you should always remember…
You need to make your subject line snappy so that dreaded ‘delete’ button doesn’t get hit before the email has even been opened. This doesn’t mean you should go to town with puns and wordplay — you need to summarise your story as concisely as possible. When introducing yourself, avoid spending too long explaining the intricacies of what you do. Journalists are only interested in the story, so get to it as quickly as possible.
Today in PR pitches. pic.twitter.com/pWoWwRI00e— Wes Wolfe (@WesWolfeBN) July 2, 2018
Keep everything succinct
Journalists are some of the busiest people you’ll meet and therefore won’t want to sacrifice any more of their time than they have to. Make their lives easier by cutting the waffle. Get straight to the point, try to avoid dressing things up in cliches or complicated terminology, and do your best to keep your email just a few sentences long.
Make it personal
You want people to remember you, but there’s a fine line between being fun and being annoying. Overly quirky ice breakers often have the adverse effect, so think twice before wasting your time penning a seemingly hilarious email like this only for it to be misunderstood. Instead, you should personalise your messages by explaining how your story relates to the recipients specific interests or topics they regularly write about.
PR pitch was already on shaky ground, what with the egregious use of the emoji and all, but come on already with this shit. pic.twitter.com/OYcLaoS4d0— Anthony Crupi (@crupicrupicrupi) June 21, 2018
Proofread and spell check everything
When you’ve finished writing, go through your email with a fine-toothed comb, looking for any mistakes. Then reread it. And then a third time. Keep going until what you’ve written is a flawless, perfectly flowing pitch that is easy to digest and skim read. Typos are rarely forgivable, especially so when speaking to someone who writes for a living, so avoid falling at the final hurdle by spending time looking for errors before you hit ‘send’. If spelling and grammar aren’t your forte, find someone else who is more comfortable with words to proof read what you’ve written. At the very least, you can rely on an online tool such as Grammarly or HemingWay to improve your emails — and your chances of getting a reply from an interest journalist.
You ever get a PR pitch so badly written you consider responding with edits out of pure pity for the sender?— Paige Lavender (@paigelav) February 22, 2018
After you’ve sent your pitch, you should…
Find reasons to follow up
Don’t lay all your cards on the table in your first email. Perhaps you have a photograph of that new piece of tech your company is working on that you mentioned in your first email, or a video that adds a bit of colour to the story. Send across any additional material that’s relevant to your pitch, as this gives you a good excuse to get in touch again without sending a pestering email simply asking whether they are interested in your story.
I usually don't complain about PR pitches. I know that people have a job to do. But this email, just received, is just.... pic.twitter.com/OFkumL5rna— Mary Suh (@MaryMSuh) March 13, 2018
Answer any questions in a timely fashion
The longer you take to answer a journalist’s questions, the less likely the opportunity becomes, so don’t let this slide to the bottom of your to-do list. If it’s something that you can’t answer immediately, let them know you’re working on it and that you’ll be back in touch ASAP.
Try not to give up hope
PR is an art, not a science, so try not to beat yourself up if you don’t nail it first time round. It might not be the right fit for that particular journalist, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a better fit for someone else. Rewrite your pitch, try tackling the topic from a slightly different angle, or go back to the drawing board entirely armed with your learnings.