Ninety-Nine Problems but a Pitch Ain’t One! Learning the Art of Media Pitching
One of my favorite parts of graduating from the University of Rhode Island’s public relations program in May 2019 was decorating my graduation cap with a witty PR pun that I had thought of a year before commencement day rolled around. Tacky foam letters sprawled across an overly bedazzled, deep blue, and glittery mortarboard, spelled out “99 problems, but a [media] pitch ain’t one!”
Despite the AP style violations on my cap (which my professors gave me an earful about), I left college feeling confident that I could send a pitch to any journalist or writer and provoke a response, start a relationship, and land a front page story.
Boy, I was wrong.
When I first started at Caster, my pitches were long, dull, and infrequent, proving media pitching to be one of my weakest skills as a bright-eyed beginner in the PR industry. Luckily, with guidance from my colleagues and many trial-and-error assessments, I’ve started to acquire a few tried-and-true tricks to writing pitches that grab attention, form relationships, and lead to great coverage.
Know Your Audience
Even a rookie in the PR industry knows to tailor a pitch to a writer’s beat; a small business reporter won’t care much about a NASDAQ company’s newest launch, and a tech reporter won’t be too interested in the latest clothing trends. However, while knowing your writer’s beat is a great start, a great pitch needs to be applicable, precise, and timely to spark interest in your target audience.
When pitching, ask yourself: Who is this journalist writing for? What demographics will they reach? Is it a trade, consumer, or B2B publication? What have they written about previously? If a writer hasn’t written about anything remotely close to what you’re pitching about, or even written to your specific audience, they’re probably not the right target for your pitch.
Keep it Short and Snappy
When I received feedback on my first pitch, I was surprised to hear that my 250-word pitch was most likely to be immediately deleted. Why? Journalists receive hundreds of emails per day, and if it takes longer than a few seconds to scan through your pitch, it’s probably not going to grab attention.
The ideal pitch should be only 100-110 words, posing the challenge of writing concisely, purposefully, with the intent to spark interest, convey ample details, outline a potential story, and contain a call to action. What I’ve learned from some of the PR pros here at Caster is this: to sell a pitch, write a clever and engaging subject line—puns are always fun, but try to include something the writer will find interesting, too! Then plan to write three tiny, but purposeful, paragraphs:
- A one-sentence hook to spark interested
- A short blurb to reveal the angle and your client’s position in that angle
- A one-sentence spiel telling the writer what to do if they’re interested.
Radio silence after you’ve researched your target, drafted and sent your pitch isn’t uncommon. Pitching media is not a “one and done” process. A follow up note can save your clever pitch from forever living in unread email oblivion.
Don’t be afraid to send a follow up and break through inbox clutter. While you might feel like you’re annoying the writer, there’s a chance they never saw your first message or got sidetracked by another task and didn’t get around to answering. It can take up to seven touch points to gain someone’s interest, so keep reaching out; the worst that can happen is they tell you they’re not interested, and then you move on.
Build and Leverage Relationships
Finally, I’ve learned that landing a story, review or contributed piece isn’t the only thing that can come from a pitch. While coverage might be the initial goal, pitching can also be the catalyst for forming strong relationships with writers and industry leaders who share the same goal as you: telling a story.
After a writer responds to your pitch, be sure to keep the conversation going. Follow them on Twitter, share new information that they’d find interesting on an ongoing basis, and if you’re ever in the same area for a trade show or event, try to meet up with them face to face. Once a journalist knows your name, they’ll be more likely (and excited) to read what you have to say in the future.
Working with multiple writers, reporters, publishers, and industry experts always reminds me that every pitch has the potential to form a mutually beneficial relationship that helps both the writer and the PR person. When these relationships are cultivated, the door for more opportunities opens.
Follow me @lexie_gardiner and @CasterComm on Twitter for client news and updates!