There was considerable interest in my recent blog on common mistakes that PR professionals make when pitching to reporters via email. So, I thought I’d compile a longer list of tips to perhaps improve your success rate with securing media coverage. My advice is based on my own career experience, both in PR and as a TV and radio producer.
1. Try to get to know the individual reporter, editor or producer
This is probably my most important tip, because each individual will have their own personal preferences regarding pitching (and follow-ups). What might work for them might not work for someone else. Plus, if you know their preferences, it means you’ve already developed some sort of a relationship, which can only help your pitch’s chances.
2. Be outlet focused rather than client focused
Demonstrate an understanding of the outlet and its audience, because a reporter is looking for stories and doesn’t care about your client unless that client is potentially a story.
3. Avoid off-target pitching
Your story idea might be too promotional and might not be a news story at all. Or, it might be a news story for some outlets but not others.
4. Get to the point
Tell the outlet what you’re offering and why it’s of value to them in your email subject line and/or first sentence. For a reporter getting dozens or hundreds of pitches a day, your email may initially get only a few seconds of their time. So, if they can’t immediately see a story, they’ll move on and may not come back. Many reporters may not even open emails whose subject lines don’t grab them. Though some people find longer emails off-putting and are less likely to read them, I’m of the view that it doesn’t matter if your pitch is on the long side provided the “hook” or most important information is at the top. You can also highlight the email’s key information in bold text.
5. Try to only approach an outlet when you know you have something of potential value
Certain PR people develop a reputation for mostly offering high- or low-value content, and that reputation can make a time-poor reporter more or less likely to make your emails a priority.
6. Don’t oversell stories and talent
When a reporter further investigates your story or interviews your suggested talent, you need to make sure they’re as you’d described. Yes, you may need to spin your story to get a reporter interested, but honesty is the best policy in helping manage the reporter’s expectations.
7. Tailor your pitches to specific outlets
This is particularly important when going after a big fish. The bigger the fish, the more time you should spend baiting your hook.
8. Don’t make your personal emails impersonal
Reporters realize that PR people sometimes use direct-mail software when simultaneously pitching to multiple outlets, but don’t remind them of that by having incorrect personal data and poor formatting make it obvious. Also, if you’re resending a pitch to a different reporter, don’t accidentally leave the previous reporter’s name or organization at the top, and it’s better to cut and paste an email than to forward it, because forwarded text is often received as a different color, revealing to the reporter that you weren’t their first choice. Keep your media list up to date, too, because reporters are immediately put off if they receive emails addressed to someone who no longer works for the company. Certain PR people develop a reputation for mostly offering high- or low-value content
Certain PR people develop a reputation for mostly offering high- or low-value content
9. Make it easy for the outlet
From a reporter’s perspective, potential stories generally fall into three categories – yes, no and maybe – and so if your story is a “maybe”, making it easy to pull together might help get it over the line. Ways to make a story easier include offering to write it, to provide supporting materials (research, audio, vision etc.) and/or to organize talent and locations (including talent that isn’t your client). Once a story is proceeding, respect a reporter’s time by keeping emails and phone calls to a minimum.
10. Have a sense of urgency
If a reporter takes your bait and wants to run your story, make sure you immediately clarify the deadlines and expectations for what’s required of you. Nothing’s more frustrating for a reporter than having their own deadline put at risk by your inability to deliver the talent or content you’d promised. Also, don’t pitch a story until you’re actually able to provide it.
11. Let the reporter drive the story
By all means, make suggestions, offer assistance and always try to protect your client’s interests, but understand it’s not your story. If you want to call all the shots, that’s what paid advertising is for.
12. Respect any exclusivity agreements
This means not only with regards to your own pitching; it also means coaching your client so they won’t jeopardize the story by talking to a rival outlet without your knowledge.
13. Grow your relationship by pitching selfless stories
If you can do a reporter a favor by offering them a story or tip-off that doesn’t immediately benefit you, they might be more inclined to do you favors in the future.
14. Be gracious in defeat
When I was working in media, the only publicist I ever blacklisted was one who went over my head to complain to my boss that I’d turned down his pitch. My boss soon agreed with my assessment of the pitch, but I was so annoyed at being called into the boss’s office over it, I permanently blocked the publicist’s email address and phone numbers.
15. Say thank you
We all like to be appreciated and told when we’ve done a good job, so when you do place a story, send a short thank-you email to the outlet saying you’re grateful for the coverage and what a great job they (hopefully) did with it. Even if your pitch is turned down but a reporter gives you some feedback, thank them for that feedback and adjust your future pitching accordingly.
Do you have any additional pitching tips? Leave a reply below.