How to pitch to journalists
Journalists can either be the best tool in your kit or the thorn in your side, depending on how you work with them. Get a reporter on your side and you’re on the path to great coverage and raising your profile. Anger or annoy them and you can see your press releases ignored and even blacklisted.
It isn’t easy, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with the press; if there were we’d all be featured on the BBC and have glowing reviews in The Guardian.
According to one source, journalists receive over 100 pitches a day and it’s easy for your email to get lost in the noise. A study by Buzzstream and iAcquire into email pitches calculated that out of 300,000 pitching emails sent; only five per cent were successful. That equates to a one in 22 chance of securing a pitch or placement.
So how do you make sure you’re that lucky one and not shunted into the trash? Read on for our clear guide on how to successfully work with the press.
Before you begin writing your email to a journalist or the like, make sure you tick off these essential steps:
- Research where you would like to see your brand and what kind of media would cover your brand.
- Get a direct contact or email address for the journalist you want to speak to. Where possible, avoid contact forms as often they lead to an empty email address that will reduce your chances of being picked up.
- Stalk social media to see the kind of stories your writer is working on, or recent articles your desired publication has been producing.
- Find examples of articles that you like and you feel would be in keeping with your brand.
- Be wary and respectful of editorial schedules and deadlines, as this is when a journalist will be at their busiest and won’t want to be disturbed.
Knowing who you want to talk to and what your message is before you start writing that first email is key.
The personal approach is always preferred and you’ll not only win more respect with the journalist but it will make it easier to follow up with further stories and information in future.
Once you’re raring to go it comes down to the trickiest task of all; pitching! Many people avoid press communications at all costs for fear of getting it wrong or receiving rude responses, but there really is nothing to worry about.
Journalists want stories and you have information to share; it’s as simple as that.
There are various articles out there concerning the ‘perfect pitch’, including some great examples like this one from Paul Sawyers. However, remember that one email might be perfect for a journalist at The Times but approaching a journalist at VICE Magazine will require an entirely different style.
Take time to perfect your email. While you’re writing, it’s useful to bear these tips in mind:
- Remember to be polite and professional throughout your email.
- Judge your tone by the way a writer speaks in their own work. This is especially useful for knowing the difference between speaking to a journalist, a professional blogger or a blogger who writes as a hobby.
- Be direct and explain upfront about who you are, what company you are discussing and what the story is.
- Where possible include any examples you’ve found of similar stories the writer has covered, and even include statistics of how well it performed or how much debate it encouraged.
- Lay your information out clearly, this might include bullet points to get your ideas across
- Use questions within your pitch email to make it clear you value their feedback and input
- Explain the benefits of the story to the journalist, their publication and their readers e.g. it’s an exclusive piece
You might think that once you’ve pressed send on an email that your work is done. Or you’ll sit and earnestly wait for the journalists’ reply to pop up in your inbox. That’s not the case.
- Chasing up your pitch is fine, but leave the journalist sufficient time to read your email.
- Follow up your initial email a few days later to check it’s been received, and also to politely ask if they want any more information.
- If you had a reply and the writer seemed interested but then has gone quiet, call them. They might have just been caught up in another project and should be able to clarify if they want to work with you or not.
- Don’t send attachments
Not only do these clog up an inbox but by the time a journalist has downloaded your files (if they do) they are likely to have lost interest.
Stick to WeTransfer or Dropbox links, and even ask how they would prefer to receive the information from you.
- Don’t spam or use the same approach for every email
The cookie cutter approach will not work. Neither will sending out the same generic email to 3,000 journalists.
The personal approach wins every single time, and if it doesn’t get you instant coverage you can be sure they’ll be more receptive in future.
- Spellcheck and grammar check
Then do it again. Journalists are professional writers and will be quick to dismiss an email littered with mistakes, so don’t fall at the first hurdle.
- Don’t leave stuff to the last minute
Plan in advance, most journalists work weeks ahead so make sure you approach them in good time if you’re pitching something seasonal or with a short shelf-life.
Working with the press
Working with journalists isn’t always about getting your name in the papers and quick pieces of coverage, often it can be a long-term game. Build a relationship with a writer and your brand can reap the rewards and even see the journalist head straight to you for expert comment or news.
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