AN EDITOR'S DOS AND DON'TS OF PITCHING
Launch is in a week. You’ve spent hours drafting the perfect email and spent time researching who to pitch to. You hit send and then wait. And wait. And wait.
Pitching to a journalist isn’t rocket science. You can have the perfect email, but the truth is the email will probably get lost in all the other pitches. Journalists get bombarded with hundreds of emails a day. So how do you stand out from the rest of the emails? And once you do, what do you do next?
Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to successfully pitch to a journalist—and then maintain that relationship.
Build a relationship
It sounds like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many PR professionals skip this step. With over 10 years of experience, the email pitches that catch my eye first are the pitches from PR that I’ve worked with in the past and have built a relationship. They’ve taken the time to prepare, and I know they aren’t going to pitch me fluff or items that aren’t for my publications. So, when I check my emails in the morning, I immediately go to those I know first, then click on the emails with a catchy subject (more on this later).
So how did these PR pros build a relationship? They spoke to me as a person. The first email had a pitch but also had something that we shared. Maybe it was a mutual friend, mutual interest, or a comment about an article. The next string of emails were conversations as if we had been friends for a while. They took time to call to check in with me. They asked to schedule time for coffee or a run. I met these people in person. So, one suggestion is to speak to the journalist as if you’re gaining a new friendship.
Have an engaging subject line
As mentioned above—and I’m sure you’ve heard it many times before—make sure your subject line is eye-catching and direct, not sneaky. Some examples:
Want to Grab a Cup of Coffee at OR?
This shows how the PR manager wants to meet and build a relationship at an event I’ll be attending. In the email, they asked to grab a cup of coffee to learn more about what I’m working on.
Media Invite: Come Run the Grand Cayman Marathon
Grand Cayman is eye-catching enough, but this shows the PR knows what interests me and what topics I cover. And they were clear that it was a media invite.
Cool (brand) products to test on your next run
Introducing you to your new favorite hoodie
Again, this shows the PR professional knew the area of coverage, and they are direct in the subject line.
When it rains, snake bites soar
I didn’t know that snake bites soar when it rains. This caught my attention, so I opened the email to find an interesting study that’s perfect for my outdoor publications. This gave me a slew of story ideas I could discuss with my editors.
Make it personal
First and foremost, an email without the correct name —it’s happened—is a big no-no. I understand my name is rare, but Fran, Sarah, or Gabriel turns me away from reading the rest of the email. Sometimes if they write Sarah or Fran, I read on if the subject was catchy and the first sentence of the email interests me. If not, I move on.
Next, if the email is a mass email, like the one below, I move on.
There’s no name, no personalization. Just straight press release.
If you’re going to send out a press release, the least you could do is introduce yourself and have a little blurb about how it might fit the area coverage I work in.
Here’s an example of how it’s done.
Know info about the journalist
It’s not that difficult to get a little background info about the journalist you’re emailing. Spend a few minutes to learn about the topics they cover, where they reside, who they write for, etc.…
Not only will this help you craft a personalized email and have a conversation started, but it will also let the journalist know that you spent an extra few minutes to get to know them—in a non-stalkerish kind of way. You might even discover mutual connections or interests.
Keep your promises
This is a big one: keep your promises. If you say in your email that you have an expert available for an interview, and you mention the dates and times, you better make sure that the expert is available. I ran into this problem multiple times. In the email, the PR professional said the doctor was available Wednesday between 11 and 3 for interviews. Great! I responded back with a couple time suggestions, and the PR person replied, “Let me check with the doctor to see if she is available.” I thought “OK, maybe others booked those times too.” An hour later the response was, “Are you available the following Friday? The doctor is out of town that week.”
Know the expert’s schedule and don’t send out dates that they are out of town.
Avoid repetitive topics
If you just read an article that was published, it does not make sense for that journalist to write another article about the same topic. It’s a great email intro, “I just read your article about X, Y, Z, and loved it.” Great. Then you continue, “I want to introduce you to [product name].” And suggest a different story idea. Do not say, “I thought you’d like to include this in the piece or write another story about the same topic.”
Below is an example of a don’t:
Here’s an alternative approach that’s okay to do:
Offer story suggestions
Whether you’re pushing an expert or product, offer more than just an interview or product demo. Suggest story ideas. Product reviews only go so far. I mean, how many headphones can one test? Instead, propose a story about music, technology, ear health, etc.… Let the journalist know you have an expert from the brand that can provide quotes for the piece and offer them a chance to test the product too. This way you have the opportunity for a product review, but you’re also creating a story that the brand will be a part of.
Keep in touch—but don’t overwhelm
This is part of building and maintaining a relationship. If you don’t hear back from a journalist after the initial email, wait a few days (about 3 to 6 days) before sending a follow-up email. Some journalists don’t like phone calls, but if a PR professional calls me, I am more prone to look at the email they sent. Whether I end up working with them or not is a different story, but they caught my attention. And, if that story idea doesn’t work, I keep that person in the back of my head for something in the future.
Once a story has been published, send a thank you note to the journalist. Whether it’s an email or a handwritten note, let them know you’ve enjoyed working with them and that you hope to work in the future. Gratitude can go a long way.
A month or two after working/speaking with a journalist, send them a check-in note. Don’t pitch anything, just say hello and check in. This will build that relationship you’re looking for. And, when it comes to the holiday season, send a handwritten holiday card.
If anything, the two biggest takeaways: build a relationship and keep your promises.
Did you see any of your pitch tactics in these dos and don’ts?
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About the author
Fara Rosenzweig is the founder and chief content officer of Fit Creative Media and is a health/fitness writer/editor based in San Francisco, CA. Her love for storytelling earned her an Emmy Award and has been seen in many other publications, such as Runner's World, Women's Running, Refinery29, Active.com, and MyFitnessPal. Follow Fara on social media @fjrose.