I’ve watched plenty of journalists vent about useless, lame, and irrelevant pitches on my Twitter feed. So I decided to reach out to them, and asked them to offer me an idea of what kind of pitches they would actually like to receive — the kind that will make them hit “reply” instead of “recycle.” This is the best list of tips I’ve seen, straight from the source.
Plus, I’ll provide one final tip that will make your pitching and outreach flawless.
But first, the Pitching Wall of Shame:
Journalists from TIME, Fast Company, Ars Technica, Engadget and more complaining about bad pitches
Just Want to Get Something Off My Chest…
Before I go any further, I just want to make this point: journalists are people too. If you treat them like some sort of email landfill, then you’re probably going to fail miserably at this career. The people that get the best results are the ones who put in that extra effort and time. At the the end of the day, do you want to get covered once? Or do you want to have a relationship that garners lifetime results?
I’ll let you think about it for a while…
Advice Straight From The Horse’s Mouth
You’ve heard this before, and you’re probably going to hear it another million times: Be familiar with the type of stories a certain publication and journalist publishes.
“I can’t tell you how many pitches I get for completely unrelated topics” Dan Seifert an editor at The Verge told me in an email.
Knowing who you’re pitching is such a critical component of the pitch. Seriously, this is important.
Alright, let’s jump right in:
Outreach That Makes These Journalists Sit Up and Take Notice
Kyle Alspach – Senior Staff Writer – Boston Globe’s BetaBoston
“I’d recommend they first read up on what sorts of stories BetaBoston posts, and especially what sort of stories I write. The second thing is to be really concise about why I should pay attention to their pitch (i.e. what makes it unique) and why it’s something people would want to read.”
Alex Fitzpatrick – Home Page Editor – Time
“Just make sure the pitch is relevant to the writer and actually something the writer would consider doing”
Easy enough, right? For some people this can prove to be difficult — probably because it actually takes some time and effort on your part. Plus you have to know how to read.
Quick Tip: Follow 10 new publications, whether it’s online or print, and read one article a day from each publication. Over time, you’ll get a sense of what particular writers are interested in writing about, and you’ll be able to gauge the tone a publication utilizes. The best part about this is that you become a READER! Dive right in there, submit comments, ask questions. Engage with the writer. In the end, you can use this knowledge to your advantage.
Real-Life Example of a Pitch that Worked
To see this advice in action, I’ll share an experience I had with BoingBoing. When Breaking Bad was the talk of the town, I noticed Xeni Jardin, the co-editor of BoingBoing, sharing a TON of parodies, memes, and anything related to the show.
Since I had my ear the ground, the team and I created The Breaking Bad Guide to Stashing Your Cash (a security themed article incorporating tips inspired by the main character of the show). We published this a week before the series finale, giving it enough time to mature. The results were amazing.
Here’s how I did it:
Since I knew this journalist’s interests and what she usually writes about, I felt confident shooting off a quick message. Here’s the email:
Here’s the result:
Bottom line: Know who you’re pitching, and make sure it’s relevant. Don’t waste your time if it doesn’t make sense. Save yourself the embarrassment!
The next piece of advice is from a well-known blogger for a large tech site (who preferred to remain anonymous):
“I probably get about 150 pitches a day. No, wait. It just feels like 150 pitches. It’s only about 50.
Most have headlines that are all about the sender and nothing about the receiver. Many pitches seem to be sent to many writers at once. Many have the same structure.
It’s as if there’s some sort of house style for writing PR pitches and everyone follows it. The headlines are almost always like the para headings in manuals.
Each pitch assumes that everyone will be automatically interested in this amazing news/product/promotion/cause.
The best pitches are the ones that reflect what (and the way in which) you actually write. A little well-judged humor helps. (At least in my case.)
The worst pitches are either the ones that say: ‘Hey, you wrote about farm widgets last week. How about writing about our farm widget?’
Or the ones that say: ‘Want a free download of (insert product name of which I’ve never heard.)’
Or the ones that say: ‘I really enjoyed your piece about social networking on the Space Station.’ (When I never wrote a piece about social networking on the Space Station.)
Or the ones that begin: ‘Hi, I hope this finds you well.’
They don’t want to find me well. They want to find me malleable.”
The Perfect Pitch
Dan Seifert – Editor – The Verge
“Hard to say what is a ‘perfect’ pitch, but I would say that the right pitch gets to the point, is applicable to its target, and doesn’t rely on gimmicks. There’s nothing worse than a pitch that uses a major, unrelated news event as its hook. It also has to be related to the areas that the target covers. I can’t tell you how many pitches I get for completely unrelated topics. Finally, it’s always easiest for me (in terms of time and such) if the bulk of the information in the pitch is provided immediately, as opposed to a teaser that makes me ask for the actual information.”
To show you what Dan means, Zach Epstein the executive editor over at BGR tweeted out a great example:
(Names and email address have been removed to protect identity)
Kind of make you wonder why you spend so much time drafting up long pitches? Don’t exhaust yourself anymore! Straight-to-the-point emails will yield better results.
Sal Rodriguez – Tech Reporter – LATimes
“If someone can pitch me a story in one simple sentence, that would be perfect.”
My experience matches up with Dan and Sal’s advice here. I remember the days when my outreach letters felt like a George RR Martin novel. As I realized it wasn’t working, I shortened up my pitches and the results were immediate. Remember, short and sweet.
If you’re pitching a product or service, tell them upfront what it does and how it can help them. Keep it short and simple. This way, the journalist knows you don’t want to waste their time — which gives you a +1 the next time you pitch them.
Pre-Outreach Is the Key
Content can be a little tougher to place — but if you do your homework, you’ll have a way better shot. Before any project is planned, pre-outreach is essential. You don’t want to spend time creating something only to find out no one cares about it. Trust me, I learned this the hard way!
So once you’ve decided on a topic or idea, time to go ahead and see who’s interested in it. This is the fun part.
Your pre-pitch should be short and straight to the point. Remember, these guys and gals are buried by emails. So make their life a little easier, and save yourself some precious typing time.
Here’s another real life example of how proper outreach can acquire outstanding results. Here we have a placement in Silicon Angle for a project we worked very hard on:
We had created an interactive that tests to see how vulnerable you are to a cyber threat. It’s a really quick quiz, and if you get something wrong, a bundle of resources are there to help you get on the right track to protecting your digital security. Here’s how I pre-outreached it:
I’m working on a new project and could really use your expertise. I’m in the beginning stages of launching a pretty comprehensive guide to digital security (basically how to keep your digital world safe. passwords, content, computer, devices, etc).
Wanted to pick your brain on this topic – specifically for the types of information you’d find most helpful/intriguing. We have our own ideas, but this will be of tremendous help when it comes to finalizing our research.
I admit, this is pretty long but it fits, reads well (I hope!), and it’s straight to the point. The point is to receive an email back feedback. If you don’t, it’s not the end of the world. Schedule a follow up email for the following week.
This pre-outreach is awesome because you’re both trying to gauge interest AND get the journalist actually involved, so they’ll be nearly 100% likely to post it later, right?
If you do get a reply, ask the journalist if you can quote them in your piece — tit for tat. Any chance you get, make sure to take care of your sources. This is the beginning of building a long term relationship.
Protip: Do not follow up the day after, please, this makes us all look bad. I usually find sending a follow up 4-5 days later gets the best results. Keep this email short, too.
How to Pitch Content
Here are what some journalists have to say about doing outreach for content:
Natt Garun – Editor – The Next Web
“Despite our constant whining on Twitter and other forms of social media, I think a lot of people underestimate the volume of emails we get daily. Unfortunately, we really don’t have time to read every word.
It’s imperative to do your research to make sure you are emailing the right person for what you’re looking for. For example, I exclusively handle guest contributions for The Next Web, so any email pitching news stories tend to go ignored by me until I have time to potentially respond.
For me, it’s best to attach any supplementary material I might need in the email so we don’t have to go back and forth several times. To me, this shows you are prepared and ready for any feedback I’m able to provide. Keep it short, give me quick synopsis of what you’re pitching, and your content should be able to speak for itself!”
Rich DeMuro – Tech Reporter – KTLA Los Angeles
Something that fits what I normally cover, with a unique angle and concrete supporting materials – video, interviews, studies, product samples, etc.
Also, stories that are sellable to my audience of consumer folks – regular people like moms and older folks – that will make life better, easier, and most of all – stuff that is readily available and affordable.”
Rich makes some good points here. However, he suggests sending him materials like video, interview, studies, etc. I personally don’t think it’s a good idea to send them right off the bat. If you have a press kit attached to the email, then maybe. When you clutter up your first interaction with links to a journalist, chances are they’re less likely to click the links.
Remember, “be simple, and concise” says Sara Castellanos of the Boston Business Journal. Provide a simple and straightforward pitch that contains the bulk of the info you’re trying to pass along. If they’re interested, they’ll reply back requesting more information.
Lauren Orsini – Tech Reporter – ReadWrite
“Here’s my short and sweet advice, because I like brief to-the-point pitches myself:
Show me what your pitch has to do with my beat. Show me why your pitch is helpful/interesting to my readers. A lot of pitches are framed as asking me to “do a favor” or “help get some exposure to a deserving cause” and as harsh as it is to say, I’m a working professional, not a charity promoter. Out of hundreds of pitches per week, I am only going to write the ones that help my readers, not the ones that help companies.
Oh, and look up my name. I get called ‘Laura’ in soooo many pitches.”
Here’s my short and sweet advice, because I like brief to-the-point pitches myself. So many great points made here by Lauren (see, I listened):
First off, spelling of the name you’re pitching to. Listen, if you can’t take the time to at least get the name right, then stop what you’re doing. Just stop.
Second, researching the publication. This can’t be done in 20 minutes. You’ll have to actually read their articles, comment, share, and engage with them. If you’re going to blindly send them a pitch, at least pretend that you give a damn.
Build a Relationship
One Last Valuable Piece of Advice: Build A Relationship
At the end of the day, writing the perfect pitch isn’t what’s going to get you killer press — if it does, you got lucky or you’re the hype man for Google.
Most of my success is dedicated to building relationships with the press, as opposed to using the hi and bye method. I’ve built some really great relationships and my media list proves that. I treat these people like my friends, because they are.
First off, spelling of the name you’re pitching to. Listen, if you can’t take the time to at least get the name right, then stop doing what you’re doing. Just stop.
Here’s what I’ve done to build and maintain with journalists and bloggers.
• Commenting on their articles
• Sharing their work via social media
• Ask questions
• Buy their book
• Attend their events
• Offer them resources
• Tip them stories (even when they don’t pertain to you)
Bottom line: be human, authentic, and genuine.
When I first started doing outreach for and PR for SimpliSafe, I had no idea what I was doing. To be honest, I think that gave me a leg up over everyone. I was genuine, hungry, and open to suggestions.
It’s amazing how many blogs and publications I visit on a daily basis. There are journalists I never intend on pitching, but I still interact, share their stuff, and engage with them. Who knows, when I need something covered in their publication, guess what…..I’ll have a better chance over everyone because they’re familiar with me, or my avatar.
Look at it on the other side. If you were a journalist, and saw me constantly retweeting your articles, commenting, asking questions, you would be happy to open an email from me because you’re familiar with me. You know what I write about, you know I just moved into a new home, etc.
The personal touch goes a long way. I’ve been in the PR world for about a year and a half, and relationship building has become my number one tactic. I was able to get quotes from these amazing journalists without any hesitation on their side. That says something. I needed a favor and they were happy to help.
Remember, don’t build up the rolodex. Build the relationship.