During my four years specializing in public relations and journalism at Arizona State University, there were several core takeaways drilled through my head. One was that your personal credibility is the most important thing to preserve, another was that no good story comes without footwork, and the third and perhaps most important was that there is nothing more aggravating to a journalist than a bad pitch from a PR professional.
Now that I am practicing in the realm of PR, or the “dark side” as journalists commonly call it, I would like to reveal some tips that will enable you to write a pitch perfect for a reporter, and get your clients to the top of the news list.
Spit it out
Journalists are taught to write in the inverted pyramid style where the bulk of the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, why) is listed within the first three lines of a story. Half of the time a journalist won’t even open a pitch unless the subject line of an email hooks them. This gives you about 8 seconds to catch their attention before your release is tossed to the wayside. Make the first line count.
Make sure it’s news
Any story can be a newsworthy topic; sometimes it simply requires creativity and footwork. The ‘why’ is the most important aspect of the story. For this particular step. If you can’t explain why the story will impact the public, or why they will care about it, you can’t expect a journalist to be able to sell it in an editorial meeting. For example, a story about the release of a new motivational book may not be newsworthy, but the fact that a paralyzed man began to walk again because of it is.
Get to know the journalist
Avoid using formal terms like Mr. and Ms., and To Whom It May Concern. A pitch should include the journalist's first name and be written in a concise and casual tone. There is a huge difference between a pitch and a press release. LaneTerralever’s Public Relations Account Coordinator Omar Zamora says that it is important to get to know the journalist’s beat or area of writing specialization (sports, breaking news, entertainment, etc.). “Read some of their previous articles, and compliment them on them," he says, "By shaping the story in a way that would appeal to the journalist, you are much more likely to get a good response.”
Make their lives easier
Reporters are generally busy and on a deadline. Offer as much as you can to help the journalist compile their story. Ask them how you can help set up phone interviews, photo opportunities, b-roll or extra action footage, etc. Help journalists tell the stories you want them to tell by making it easy for them.
Journalists can see through overzealous adjectives and terms like “behind the scenes, inside scoop, and exclusive insight.” So just throw them out altogether. A Bath and Body Works sale on soap or a local beer festival do not qualify for such verbiage.
In the words of Melanie McBride, LaneTerralever’s Senior Vice President of Public Relations & Communications Strategy, “The most effective relationships between PR and the media happen when you have a mutual understanding that you are there for the same purpose: to uncover a good story."
Follow these simple steps on your next media pitch and journalists everywhere will thank you.