Pitching Tips for PR Professionals

Pitching ideas and sending out press releases to media contacts is something of a regular occurrence for those of us in the PR industry, but what can we do to ensure our story stands out in the influx of pitch e-mails journalists receive on a daily basis?

We get it: sometimes it can be a hell of a lot easier to send your press release out en masse and hope for the best, but does this really yield the results you and your clients desire? We all know doing your homework and researching relevant journalists before sending a personalised e-mail can go a long way…but aren’t we all doing that? We reached out to seasoned PR pros to find out their best tips for curating a winning pitch e-mail (and no it doesn’t involve bribery!).

RE: Subject lines matter

Getting a journalist to open your email is half the battle for driving coverage. We spoke to Freelance PR professional Chelsea Barone about her subject line tips.

It's important to remember that reporters probably receive hundreds of pitches each day, so breaking through the mould with a killer subject line is crucial.

Ask yourself: "Would this subject line make me open this email?". Striking the perfect balance between being informative but also different is a fine art. It needs to be punchy but not spammy.

Most importantly, it needs to be clear to the journalist why you are reaching out to him/her as opposed to one of their colleagues, so a tie to their beat should be apparent.

A subject line that stands out also makes following up with them easier on the phone as they are more likely to recall your email.

Simplify, simplify, simplify…

Michelle, Director of PR at Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, has been a PR practitioner for 13 years, so she understands a thing or two about curating the perfect pitch. Michelle feels that you should be able to reduce the essence of your pitch, and the value of talking to your client, to three sentences. If you can’t, then you need to have a talk with your client.

Nick, Director of Communications at Fuel, agrees: “Above all else – brevity is the key. I’m talking under 150 words in an email. When you consistently keep your word count down on an initial pitch email, watch your response and interest rate jump”.

Talking of keeping things simple, make sure those files you attach are as small as possible! We are talking three photos maximum and make sure you include a detailed description; left to right names make everybody’s lives easier.

No, those ‘buzzwords’ are not helping your case

Pitches that are complex, full of marketing buzzwords, and corporate speak are meaningless and confusing to reporters, meaning that your idea, however great it may be, could easily get overlooked.

Frank Strong, founder of the Sword and the Script PR firm, highlights the importance of holding a conversation (we are all human after all!): "Reporters are people too, so instead of pitching, have a conversation. Conversations build relationships. You’ll be surprised what happens when you don’t pitch".

Literally spoon-feed me

Nobody likes a tease and while you may not do this on purpose, Terri, co-creator of Lights Camera Expert, highlights it as one of the top peeves for journalists!

Every time you make a producer do something for YOU, you risk losing them. For instance, when you say things like: “If you’re interested, we’ll send you more information”, or “Would you be interested in a story about X?” without being specific about the who, what, when, and why, it's hugely frustrating.

Rather than hinting at what you would send or share IF they're interested, do it now. When you only give a little nibble, you don’t give them enough to go on and it reads as lazy. It’s like leaving a doggie bag on someone’s doorstep, ringing the bell and running away. This is not a way to get someone to try your food. Far better to present your pitch like a fine dish, with all the trimmings, and give them enough to be able to tell if they like what you’ve served them.

BOLDS and Italics can help to make your point

By now, you should have a catchy subject line and a short, simplified pitch. However, remember that part about spoon-feeding? It can help to highlight the parts of your idea that mean the most.

Henry Butler, PR consult at CanIRank, highly recommends bolding or italicizing important information in your email. He believes this tip has helped him to get picked up by USA Today, WSJ, and PC Advisor! Journalists and bloggers receive pitches all the time. If your message is more than a few sentences, it's unlikely it will be read in its entirety. By emphasising the most important points, you make life easier for the person receiving your message.

Hello – it’s me

It’s all too easy to annoy journalists by sending a blast e-mail or even just pitching to the wrong person. Different editors cover different beats, so do your research and contact the right one!

Sebastien Dupéré, CEO of Dupray, suggests interacting with people you have already done business with. When your clients and customers get a follow on social media, they’re significantly more likely to follow you back. Moreover, you need to narrow down and eliminate the people most likely to ignore you on Instagram. Ashton Kutcher will not be your friend online, nor will Kim Kardashian. The local bakery owner, however, will. Your sister, best friend and family will too. You need to do whatever it takes to get a base. This base will allow you to publish content successfully while tapping into the networks of that base.

While you’re at it, it can actually help to set up lunch dates with journalists or even send a handwritten note to reporters you are interested in building relationships with. Kelley Weaver, PR Maven at Melrose PR in LA, suggests getting to know editors personally without wasting their time: "Tailor the in-person meetings to their interests and needs. Beauty blogger? Treat them to a manicure! Busy editor? Bring them coffee as a pick-me-up!".

Being fashionably late is never cool

We bet Hayley, Founder of Greenhouse Communications, would never be late to a party!

The best way to get a PR campaign noticed is by being relevant to the media, and the best way to do this is by being timely. Hayley always plans and pitches according to the editorial calendar of the desired publication. The editorial calendar or media kit is planned in advance, with set deadlines and seasonal or monthly themes. By planning ahead, you increase your chances of receiving coverage on your event, product, or project because you are giving them content that they are already seeking.

So, remember guys: spend time on that subject heading, keep your pitch to the point, be timely, and above all keep building up those relationships.