I remember reading in my college textbooks how public relations professionals used to actually fax pitches and press releases to media outlets. Don’t laugh. I’m serious! It may be hard to believe now but there was a time when reporters received actual hardcopies of these documents. Media kits were built to be quirky, fun, and creative to catch attention and inspire a story idea. Reporters spared a few minutes on the phone for a quick download of a new product launch.
My, things have changed. Today, these tactics belong in a history book, not a text book. Based on feedback, it’s safe to say a reporter or blogger receives anywhere between 100-300 emails per day. Most will be given a few seconds of their time. Some, no time at all. So, when your brand is counting on third-party coverage, how can you increase the likelihood of that reporter or blogger taking a moment to read your note while sparking interest for a potential story?
Here are some tips to better pitching in 2013.
1) Write better
How many times did your professors tell you this? How many blog posts do you read about writing skills on a regular basis? I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this at #1. Reporters will not give you the time of day if you have typos, use incorrect words or babble on about nothing. I’m even cautious in using complex words just to grab attention.
Remember that one Friends episode where Joey is writing a letter of recommendation for Chandler and Monica and he uses a Thesaurus on every word?
Yeah. Don’t do that.
Use those colorful words sparingly, making sure they are relevant to the personality of the brand/topic and reporter. Sentence structure is important too. And remember, even if you are strong writer, there is always room for improvement. Even my colleagues who have many years of pitching experience still pick up new vocabulary or writing tips that help in creating more creative or intriguing pitches. Don’t ever stop learning.
2) Subject Lines are Key
So you just wrote an awesome pitch and now you’ve thrown a relevant subject line in there so you can begin to distribute.
BIZZTT. Wrong answer. Try again.
Subject line writing should be treated like copywriting. It may be 5-10 words, but it’s the 5-10 words which will decide whether your pitch gets read or immediately discarded.
You should brainstorm, understand the mood of the pitch, the writing style of the receiver, and piece together an eye-catching headline. Rarely is your first attempt, your best attempt. This isn’t a trivia game show. There isn’t any “gut feeling” involved. Good subject or headline writing takes editing, editing and more editing. Don’t rush it if you want it to be effective. Spend almost as much time on the subject line as the pitch itself. Remember, reporters are glancing at these emails quickly, many times on their smartphones while on public transit. All you might get is them reading this one phrase. So make it good.
3) Use Social Media
Now that you’ve had a few years to experiment with social media, start getting serious about it and use these platforms as a means for pitching. Thankfully [for reporters], there are ways to ensure they are not spammed by PR pros who overuse this tactic. This means you’ll actually need to spend some time curating online relationships first. I know, that can be time consuming. Make sure you utilize the list feature to section off reporters by beat or client. Reply to them, answer questions they ask, RT them. Treat them like you would any other Twitter friend. Over time, they will recognize your name, @ reply you back at times, or follow you back. Once you’ve established trust, use the medium to send out you’re very short and sweet pitch. If you’re being followed back, use the DM feature. If not, don’t reveal too much since your competitors might be watching (or other reporters which denies your chances for an exclusive). Same etiquette applies to LinkedIn. Use these media sparingly but properly and it can incredibly boost your outreach efforts.
4) Phones? What are those?
Reporters do not like lengthy pitches, even if they are targeted. Why? Because it takes valuable time out of their day which is usually filled to the brim with a heck of a lot of reading, interviewing and writing. As a result, the phone has become more of a use-only-as-needed PR tool. In my opinion, reporters do not like phone calls. They often aren’t working in an office setting anymore so usually the best line is their mobile phone, which they also use for personal calls too. This leads to a “why the heck are you calling me” attitude, which I suppose can be understandable at times. Can you justify the call with important news or a really relevant story idea that they’ll enjoy writing? The phone can be a powerful tool in these circumstances. Have an important announcement that you know would be perfect for a reporter? Worked with a reporter before and they passed along their cell? No problem here. The blind pitching is where it gets sketchy. It all comes down to this – reporters’ time. Respect theirs. And they will [hopefully] respect yours.
5) Be Succinct
Even though you’ll be pitching via email, keep the 140 character mindset of social media in the back of your head. You might only get five seconds, so you have to quickly win over your reporter and land that briefing or press opportunity.
I’ve personally found my shortest pitches work best – especially in my follow-ups. Have an interesting lead and get to the point (the angle) quickly. ALWAYS include a hyperlink to the website or blog post to learn more about the company/product/news. And make your call to action straightforward. There’s an old mantra in writing – K-I-S-S – which stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” That was probably true in 1980. Today, you need to have a full-blown make-out sesh with it. Make it short, make it clever. Every. Word. Counts.
Reporters’ inboxes are filling up as you read this, so quickly share this page and go get pitching!