Whether it’s your first time or 5,000th-time sending outreach, knowing how to pitch journalists can be intimidating. The last thing you want is for your message to end up as a publicly mocked screenshot on Twitter.
If you’re in the public relations industry, you’ve probably had a fair share of professors and field experts tell you the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to pitch a journalist. And while many of them likely have several good tips and tricks for how to pitch a story, you’ve also probably been fed a few unhelpful exaggerations. Below, I’ve outlined seven myths about pitching journalists that should stop holding you back.
1. You have to have a pre-established relationship with a reporter to reach out.
Relationships are important, and they can help a lot with securing coverage. But just because you don’t have a relationship with a journalist, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach out. And on the flip side, just because you have a strong relationship with a journalist, doesn’t mean they’ll automatically cover anything you send them.
If you’ve done your research and know that what you have to offer is a great fit for their coverage area, send them your pitch! Don’t feel weird about blindly reaching out to them – you’re not the first, and you certainly won’t be the last. After all, a cold pitch might just be the start of a long-lasting relationship.
2. Every pitch should include a press release.
Public relations and press releases go hand in hand. They can be a great solution for getting a lot of information across in a short document. But press releases are not, and should not be treated as, the only option when it comes to PR pitching.
Press releases should be used sparingly when it makes sense. But for something like a data study that you can summarize in an email, they’re a waste of time to both you and the journalist. A good rule of thumb is that if you can distill your pitch into three or four bullet points, you don’t need a press release. An email alone is perfectly sufficient and gives journalists one less thing to open and read.
3. Your pitch should include every single tiny detail.
Speaking of all the details, you don’t need to cover them all in your first pitch. Of course, you should include all of the ‘must knows’ about whatever you’re sending. But don’t bore the journalist with the nitty-gritty. For example, a high-level of the methodology is important, but you don’t need to elaborate on how, when, and where the survey was conducted in the first pitch.
Instead, keep it short and sweet. Think about highlighting the most newsworthy aspects of your topic. If you were a journalist, what would make you want to cover it? What are the eye-catching stats that would make the best headline? What are the details that a potential reader would be most interested to know? Include those insights and let the rest do the talking for itself.
4. You must use a formal tone at all times.
Proper grammar is undoubtedly a must. However, a formal tone as if you’re writing a college essay isn’t always the best approach. Remember, there’s a human behind that email inbox that you’re sending your pitch to. Communicate with them in an engaging manner that grabs their attention.
Your tone should change based on what you’re pitching. For example, if you’re pitching a light-hearted piece such as ‘The Most Popular Ice Cream Flavor in Every State’, it might make sense to crack a joke or use more conversational language than you would for a more ‘hard-hitting’ news piece. Match the tone of your pitch with your content and keep in mind who you’ll be pitching when you write your outreach message.
5. The more people you pitch, the more opportunity for success.
It’s often believed that the more eyes you can get in front of your content, the better chance you have of securing coverage. The real secret is to get it in front of the right eyes. It doesn’t matter how many people you pitch – if you’re not hitting the right people, you’ll never get land coverage.
When it comes to PR pitching, quality always trumps quantity. While building your outreach list, you should spend more time finding relevant contacts that are a great fit for your content rather than looking for a larger volume of contacts that likely won’t work out. At the end of the day, someone who exclusively covers new restaurants opening in their city will never cover content about the most popular interior design style in their state, so don’t add them to your media list just to take up space.
6. Reporters will always respond if they’re planning to cover.
Especially when it comes to digital PR, most reporters will cover campaigns without any response or indication of interest in the pitch. So if you’re not getting any feedback, don’t fret. This could just be a sign that your pitch is strong enough to stand alone without requiring any additional information.
This is where email tracking software can be extremely useful. Technology like Yesware or Buzzstream can be used to keep track of who is opening emails, clicking links, viewing attachments, and more. A repeated number of email opens is a good sign of interest in the pitch. This not only allows you to identify who you should be monitoring, it also helps you gain insights on the health of the pitch – if you have low open or click rates overall, it may be time to change it up.
7. You should never follow up.
It’s no secret that reporters are very busy people. They are swamped with full inboxes and tight deadlines. That’s all the more reason why you should be following up on your pitches.
A follow-up offers the journalist a gentle reminder while giving the PR pro a second chance to make an impression – take advantage of that opportunity! The best follow-ups will offer an additional piece of information or alternative angle to the first pitch. Maybe the journalist wasn’t interested in covering your general overview of hoarding statistics across the US, but when you present it as ‘the states with the most and least hoarders’, that’s an entirely new story idea for them, using the same dataset. Don’t be afraid to check back in on your initial outreach, just don’t overdo it or pester them with too many emails.
Every PR professional has their own style of pitching. Don’t let myths about pitching or something you heard once scare you into sending your outreach a certain way. You should constantly experiment with your pitches and find what works best for you and your clients.