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How to be pitch perfect: 5 golden Rules for pitching to the press

If a tree falls in the woods and nobody’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? In the world of PR, the more important question is this: if you spend lots of time pitching to journalists but they never open your emails, are you wasting your time? The answer is a resounding yes.

If you’re a business owner, chances are you don’t have much time to spare. So the goal is to be as efficient and effective as possible. In order to pique the interest of the press, this should carry over to your pitching strategy. Bear in mind that journalists receive hundreds of pitches a day, many of which are poorly written, generic or irrelevant to their publication. You only get one shot at snagging a journalist’s interest, so it’s crucial to get it right. Whether you’re after a feature in the London Metro, or coverage in Vogue, here’s some expert advice to make sure you knock your pitches right out of the ballpark.

1. Is your story really a story?

What’s the primary reason a journalist decides to cover a story? Because it’s newsworthy. Of course, most people think their story is newsworthy. But whether it meets a journalist’s standards of newsworthiness is another question.

As a general rule, there are four pillars of newsworthiness:

ii. Timing

Is your story new/current? No one enjoys reading about old news. While your story doesn’t have to be ‘breaking news’, it should offer something new, or tie into a current event in order to be considered timely.

ii. Significance

How is your story relevant or interesting? Does it relay information that will impact its audience? Are there a large number of people who are affected by the story? Spend time researching the publication or programme you want to pitch to. The more you understand its audience and the kind of stories it features, the more likely your pitch will be successful.

iii. Proximity

Proximity generally refers to geographical proximity (but can also apply to social or cultural proximity). Most news organisations cover a specific geographic range, so do your homework. Stories that occur within this range will have more significance and will likely get you more coverage.

iv. Conflict

Like it or not, conflict is almost always newsworthy. Reporters are professional storytellers, and good stories have conflict. If you disagree with a competitor’s approach, for example, you’re more likely to receive coverage than if you agree. Like it or not, conflict is almost always newsworthy. The old adage ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ didn’t happen by accident.

2.Make it personal

As well as making your pitch newsworthy, it must be personalised.

Businesses today want to automate everything, but this is a no-no for pitching to journos. Yes, it can be painstaking to tailor each pitch, but that’s where the most success will be found. The more effort you put into making your pitch the start of a relationship rather than a one-off transaction, the better off you’ll be.

3.Develop a killer one-liner

Whether you’re planning to pitch by email or phone, you should be able to summarise your idea in 15-20 words. If you’re struggling to do this, think about how a journalist might introduce your story. Try not to get bogged down with jargon or technical language; imagine you’re telling a friend about your story over coffee.

4.Exclusive means exclusive

The national press in particular will often expect to get first dibs on running a story, so think carefully about who you pitch to first. If you can’t offer exclusivity, think about offering an interview or a different angle to the most relevant publications before releasing your story to everyone else. That way they get a first look without compromising anyone else’s interest.

5.Be prepared for knockbacks

Don’t be surprised if journalists don’t return your calls or answer your emails. Most only follow up on stories they want to cover. But good ideas do sometimes get missed, so there’s no harm in putting in a few follow up phone calls or emails. Just don’t overdo it. There’s a fine line between being proactive and annoying.

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