How to Pitch to Journalists
PR pros and journalists: It’s an interesting dynamic. They may not always be on the same page, but they need each other to get the job done.
Journalists want news to share. PR professionals provide the news. PR pros want eyes on their story. Journalists provide the eyes.
It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
You’ve got to know how to pitch to journalists when you work in public relations, because, well, you spend a lot of time pitching to journalists.
But it’s not as simple as sending an email. Far from it. Journalists are busy folk. They receive hundreds of pitches a day. Many are poorly written, uninteresting or irrelevant, and are sent by people who don’t know how to pitch a story to a journalist.
Here’s the thing. To grab the attention of a journalist, a pitch needs to be clear, concise, relevant and timely, or it gets filed in the bin.
Of course, we’re always going to recommend you employ the services of a PR pro for all your PR activity. But if you haven’t got the budget at the moment or your business is just starting out, here’s the lowdown on how to write a pitch to a journalist.
PR against the odds
But first, here’s an interesting fact to keep in mind when you try to pitch journalists.
There are six PR pros to every one journalist. Yep, six. That ratio makes grabbing attention easier said than done. Add faster news cycles and an ever-growing number of media outlets (including 600 million blogs) into the mix and it’s clear that you need to be savvier and more strategic than ever about how you pitch to journalists.
Fortunately, there are some universal rules to follow that’ll keep you on the right path.
Whether you’re after a feature in the Metro, a mention on BBC News, or coverage on Vogue.co.uk, here’s how to write an email pitch to a journalist, step-by-step.
Want to know how to land a story in your local paper? Read: How to Get Local Media Coverage.
1. Pitch to the right people
My first piece of advice is to pick your journalists wisely.
Writing the perfect email pitch will be useless if you don’t think strategically about who you’re sending it to.
A sportswriter doesn’t want to write about an interior design company, any more than an investigative journalist wants to write about a new restaurant chain.
2. Write a killer subject line
The subject line is the first thing a journalist will see.
Your pitch may be the greatest thing ever written. But it won’t get a look-in if the subject line is boring, confusing, or overdone.
It needs to be clear, simple, and exciting enough to make the journalist want to open the email.
Here are some pointers:
Be clear about the content
Don’t give your email a clickbait headline. Let the recipient know exactly what to expect from your email. Make it intriguing without using hyperbole or sensationalism.
Press releases share facts. They shouldn’t be biased. That’s what an opinion piece is for. That’s not to say the title needs to be boring. Quite the opposite. Just be sure not to make any outlandish quotes with nothing to back them up.
It’s fine to say: ‘New Tech Startup Presents Game-Changing Software.’
But not: ‘New Tech Startup Launches Best Product in the World.’
It’s an over-the-top statement and unlikely to be true.
Get to the point
Keep your subject lines short and to the point. Cut out unnecessary adjectives.
For example, rather than:
‘Incredibly Natural and Fun Remedies to Give You the Best Immune System Ever.’
Go for this:
‘Natural Remedies for Your Immune System.’
3. Make sure your story is newsworthy
Above all else, a journalist will cover your story if it’s worth covering. So, make sure it’s newsworthy.
Of course, everyone thinks that 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:
In the world of public relations, timing is everything.
Is your story new and current? Journalists aren’t fans of old news. They want to be the first to hear about something so they can be the ones to break the story.
Still, a story doesn’t have to be ‘breaking news’ to land. As long as it offers something new to the conversation.
Does it offer fresh insight, a different perspective, or tie into current events? Alternatively, you could provide a counter argument to a story, backed up (of course) by data or research.
Do your homework. Research the outlet you want to pitch to. Take a look at their website. Check out their social media pages and read past articles to get an understanding of their point of view and how they communicate with their audience.
Understanding the publication’s audience and the kind of stories they feature will help you craft a more relevant pitch.
What do we mean by proximity?
In terms of pitching PR and pitching to journalists, proximity is primarily about how closely a story fits into a publication’s geographical location/coverage area. But it can also apply to social or cultural proximity.
Most news outlets cover a specific geographic range. If you’re pitching an article about a local butcher in Reading to a publication focused on Scottish businesses, you’ll waste your and the journalist’s time
Like it or not, conflict is newsworthy.
The old adage of ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ didn’t come about from nothing. Reporters are professional storytellers and conflict makes for good stories.
You’re far more likely to receive media coverage by criticising your competitors than by showering them with praise.
To learn more about storytelling in PR, read: The Power of PR Storytelling.
4. Make it personal
One of the main reasons journalists ignore PR pitches today is the same reason they ignored them 25 years ago – a lot of them are generic and impersonal.
The cookie cutter approach doesn’t work. Don’t send out the same generic email to 3,000 journalists. Personalisation is key.
Take the below email-pitch-to-journalist example from Criminally Prolific, a U.S. consulting firm:
If you are planning to travel from Earth to Alpha Centauri, it would be faster to take the Galactica rather than the USS Enterprise.
That’s what our infographic on ‘Fastest Fictional Travel’ reveals.
We have used a logarithmic scale to compare the time it would take a superhero or fictional starships to travel real distances.
Since you write regularly on hi-tech innovations and sci-fi, I knew you would be intrigued by our findings.
The press release with the infographic is copied below.
Please let me know if you have any queries and I’ll get back to you immediately.
Showing a journalist you’re familiar with their work is a great way to build a meaningful connection with them.
Yes, it can be painstaking to tailor each pitch, but by doing so you’ll set yourself up for success.
5. Keep it short
Nobody has time for a Tolstoy-esque email pitch. You want to give journos a flavour of the story, not the finished piece.
If you’re sending 1,500-word pitches (which nobody is reading, by the way), cutting back to 3-4 sentences may sound like an impossible task. But if you can’t boil your message down to 100 or so words, it’s probably too complex, vague, or just plain unnewsworthy. See point 3…
6. Develop an impactful one-liner
Whether you’re pitching 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.
Don’t get bogged down with industry jargon or technical language. Imagine you’re telling a friend about your story over coffee.
US-based signage brand Custom Neon nailed it with this journalist media pitch example:
‘$500 into $10 million in 3 years with serendipitous maternity leave side hustle.’
That one liner summarised the story and created intrigue. After all, we all want to know how to get rich quick, right?
Here’s the rest of the pitch. There are a few other noteworthy things to mention.
‘What started out as dad Jake Munday looking to buy an LED neon sign for his son Jagger’s nursery in 2018, is now a $10 million business!
This maternity leave side hustle that started from a home in Geelong, has certainly hit the big time!
The award-winning couple have provided signs for many prestigious events and awards including Paris Hilton’s wedding, Elon Musk, Facebook HQ, The Grammy Awards and with a forecasted growth of 50+%, they are excited to see what 2022 has in store!
I have attached some images of Jake, Jess, the team, and some of the signs we created for the Paris Hilton wedding’.
Firstly, the pitch is short, snappy, and succinct.
Secondly, they name-dropped. The media love a recognisable name, and this pitch brought them all to the party: Elon, Facebook, Paris Hilton.
A celebrity, influencer or recognisable name will always help your pitch.
Lastly, everyone loves a rags-to-riches story. The brand did a good job of this. As a result, they humanised the company and told an emotive and compelling story.
The dos and don’ts of a journalist pitch
So far, we’ve taken you through the necessary steps to craft and deliver a successful pitch – and included a real-world example of an email pitch to a journalist.
To finish up, we’re going to ensure you nail your next press release pitch with a few dos and don’ts, and a couple more journalist pitch examples.
1. Do understand that exclusive means exclusive
If you’re pitching to the national press, bear in mind they’ll 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 their exclusive without compromising anyone else’s interest.
2. Don’t be promotional
This is an important one to bear in mind when pitching to journalists. It’s their job to tell stories – not promote products.
Most journalists don’t care about your product; they just want to fill pages with stories that will captivate their readers. This is why you need to be creative when trying to nab their attention.
3. Do conduct a spelling and grammar check
Don’t forget, journalists are professional writers. They’ll be quick to dismiss email pitches littered with spelling and grammar mistakes. It’ll also make you look unprofessional. Don’t fall at the first hurdle. Make sure your pitch is error-free.
4. Do prepare 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.
However, good ideas do sometimes get missed, so you can put in a follow-up phone call or email. Just don’t overdo it. There’s a fine line between being proactive and being annoying.
For more on curbing your expectations, read: 4 Things to Consider When Pitching During the Pandemic.
Sample email pitch to journalist
As promised, we’re going to end with a couple of simple pitch-to-journalist examples that tick all the boxes above.
I’m contacting you with exciting news about a new technology that will help teenagers save money.
The new service offered by innovative fintech company, Money Wins, is set to change the way young people spend.
I’m sure the below PR will be of great interest to your audience following your last article about growing financial problems for teens in London.
Let me know if you’d like to know more about the service.
A Leeds-based charity, Hungry No More, are launching a new monthly event to support families in the region who are struggling to put food on the table during the current cost of living crisis.
Attendees will be able to access professional advice and resources to help cope with the rising costs of food, plus financial assistance in the form of vouchers.
The event seeks to provide a sense of stability for families in the region during this time of uncertainty. Full details in the PR below.
We hope you can help spread the word so that as many people as possible can benefit from the support on offer.
Good luck with your pitching.