Pitch Perfect: Creating it and Getting Reporters to Respond

Uncategorized Posted Aug 15, 2013 by Jennifer Torode

To the average Joe, the thought of creating a “pitch” to a reporter seems like a cakewalk but for those who have actually tackled writing a pitch; it can be a smidge daunting at times. It’s fairly easy for the straightforward ones such as promoting a key executive hire—especially if he or she is well-known—or a significant acquisition or funding but what about a new product that may not be as “sexy” and well-covered as others or those pitches that need to be explained more in order to make sense. The latter may need more data points such as industry trends, key influencer statements and the list goes on. It also depends if it’s a “cold call pitch” or if you’ve worked with the reporter before. Then there are the editorial calendars that require us to formulate a pitch that is relevant to what the topic is and we all know that for each reporter/writer, there are dozens of vendors and PR folks pitching them on the same topic so you need to make your pitch stand out.

If you’re reading this, you are familiar with the marketing term KISS—the acronym, Keep it Simple Stupid. Well, that makes perfect sense but it’s not always as easy as one would think. That instantly makes me think of speaking and awards. You could say they are “pitches” to a certain extent but when there is a word max of 25-50 words, it’s far more challenging to state your case and sound compelling. I once worked with a very brilliant gentleman who authored many industry articles and he’d often reference a famous quote and apologized upfront to the editor upon submitting. He’d say, “Please forgive me, if I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter” with a smiley face. That famous quote says it all. It’s not easy to be brief, direct, and get your point across.

Most of us, regardless of what we do for a living, are inundated with email and the distractions, intertwining both business and personal communication such as Twitter, Facebook and the list goes on. As email has become the primary communications platform for business and given that very few reporters pick up the phone these days, how do you make your email stand out in a sea of waving virtual hands looking to get their attention to, at the very least, get them to reply.

Perfect Pitch

I always take a step back and think, “what would I reply to if I were the one being pitched?” What types of subject lines would grab my attention enough to read it and what sort of information within would make me interested enough for me to reply?

I often do a little research on what the reporter covered recently that is in-line with what I’m trying to pitch. I may say in the Subject line, “Great Article in xxx.” After all, everyone likes to hear that their articles are being read. Or if it’s product news, I may be more direct and say “Adv. xxx News.” It really depends on what you’re pitching. For the content, I always try to keep it as brief as possible because information overload equals instant shut down in most cases. I may correlate industry stats and trends in bullet form, and if possible, offer a customer to talk to. If the reporter I’m pitching was recommended by my peer that they know well or their colleague, I will definitely reference the person as we’re all more inclined to reply to or help a friend of a friend.

Behind every pitch is a personality so honing your personal style is essential in the process. If you’re working regularly with certain reporters and you’ve proven to be a valuable and credible source backed by a spokesperson who also adds value, the pitch may not be as tough—you’ve got your shoe in the door and most will let you know if they are interested or not in what you are offering. In a way, PR people are sales people. If I send 2 email follow up pitches to a reporter in a week, I may call them if I’ve not received a reply but I am always very polite and do not expect them to return my email or call. I know that I’m one of dozens vying for their attention. At the end of the day, people like working with nice people not ones that are pushy and feel entitled.

Ultimately, a good pitch may result in an interview but getting coverage for your company or client in an article very well depends on if the spokesperson (exec or product manager) can deliver on the promise of what you pitched. So let’s say you get a reporter to reply to your pitch. You then set up the call/email interview with your spokesperson and they end up getting quoted in the article. SCORE! Your company/client is elated. As a PR person, my job is not over. I always thank the reporter for their time and for including my source in the story—even if they are not included in the final story. I may ask why, more for constructive feedback, and hope to get my source included next time. I then tweet the article. Many reporters will appreciate you spreading the word. At the end of the day, reporters like working with PR people who are responsive, provide credible sources and information, and help promote their articles, etc. It’s a win-win situation for the PR person, the reporter and the company/client.