A pitch can focus on generating immediate coverage or on longer-term ideas and opportunities. The immediate goal is to get to first base, to generate enough interest that the reporter wants more.
The trick is to have something interesting to offer, and to state that idea in a compelling manner. You don’t have much time. Most reporters take only three to five seconds before deciding whether to reject an idea.
In any event, “pitching” is one of the primary PR skills. It’s also one of the most challenging. A good pitch:
- Is persuasive and interesting.
- Gains the reporter’s attention.
- Gives essential facts.
- Calls the reporter to action.
Pitches can be written or verbal. Even if pitching by phone, it is good to write a short outline.
How can you develop an effective pitch? Here are some tips.
Know your target. Study the publication or program. Make sure the pitch fits them. Match their style as much as possible. You would not pitch The Wall Street Journal the same way you pitch Rolling Stone.
Personalize the pitch. Identify the right person for your pitch. If necessary, check the publication’s masthead. Better yet, read the publication and identify who covers your industry.
Make it clear that you have done your homework. Point out that the topic would be a good follow-up to a previous report. Suggest a particular section in the publication or program. Or cite some demographic information that shows why your story is appropriate for the readers. (You can find demographic information in the publication’s media kit, which is often available online.) Reporters like to know that you’re paying attention.
In PR, familiarity does not breed contempt. It often breeds success.
Start at the end. Think about what you’d like the final article to look like. Imagine a headline and subhead. Focus your writing to achieve that goal.
Write a good e-mail subject line. If you’re e-mailing the pitch, make sure your subject line tells your story quickly and convincingly.
Write a good lead. You need to immediately draw the reporter into your pitch. You might start either by “writing” the first paragraph of the story, referring to your conversation with the reporter (if you’ve connected by phone), or mentioning a previous article the reporter wrote. Statistics, stories, questions and dramatic statements often work well.
- “What do Barbie, eBay and Bank of America have in common?”
- “Jim Ed Jones was enchanted with technology, until he realized the gadgets were running his life.”
- “For 40 million Americans, it is good news indeed.”
Present the broad story. Take your idea beyond your client or company, and focus on its larger impact. Will the idea help or hurt the economy? Your industry? Your area? Will it tie into a “hot” topic? Spell out the impact; don’t expect the reporter to figure it out.
Focus on the readers’ needs. What is the readers’ pain? How will they benefit from your suggestion?
Think about the obstacles. What would make the reporter turn down your suggestion? Is it too complicated? Too simple? Too similar to the publication’s other stories? Or too different? Think about possible objections and address them in your pitch.
Be specific. Give evidence – statistics, research and stories – to support your idea. Do the reporters’ work for them and you’ll increase your chances of success.
Make the pitch short and easy to read. It should only be a few paragraphs, one e-mail screen or one page. Use short words and sentences.
If appropriate, go negative. People are typically more motivated by the fear of loss (the “pain”) than by the promise of gain. So it might be more compelling to pitch a way to avoid a tax audit than to pitch tips on saving money on taxes.
Do not make the pitch too promotional. Stay factual and avoid hyperbole. Remember, you need to present an idea the reporter can use.
Do not send attachments. You can, however, link to your website and other resources.
Provide “extras” when possible. Offer photos or information for graphics. Offer to connect the reporter with industry experts, spokespeople and customers.
If you follow these recommendations, you’ll increase the chances that reporters will pay attention to your pitch.
A final note: In this discussion, I’ve referred to “readers.” However, the tips work just as well for broadcast media.