December 13, 2016
After 18 years in the public relations industry, it’s fair to say I’ve seen my share of pitches. Sometimes I’m the one doing the writing, other times I’m critiquing someone else’s letter and, often, I’m the one charged with explaining to a client what idea has wheels (and what one doesn’t).
For those outside of the communications world, a pitch is a short email or call made to a media outlet to entice it to write or report about a brand, product or service. It’s an often-used tool to position a client to a newspaper, magazine, website, radio or television show and to help the business stand out in a crowded pool of people vying for that same air time or column space. The competition is fierce, so knowing how and when to make an approach – or when not to – can be the difference between success and dead silence.
While no pitch is a shoo-in, here are a few ways you can better your odds:
Gathering intelligence is intelligent
Before pitching, do some deep thinking. What is the story you’re proposing on your client’s behalf and how does it benefit the media outlet’s readers, listeners or viewers? Who is the correct party to approach? If you’d like to propose a story on fashion trends, for instance, you don’t want to email the sports reporter or vice versa. Read up and see who is writing what, do Google or social media searches or head to the ‘contact’ or ‘about’ section of a news outlet’s website.
Favorite topics for pitches are often something that’s new or unusual, a trend or solution. If it’s already been written about or reported on, unless you have something truly intriguing and fresh to add to the conversation, it’s better to stay silent.
Go above and beyond
Better yet, assemble some information beyond the idea and the brand you’re writing about. Perhaps there is market research to back a trend or a person who can go on record to discuss the issue or another company besides yours that ties into the bigger picture. The more you can information-gather, the stronger the pitch becomes.
Make it easy for the person you are approaching to say “yes” by fleshing the idea out for him. As an example, if you’re citing a real estate trend, head to the National Association of Realtors website to pull recent reports that tie to the topic at hand, then find several home buyers who are ready and willing to talk about the topic you’re pitching.
Keep it short and sweet
A pitch letter is not to be confused with a press release, media alert or fact sheet. It should be a succinctly shared idea that lets the person you’re emailing know what you have in mind, why it’s relevant and what resources you have handy. A simple link to supporting data will do the trick. You can always forward additional background if there’s interest or include information below your main idea.
Timing is everything
Not all ideas are evergreen, so being mindful of what news is trending can help turn a pitch from blah to ahhhhh. Creatively combining your ideas with what the rest of the world cares about at the moment helps a news outlet meet its audience’s needs.
For instance, if it’s autumn and you are a food or beverage brand, feel free to pack on the pumpkin-related pitches. Is it election season? Research a candidate’s favorite food and invent dishes to interest those that may be hungry for timely but fun food-related news.
Remember: It’s not about you
This last tip is always one that’s tough to tell clients. Even though we all love our own brands and think we have a brilliant idea – and sometimes we really have something worth talking about – media have many deadlines and responsibilities to juggle and may not always jump on your pitch.
Approaching wisely, with solidly developed ideas, and allowing them to call the shots means the members of the media will be more apt to consider that next big idea, even if they don’t agree to the first one you present. Like any other relationship, building authentic, lasting connections takes time. Be patient and considerate and don’t take any rejection personally. Trust the process, be a resource and be confident: your day will come.