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13 Ways to Keep Your Pitch From Getting Deleted

In survey after survey, journalists consistently cite email as their preferred method of contact – provided the email pitch is relevant and targeted to the particular journalist that is. What other steps can you take to keep your email pitch from being deleted? Here’s a quick rundown of the advice I’ve found most effective at getting pitches noticed:

  • Attention-Grabbing Subject Line – With email, you only have a second to grab the recipient’s attention. Assuming your news is relevant, the most attention-grabbing subject line might be your release headline. Try to avoid humor in the subject line, as some people might not get the joke. You should also try to avoid common words used in junk email or spam, such as “FREE” or “Congratulations”. Also be sure not to use excessive punctuation, such as exclamation points or dollar signs – commonly used by email spammers. Use a quick, descriptive subject line that leaves no question of what your email is about.
  • Keep It Personal – If you really want to keep your email from being deleted, make it personal. Demonstrate that you understand what the journalist writes about and that you’ve done your legwork. You should NEVER cut and paste a pitch or use mail merge software of any kind to switch out names and details in a pitch. Journalists can smell this tactic a mile away and will almost always click the ‘delete’ button. Write the pitch as though you were emailing a family member about the news. You should have that level of comfort and knowledge of the recipient before sending. If you tailor the pitch to an individual, you are much more likely to receive a response. If you do cut and paste, or you do try to mail merge, you will screw up. You will call him a “Mrs.” and you will call John “Sally”. Don’t do it.
  • Keep It Brief – Long emails get deleted by journalists in an instant (unless they know you really well or asked for a thorough pitch). Consider keeping your pitch to 3-5 sentences. If you have a lot of information to share, link those resources from the pitch – but don’t try to cram it all in there. Journalists are used to being pitched via Twitter these days. Shorter email pitches are more likely to be read by journalists than short ones. See how few words you can use in your pitch. Keep rewriting your pitch until you get it down to as few words as possible. You’ll be surprised how good you’ll get at this after a little practice.
  • What Do You Want? – Make sure you specify what you are looking for. If you want the journalist to interview your spokesperson about the story, say so. If you’re offering an exclusive, make sure you point that out. If you just want to provide some background for future consideration, say so. Don’t make the journalist guess about what you want. 
  • Ask What You’re Doing Wrong – If a journalist is unresponsive to your pitch, or they give you a no answer, be polite and ask them what you could do better. Ask them what would make your pitch interesting or compelling to them. Ask them if there’s something you should keep them in the loop about in the future. You’ll be surprised what you can learn by asking a journalist for their opinion.
  • Where Did You Get the Email Address? – Did a journalist sign-up to receive your news from your website, or are you emailing a journalist based off information in a media database? If you want to ensure your email gets to the appropriate person, verify the email address first. Many journalists have multiple email addresses and only want to receive email pitches at a certain address. If you aren’t sure where the email came from, call the general information or editorial phone number for the outlet and verify it. Even if they give you a generic email address, use the preferred method of contact for improved success. Don’t spam. Nobody likes spam.
  • Never Mass Distribute – Most PR software and news distribution services are built for mass distribution. Just to make sure we’re clear on this, don’t mass distribute. Pitching a large number of journalists at one time, or via cutting and pasting your pitch one at a time and changing the name is lazy PR. It’s also one of the top reasons journalists complain about PR people and their pitches. Mass distribution of your news, while not technically spam, is one of the least effective ways to get a journalist interested in your news.
  • Give Them More Than They Need – Most journalists like to talk to multiple sources or organizations for a story. Can you provide some additional resources in a pitch? Do you have a bunch of statistics or reputable research the journalist might be interested in? Offer that up in the pitch as well. Anticipate journalist needs and let them know you’re thinking about more than your needs to secure publicity for your clients. Include links to related articles that have been written or some other nugget of information that will make the journalist say “wow, this PR person worked their tail off on this pitch.”
  • Picture This – Do you have images to support your story? Include a link to them in your release. Look at a publication before you pitch it and see how they use photographs and informational graphics in their stories. Try to mimic the look and feel of those images in the ones you provide. When possible, include unbiased, descriptive captions for your images to help journalists understand what they are looking at. It’s also a good idea to provide a wide-range of image sizes and file formats, available for download, through the site.
  • Think Long-Term AND Short-Term – Is publicity coverage the only successful outcome for your pitch? PR pros are often looking for instant gratification. They want to send a pitch and have the reporter call them back to schedule an interview. In some instances, email can be used to build longer-term relationships with journalists, which make that former scenario more likely in the future. Consider alternative success paths for your email pitches and start thinking long-term. Some examples might include:
    • Make links to your online newsroom prevalent in your email signature
    • Invite journalists to subscribe to receive your news via RSS or email from your newsroom
    • Include your social media links on your email signature (e.g. Twitter, Facebook)
    • Encourage journalists to check out your company blog
    • Include a P.S. message that states if the journalist is NOT the appropriate contact that they let you know, so you don’t repeat the mistake again in the future (or so you can contact the best person with the news)
  • Best Time of Day to Send Your Pitch – I personally don’t believe there is a best or a worst time to do anything. That said, some people smarter than me have looked at the best and worst times to send email in the past. In a recent eROI survey, almost 50% of respondents report sending emails at midday (10 to 2 PM) is best. While there’s no guarantee your email is more likely to get opened at this time, it can’t hurt to try. Every industry and media outlet is different. For example, midday would probably be the wrong time to send an email pitch to an evening assignment desk editor. As for the best time to send a press release, I’ve already covered that one in a previous post.
  • Build the List – There is one instance I can think of where mass email pitching is acceptable – when a journalist has requested it. The best way to build and maintain an accurate email media list is to do it yourself. Offer a sign-up option in your newsroom and segment the list based on interests (e.g. press releases, new hire announcements, product launches, exclusive opportunities, press conferences, etc.). Only send journalists the information they have requested. Over time, you can build a very well-targeted list.
  • Be Courteous - Beyond all else, be polite to journalists. Regardless of how you are treated, remember that courtesy goes a long way. Say please and thank you – regardless of whether or not they write about your news. Be respectful of journalist email preferences and include a (working) opt-out link and your contact information in the email. Finally, show that you respect them as a professional and READ THEIR ARTICLES. The number one pet peeve journalists have regarding PR professionals is they don’t read their stuff. If you read what journalists write, you’ll easily double the success rate of your pitches.

Pitching is like anything you want to get better at, you need to practice. Use trial and error to figure out what works over time. If you follow some of these tips, you’re sure to get better results pitching.
(Image Credit: “delete” by M i x y)

About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.

  • http://www.cision.com Andrea Weinfurt

    Hi Jeremy:
    Fantastic post. As the social media manager for Cision, I think these tips are always worth reiterating. Your post reminded me of a tweet I saw yesterday from Jennifer Leggio (@mediaphyter). She tweeted,”I don’t understand email subjects that start with “press release”. It’s like saying, “Hey! Delete this!” Be compelling, folks.” Thanks again for taking the time to put this into a comprehensive list. Have a good day,

    • http://blog.journalistics.com Jeremy Porter

      Jennifer Leggio (@mediaphyter) is a great name to drop out there. She’s been vocal about her interaction with PR pros in the past – perfect example of why it’s smart to follow the advice in this post. Thanks for reading.

  • http://elizabethsmithson.com Lizzie Smithson

    Great post…I have never thought to ask a reporter why they didn’t like (or even why they did – when it gets used!) a pitch I put together. I just chalk it up as “not good enough” and take it back to the beginning. Some great tips (I’m a student, so especially great).

  • http://www.gordonstrategy Tracey Gordon

    Another great, instructive post from Jeremy. Remember, reporters want to deal with you, but it’s oh so easy for PR people to get them to hit the delete button. News value, an interesting perspective, good information…and brevity increase your chances of being read. It’s not nearly as difficult as making a souffle, so don’t make it so.

  • David

    “You’ll be surprised what you can learn by asking a journalist for their opinion.” Care to rephrase that? Cheers.

    • http://blog.journalistics.com Jeremy Porter

      You can learn a lot about media relations by asking a journalist what they think, I stand by my quote.

      • David

        You stand by the notion of asking A journalist for THEIR opinion? You might want to be just a tad more careful about noun-possessive-pronoun agreement in your press releases than you are in your blog.

        • http://blog.journalistics.com Jeremy Porter

          Yep, you got me on that one. I’m hopeful most of the people reading the post were able to figure out what I meant. For your benefit, I meant ask “journalists” for their opinions. Haste makes waste I guess. Hopefully I’ll be able to hire an editor in 2011.

  • Kay

    When I’ve got nothing else on my calendar and a team of minions to take care of it all, we’ll be sure to individually type those pitches. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • http://blog.journalistics.com Jeremy Porter

      I never understood that argument. Unless you’re working for free, it’s hard for me to believe that you’re not paid enough hourly to take the time to customize pitches to each journalist. Mass distribution of pitches is may be more efficient. It may also be lazy.

      I’m not calling you efficient or lazy… maybe your email blasts are highly-relevant for the journalists you work with.

  • http://www.trsdirectimc.com Tanya Stanfield

    I think this post does a great job of reiterating once again that these are new times we live in and we must adjust! Sure, it’s easier to cut and paste or mass distribute a press release, but couldn’t our clients do the same thing if given the pitch and a list of email addresses? How can we justify our services and expertise if we aren’t taking the time to fully develop a complete PR strategy that includes expertly reaching a journalist, a professional with limited time just like you and me, and treating him/her like a human being?

    Yes, it’s very true that few of us have endless time on our hands, and if you are billing hourly rates you don’t want to turn off a client with additional fees. But I think this time/value challenge is something PR folks need to take on now instead of avoiding it, before it’s too late.

    Thanks for the tips Jeremy!

  • http://www.bloggingprweb.com Stacey Acevero

    Awesome post Jeremy, I couldn’t have said these things better myself! The sooner that the people who are pitching adopt these rules, the better the media relations environment will become for everyone doing PR. Listen, engage and personalize: those are my three simple rules for relationship building with the media before pitching. –Stacey Acevero @PRWeb

    • http://blog.journalistics.com Jeremy Porter

      Thanks Stacey. I’m sure you could have said it better.

    • http://www.traceygordon.com Tracey Gordon

      Last week I wrote a post “So, what do reporters really want from PR people?” Basic stuff that I’ve learned over a 20 year career. I was amazed by the response from readers. Very simply I think it’s because the simple rules still matter and when you try to overcomplicate the reporter/PR relationship you get stuck in a maze. Both sides like the direct approach and guess what–it works and that’s what counts in our business.

  • http://www.globalatlanta.com Trevor

    Great post that gets at the heart of some of the frustrations I have with PR folks.

    Along with being polite, they should make it clear that they’re available to help the journalist make the connections he or she needs for the article. As a reporter, there’s nothing worse than actually wanting to act on a pitch but not being able to get in touch with the source quickly.

    I’d also suggest avoiding jargon at all costs. Don’t use long, glowing descriptions outlining the advantages of your product or the credentials of your source. I’m more interested in quickly deciding whether this story/angle will be relevant to my readers. Don’t take too long to get to the point. Show me that you at least have a basic understanding of my publication’s audience, and I’ll be much more likely to consider the pitch.

    Lastly, make the tone of the email personal but not patronizing. Writers/editors don’t like to be told what to write. A suggestive tone is best.

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  • http://www.3hatscommunications.com/blog/ Davina K. Brewer

    I’ll add on to what Trevor, Andrea, others have said. To Andrea’s comment about starting an email subject with release; yes that’s bad. Journalists and reporters KNOW when they’re being pitched, but I still think that caveat, disclosure can work at times (towards the end, after you’ve gotten their attention with on-target pitch).

    To Trevor, Tracey I’ll add: don’t tease or waste time. You want to be brief, you want to grab attention, you want to respond quickly. So don’t dangle that quote or comment or stat. If the media send out a detailed request, don’t reply with a “I can help, give me a call” tease. Send the reply back with specifics right then; if they want more details I’m sure they’ll ask. FWIW.

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  • http://prinfluence.wordpress.com/ Jennifer Rodstrom

    Jeremy- Thanks!! This post is very helpful. I think that taking into consideration what journalists are looking for is imperative to getting media coverage for a client. This article is a friendly reminder that journalists are people and when you click that “send” button you should always be mindful of that. I find that the greatest successes come when you treat others with respect, maybe they will be interested in your pitch, maybe they won’t be, but by following these tips journalists may keep you in mind for future consideration.

  • http://www.enterthegroup.com Sal

    I was told by a reporter that the best way to get media attention for my site launch is to send reporters a copy of your press release. Agree/disagree?

    I tried pasting the PR into individual emails and no one got back to me so I’m wondering what a better strategy may be?

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  • http://www.bing.com/ Navid

    At last! Someone who udensratnds! Thanks for posting!

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