As a journalist, perpetually caught in the in the hamster wheel of the news cycle, I quickly learned you must constantly trudge forward through mounds of irrelevant text populating your inbox. I could produce a tome as long as the Game of Thrones franchise consisting of all the emails I’ve glanced at….and deleted. If those first words don’t catch the reader’s eye in a quick scroll, they shall be forever consigned the trash bin of emails passed.
Before recently becoming a media relations specialist for Plat4orm, I spent most of my career as a journalist. Working on both sides of the media scape has given me a more complete perspective of what makes a good pitch. Hint: It has much of the same DNA as a good story.
A good pitch is like a film negative of a good story – the same gestalt but also the exact opposite, while at the same time integral to the latter’s development. It will have much of the same structure and language, come from the opposite side of the media aisle and will germinate something much more fleshed out.
With a former journalist’s eye, let me explain how to pitch with your journalist cap on.
You’re a Journalist, Sort of
When I freelanced as a journalist, it was pitch or perish. Publish and you can pay the rent. I had to craft a succinct sales pitch explaining why my idea was newsworthy and right for the specific publication and its audience, how I would go about writing the story and accessing sources, and why they should pay me – of all people – to do the job.
When writing a pitch, I think it’s helpful to imagine you’re in the newsroom convincing your editor to commission the story. What’s the hook? Why is the story right for this publication or journalist? Why would their audience want to read the story? Who can you offer for interviews and expert opinion?
Avoid the Blur
Emails become abstract art if you look at enough of them. Words lose meaning, and sterile font bleeds into a swirl of black nothingness. Well, maybe it’s not that trippy, but keep in mind your email recipient has been staring at a fluorescent light in a pallid office space for hours upon hours with the limitations of human eyesight.
That’s why you need to make your pitch pithy, urgent, and easy to read.
Before you can even make the case for “why write this story” you need to make your “why read this email” case. Get to the point right off the bat. As any good journalist will tell you, don’t bury the lead. The first thing your recipient will see is the subject line. A good subject line will let the reader know what the pitch is about while teasing the recipient with exciting information to come in the body.
The journalist’s eye will go from the subject line to the first sentence to, hopefully, the rest of the pitch. Guide them. Don’t dilute the pitch with copy-and-paste press release jargon. Signpost the most salient things and people – and don’t be afraid to utilize bold, italics, and underline to make it clear what you’re focused on.
If you don’t immediately engage and guide your reader, that email will just blur into the rest of them.
Find the Right Pitches
When I was in the newsroom, I would get great pitches that still got the boot. Why? They weren’t right for me. Not my beat. Or not even the right publication.
Check if the journalist has written about related topics before targeting them. If I believed the pitch would be right for a colleague, I would forward it along, but plenty of journalists would not. Don’t rely on the middleman.
Another tip that will take you far in life in general: A bit of flattery goes a long way. Acknowledge a previous article a journalist has written and demonstrate that you’ve actually read it. And like a nice little bow on this gift you’ve given the journalist, tie it together with a brief statement explaining why your pitch is relevant to the journalist’s background. I, for one, always appreciated that approach.
Don’t let your pitch get stuck in email limbo. Think like a journalist and pitch like a PR specialist!