If a tree falls in the woods and nobody’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? That’s a less important question than this: if you spend lots of time pitching reporters to get free PR, but they never open your emails or read past the first line, are you wasting your time?
Yes. And if you’re a business owner, chances are good that you don’t have much time to spare – so the goal is to be as efficient and effective as possible. In order to pique the interest of reporters, this should carry over to your digital PR pitching strategy. Learning how to pitch the media properly is the best thing you can do before writing out your email. You only get one shot at snagging a reporter's interest, so you have to make it good if you want to make it count.
How to Pitch the Media: 9 Things You MUST Do
- Pay attention to your subject line. You’re probably competing with at least a dozen other people for the placement, so going generic isn’t going to do you any favors. Keep it short, snappy and clickable (more on this below).
- Get to the point. You have about five seconds to hook the reporter from the time that they open your email – assuming they’ve even gotten that far (see point #1). In general, keep your pitches to two paragraphs or less.
- Try not to trip over any of the names you drop. Have you won an award in your field? Be sure to mention that you’re “an award-winning blah blah blah” toward the beginning of your pitch – this will help differentiate you from all the wanna-bes who have no awards to their title. Likewise, if you’ve recently been featured in the Wall Street Journal, drop that name like it’s hot while linking to the placement.
- Answer the question(s). There are exceptions to every rule, and the exception to the two-paragraph rule occurs when you’re going into detail while answering questions the reporter asked. Here’s the thing: real experts can break down complex subjects in a concise manner that even a layperson can understand, so try to do that whenever possible. Waxing poetic won’t get you any bonus points or extra coverage (in fact, it’ll probably just land you in the trash folder). Reporters are pretty good at sniffing out BS, and you should never waste their time (or yours) by pretending to be an expert – you could burn your chances with the reporter for good.
- Cite statistics like it was your major. One of the quickest ways to a reporter’s heart is to do their work for them, like finding statistics related to the story they’re working on. Give hard numbers, percentages and links to additional sources of info. In short, make yourself useful. More often than not, the reporter will thank you by including you in the article.
- Don’t ask too many questions. The quickest way to guarantee that you won’t get placement is to email the reporter with a bunch of your own questions. Who’s doing the investigative reporting here? Not you. Reporters are too busy and too underpaid to answer questions from people who aren’t their editors or managers.
- Keep it cool, man. Nobody likes getting emails that reek of desperation, and nobody likes responding to them either. Don’t send an 800-word response to a 50-word query (which would break the 2-paragraph rule anyway). Don’t follow up with reporters who have never emailed you back. Don’t use too many exclamation points – you should never be so happy or excited that you include more than two exclamation marks per email.
- Link to your website. This may seem obvious, but link to your website. How else are you going to expect the reporter to link back to your site? As stated above, it’s always a good idea to link to your site (using favorable SEO anchor text) at some point in your pitch. Although there's a lot more to SEO than just getting links, in general the more high quality backlinks you can get to your site, the better your rankings will be in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
- Prepare to get quoted. With every pitch, you should always be aware that there’s a possibility that the reporter is going to copy/paste pieces of your email into their article. As a result, you should be very aware of what you say – make sure your info is 100% correct.
The second most important part of your pitch is the first sentence. It has to hook the reporter, lead them to believe that you’re an expert in the subject and compel them to read on to the next sentence. Spend time figuring out your best angle, and get right to the point – this is not the time to bury the lead.
Although the first sentence of your media pitches are worth focusing on, they don't hold a candle to email subject lines. This is because…
Reporters Can't Read Your Pitch if They Don't Open Your Email
The most important part of your pitch is the subject line, and this is true whether you're cold pitching reporters or whether you're responding to one of their queries (like via HARO). The subject line of your email determines whether or not the reporter is even going to see the first sentence you spent so much time working on. Blow the subject line and it doesn’t matter what magic you wove into the pitch itself, because the reporter’s never going to see it.
Examples of bad pitch subject lines:
- Press Release
- HARO Response – Your Name Here
- ANYTHING IN ALL CAPS
- Questions About Your HARO
- Your Business Name Here
Fortunately, there are a variety of resources that you can turn to that will help you learn how to pitch the media like a digital PR pro. Namely: Google. There’s almost nothing that you can’t teach yourself with enough Google searches, and you shouldn’t be afraid to look things up. Google will take you to wonderful places, like this website about writing perfect email pitches and this page detailing the key ingredients of successful subject lines.
If you still have questions, shoot us an email or @ContentFac on Twitter, and we'll @ you back.