PR pros have to learn firsthand when our pitches aren’t fresh—or even worse, when they outright stink.
No matter where you are in the PR food chain, you’ve probably experienced the highs and lows of media outreach.
Being in the PR industry for more than 16 years, I have had my share of successes and failures. Through trial, error and constant learning, I continue to refine my pitching.
Here are a few fundamental, valuable lessons I’ve learned—the “ABCs” of pitching:
A. Audience is everything.
Steer away from the “spray and pray” approach to pitching. Rather than blasting out a pitch and hoping someone bites, taking the time to home in on your target audience can go a long way in getting a response.
PR pros have a vast amount of resources to help us select which reporters to pitch. With access to databases like Cision and Muck Rack, there’s no excuse not to locate the best writers and tailor the pitch to them.
Research every reporter you’re considering pitching, the topics they write about and their recent articles. Build up a long-term relationship by reading through their work on a regular basis, thoughtfully commenting on articles and following/sharing social media posts.
Once you have a relationship with a reporter or editor established, nurture it forever. PR is built on connections—and you never know when you’ll want to work with them again!
This way might take more time, but the ROI is well worth it. You’ll earn the trust and respect of the right contacts on your list—and not annoy those that wouldn’t be interested in your story idea anyway.
B. Boring topics don’t earn coverage.
This is where we, as PR professionals, have to be cautious.
Clients often feel passionately about their business and what they consider newsworthy announcements, ideas or processes, but it’s our job to provide objective counsel on their PR strategies.
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If the story isn’t newsworthy or interesting enough to stand on its own, consider these options for including it elsewhere:
1. If you have an existing relationship with a reporter, you might be able to weave the announcement into a larger story. Could it be a supporting point or offer validation around their larger business story or strategy?
2. Tie your news to something reporters haven’t heard before. Does it connect with a timely trend, current event or emerging best practice?
3. Tell your client this isn’t the right story to tell and recommend looking at other opportunities for media exposure. There is no harm in telling a client that their story angle doesn’t have the chops to secure the type of coverage they’re hoping for. It’s better to be honest and upfront then set unrealistic expectations. A better, stronger idea or strategy may emerge as a result.
C. Capture the reporter’s attention.
Once you have a topic that is worth publishing, craft it in a way that will easily catch a reporter’s attention.
Pay attention to your email’s subject line, as it can make or break whether a reporter goes any further. Presume that all the journalist can see on his or her computer screen is the preview portion of your email in Outlook. Are you giving it all you’ve got within the first few sentences so that he or she is compelled to click open and read further?
Eliminate hard returns between “Hi Reporter Jane” and the crux of your pitch, so that you are taking advantage of prime email real estate. Nobody wants to read lengthy paragraphs or open attached files, let alone an overworked journalist with an overflowing inbox.
Use short paragraphs, bullet points, embedded images and links to more information.
The ABCs of pitching sound easy, but like any craft, they take time to hone and perfect. Solid research pays off—and good stories don’t come easily—but when you’ve got a strong one, seize the opportunity to make it count.
Ann Smith is the founder and president of A.wordsmith, a boutique PR firm specializing in brand storytelling for B2B and consumer organizations.
This article was originally published on PR Daily in October 2016.