After spending more than nine years working in journalism, I have seen my share of bad pitches. Most would be completely irrelevant to my beat, and others were so full of jargon that it wasn’t immediately clear what it was even about.
For the most part, journalists don’t have a lot of time to read email. They start their day with a full workload. For them to cover your story, you must convince them to change their schedule.
In other words, your pitch better be good.
To chat through what makes a good pitch, I thought it would be wise to pick up the phone and call a former colleague from my days at the Cincinnati Enquirer. That colleague, Bowdeya Tweh, is now the deputy corporate bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal. Here are a few pointers we landed on in our discussion.
Know who you are pitching
The first step in effective pitching is making sure you are pitching to the right journalists.
Say you have a strong pitch of an expert who just completed research on inflation. You believe this expert would be perfect for The Wall Street Journal. Now, imagine your pitch went to the sports editor.
That is just one example of poor pitching Tweh provided in our conversation.
Another mistake Tweh sees a lot are pitches that are written to no one in particular. For example, the email is addressed to “The Wall Street Journal” or simply begins with “Hi.”
“Nothing gets deleted faster than something that looks like a form letter,” Tweh said.
Another pet peeve of editors is when their own publications are mentioned in the pitch. Tweh, for example, says he often receives pitches that begin with, “As reported in the Wall Street Journal …” These messages often annoy journalists because they already know what is in the news cycle. Additionally, and this has happened to Tweh on multiple occasions, the referenced article was one he edited. In any case, you are not inspiring your target audience to write about your company. You are inspiring them to hit “delete.”
Build relationships with journalists
Instead of just email blasting your pitch across your media list, Tweh recommends you put yourself in the journalist’s shoes and ask yourself, “why in the world would this specific reporter want to talk to me.” If you can answer that question, give them a call.
“You don’t have to use three-channel communications, by emailing, calling and texting a journalist, but if you have time – get them on the phone,” Tweh said. “That way, you can explain to them why this matters so much because it usually isn’t all that clear in an email.”
Additionally, Tweh stressed the importance on getting to know your media contacts, so you know how they prefer to get information.
“It can be a hard art to master, but take the time to build these relationships, because some journalists want everything in an email and others just want the facts and a quick a phone call,” Tweh said.
Once you know what interests your top media contacts and how they would like to receive information, you are more likely to get the coverage you want.
Make your pitch topical
When asked what makes a great pitch, Tweh said, “one thing I would like to see more of, and it doesn’t always feel natural to PR folks, are topical pitches.”
Like many editors from top tier publications, Tweh receives numerous pitches from PR pros sharing that they have experts in a wide range of broad topics. Rarely do they provide evidence of their expertise, nor are the provided topics clearly relevant in the current news cycle.
“No one is an expert in everything,” Tweh said. “It is important to be very specific to what your thought leaders are in experts in.”
Without being specific, most journalists are just going to assume your experts are not actually experts in anything. Instead, they will think they are just business leaders who can speak “at a high level” about anything – which is not the type of person they want to interview.
However, most of our pitches are not about things in the current news cycle. They are about new product launches, significant partnership deals and client wins. So, how do we get journalists to care about those announcements? How can you create a small news cycle that promotes your company and its latest initiative?
“This is truly where relationship building helps,” Tweh said. “We, as journalists, are trying to build relationships with you. We expect the same from your side. Again, get your contacts on the phone. And be as knowledgeable and prepared as you can before you start pitching.”
Adam Kiefaber is a global communications director at FIS, a Fortune 500 company focused on creating innovative technology for merchant, banking and investment clients. Previously, he spent nearly 10 years in journalism working for The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Cincinnati Post and CNN. Follow him on LinkedIn.