What Makes a Great Pitch?

Posted by on October 30th, 2013

A couple of months ago, I came across a journalist testimonial on Muck Rack on the 10 things that PR professionals do that immediately get their e-mails deleted by reporters. In the piece, the journalist, USA Today writer Natalie DiBlasio, infers that while she understands how stressful the public relations environment can be, account executives and publicists should still take the time to craft a pitch that’s appropriate for each reporter and outlet they want to reach.

She goes on to mention a couple of (embarrassingly) common PR tendencies that we’ve all seen at one point or another during our careers: getting reporters’ names wrong in the salutations of pitches, sending reporters unrelated story topics in the midst of an unfolding national crisis and pitching story ideas that are identical to pieces that reporters have just covered, to name a few. As I read through the list, I started to think about other, more basic aspects of pitches that I believe make certain ones more effective than others. Here are a few:

  1. Brevity is key.
    Every word that a journalist puts into a story is there for a reason, and pitches should be approached in the same way. It’s important to formulate each sentence in a succinct, straightforward manner. There shouldn’t be any flowery language in the pitch, and it shouldn’t take long for PR professionals to get to the point.
  2. Target the right people.
    Even though most, if not all, public relations employees keep media lists with reporters’ beats and contact information, it’s essential to go through these lists regularly to ensure that they’re up-to-date. Reporters change jobs. Reporters change beats within the same jobs. And the nature of what constitutes a beat changes over time. If an account executive or publicist pitches a story to a reporter that he or she would never typically cover, it shows the reporter that the PR professional didn’t do the necessary homework before reaching out.
  3. Know what’s going on in the news (and what’s already been covered).
    This applies for not only the beats that your clients typically appear in but also for those that they wouldn’t appear in. You never know where you can insert your client into the conversation, traditionally or nontraditionally, and it’s a good idea to be as well rounded as possible when it comes to reading and current events. The more that you’re in touch with the news, the more opportunities that you will be able to generate for your clients.
  4. Tell a story.
    The job of a journalist is to tell a story—not to promote a product or campaign. When talking to reporters, don’t waste any time highlighting the implications that your pitching initiative has for real people in real communities. Pitches aren’t meant to be sales-y or self-serving; they should be direct in telling reporters why they have an obligation to let their readers know about the story. The pitch should have a clear news hook right at its opening.
  5. Sometimes, a little wit and humor helps. With some pitches, you may even have the opportunity to have some fun with the language. While it’s important to keep the tone somewhat light and conversational in any pitch, I’ve found that subtle humor and wit can also go a long way with a reporter for certain initiatives, as long as it’s not forced and the subject matter is appropriate.

On any given day, journalists receive hundreds of e-mails from persistent PR people who are trying to get coverage for their clients. With that in mind, constructing a pitch that is both memorable and informative will not only keep you out of future Muck Rack PR nightmare stories but also increase your chances of attracting media attention and aiding in the making of news stories simultaneously.