Companies depend on journalists to get publicity, and journalists depend on credible sources to initiate and maintain a dialogue with the public. However, sending email pitches to a journalist can be daunting especially if you have never met before. You need to convince them that your story is worth their time.
So, how do you get a journalist to cover your story?
1: Grab their attention
There are conventional ways to stop a journalist down their tracks in your email pitch, one of them being writing something relevant to their field.
If you send political leads to a business writer, they are likely to trash it. If you send a business article to a satirist, your chances of being published are minimal.
2: Write something unique
Journalists receive tons of emails every day, so your email pitch has to be unique in order to grab their attention. The last thing you want is for your email to go to the trash bin as soon as it hits their inbox. To avoid this, make sure that yours stands out in the midst of many.
3: Build relationships
It is possible to build relationships with people you have never met. The most effective way is by following them on social media, as well as writing to them regularly.
The first goal of cold pitches is to build relationships. You may not get a response from the first few emails you send, but with time your name will become familiar and the journalist will find themselves opening your emails. Curiosity will drive them to start reading your emails.
4: Show that you know them
People like dealing with people who already know them. In this digital era, you don’t need to have met someone physically in order to know them. Have you read their work? Have you worked with similar companies? Tell them what you know about them, and what you like about their work then make your offer.
“I like your story on mobile banking security. At Hackathon, we check technology vulnerabilities by hacking into systems and then offer security options available to prevent breaches. If you want to know more about our work, check out this link (insert link).”
5: Provide context
Why do you think your story is relevant? Provide context for your email pitch by quoting a recent post or article. If they had asked for leads somewhere, be sure to mention that. This will increase your chances of getting a response.
6: Meet a need
Provide information that nobody else has offered. You need to do thorough research to determine their pain points or information gaps they are currently experiencing. Is there a gap in the industry that you can fill? If what you are offering will solve a need that the journalist is currently facing, then your pitch will be irresistible.
7: Be relevant
Media companies also need to attract advertisers and so every article published should attract readership. Writing about recent trends will get them readers and hence attract advertisers.
8: Avoid salesy language
Do not stuff your email pitch with keywords or technical jargon. Do not push them to give you publicity. Grab the journalist’s attention first without sounding salesy. Let them decide which angle of your story to use without your influence, because they understand the editorial policy better than yourself.
9: Mind your salutation
Journalists hate openings with just “Dear,” or “Dear (first name)” salutations. They sound too generic.
“Hey Janine,” stands a better chance than any other salutation. It sounds both personal and friendly.
10: Do not send blind copies
Blind copying is the language of mass emails. Blind copying a journalist is a major turn-off. Let them see that you only sent that email pitch to them and nobody else. It makes them feel special.
11: Avoid generic content
Avoid anything generic, from blind copies to “Dear (first name)” to company history and online PR templates. Make your pitch personal.
11: Understand their style and tone
You are likely to get a response if you write in their tone and style. It shows that you identify with their work. If you are submitting press releases or a complete story, use the right format and number of words.
12: Be succinct
Journalists like short pitches. If you can summarize your pitch in one sentence, the journalist you’re pitching will be more open to reading it. Let every word count. Avoid fillers and make it conversational and friendly.
Do not go beyond 4 paragraphs, and each paragraph should be 1-2 sentences long. However, a one-sentence pitch is always enough.
13: Make it original and fresh
Journalists have limited time and competition for their attention is stiff. They want something new and fresh for their audience. For this reason, you should send them something which will grab their attention and drive curiosity.
14: Make it simple and easy to understand
Good grammar is a mark of quality. It also makes your email pitch easy to read and understand. This improves the chances of getting a response.
15: Sound genuine
Do not offer the journalist you’re talking to something that sounds too good to be true. Make an attractive offer but leave room for follow-up and further communication. If possible, give them the option for a telephone interview or give them a link for more information.
16: Be creative with the subject line
Including ‘story idea’ in the subject line is likely to get your email pitch opened. The subject line should be about 10 words long.
17: Utilize the first line of your email pitch well
This section should give a summary of your story.
A good example would be:
“We are launching the first ever chewable toothbrush on Thursday.”
18: Skip the intros
Don’t take up the intro paragraph introducing yourself. If you must introduce yourself, then push this towards the end. Journalists are more interested in content, unless they’re writing a story on personality profiles.
19: Avoid attachments
It is a good idea to provide links to external content instead of attachments. If it is a press release, then you can paste it into the body of the email pitch. Sharing a link to content that is already published on your website’s media centre takes away its newsworthiness.
20: Time your email pitch well
Do not pitch a journalist on Monday morning; they are busy catching up with weekend mail. Afternoons are slow and most journalists use the time between midday and 3pm to develop the pitches they already have. If they are attending events, this is the time they are in the field chasing leads. Tuesday morning is the best time to send your email pitch, especially between 8 am and 11 am.
Emails that get into their inbox as they are just settling down to start the day are likely to get their attention.
According to surveys, emails sent after 8 pm are also likely to get noticed.
21: Remember the editor
Your story has to get past the journalist; the editor has the final say. Grab their attention by writing something in line with their current media agenda. Consider what they are they giving prominence to before pitching.
22: Give them time to prepare
When it comes to events, journalists have a long list of calendar events and attending yours requires timely planning. Do not just drop an email at 8pm inviting them to an event at 7am the following day.
23: Give them data
Data journalism is gaining ground as we saw in the trends emerging in public relations, so including statistics and facts in your email pitch can get you more traction.
24: Follow and interact with the journalist on social media
See what they are doing, comment on their stories and see what they like to do on normal days. Read their mood – you can read into their social media posts to understand their values and beliefs. The more you comment on their social media posts, the more familiar you will become with who they are as a person as well as the content they enjoy talking about.
25: Keep an eye on their timeline
Journalists ask for leads every once in a while, and keeping an eye on their timeline is the best way to get into their inbox.
Sometimes, journalists solicit information on social media. If you see them asking for information about something you know, use that chance to build a relationship with them. An email pitch in line with their current assignment will rarely pass them, so be quick to respond.
26: Be patient
You may not get their attention with the first email pitch, but do not give up.
27: Keep a database of media contacts
Work with the PR department and use their clout to get to the journalists. Keep their contacts for future events.
28: Keep learning
Ask journalists about the kind of pitches they respond to, what they hate as well as what they love. Read about this online and learn from editors. Ask other people how they get the journalists to respond to their pitches and with time, you will be doing just fine.
29: Send a Press Release
If a journalist does not respond to your initial pitch, then you can follow it up with a press release. If they skipped your event, provide a complete story in the form of a press release. If your story is newsworthy, they will definitely use it.
30: Add pictures
Pictures make stories complete, and so it will pay to add some. This is especially important if you are sending a press release or talking about a new product. Add photos that are unique. This way, even if the journalist does not use them in your story, they will use them in a related story. Caption your pictures well and add the credits to your company. If they use the picture and not the story, you will still achieve your goal of getting media publicity.
31: Get to know what they are working on
Journalists will often speak about what they are working on in order to get the views of their readers. They usually post on this social media and their blogs. The more frequently you visit those pages, the better you will be able to know when to pitch what story.
You need to network with people who can introduce you to journalists and editors. Whenever there is an event, attend and familiarize yourself with the scribes and photojournalists. Hook up with them after the event and exchange contacts. It will take you some time to set the pace for correspondence. Even offering to buy them drinks after work is part of the process of building your network.
33: Contact several journalists
When sending out an email pitch, it is good to have a list of several relevant media contacts who can give you coverage. Usually, PR firms send mass invites and the journalists always turn up but for special reports. However, you only need to connect with a few influential journalists. Before pitching a second or third journalist, give the first one the time to respond.
34: Don’t pitch journalists working for competitor companies
Every media outlet wants to be the first and if possible, the only one running a story. This is what gives them a competitive edge, and so you need to take care of that. When pitching, avoid pitching the same story to journalists who work for rival companies.
35: Consider the publication’s genre
Different publications are dedicated to different kinds of stories. Is your story about human rights, crime, politics, agriculture, business, local news, seasonal offers, religion and spirituality, relationships, parenting, education, careers or humor? Find out which publication specializes in those kinds of stories and send an email pitch to them.
36: Monitor the media
Are you someone who never watches the news or never knows what is happening locally or around the globe? You need to be informed in order to know what kind of stories to pitch. For instance, there could be an economic downtime at a time when you just started a company to empower the youth through self employment. In such a case, you can pitch something like this:
“Following recent mass retrenchment of employees and closure of multinational companies in the country, XX Company has come up with a strategy to support self employment by providing seed capital and mentorship for ventured started by fresh graduates. In tune with this, we have organized a workshop scheduled for April 30th at KICC where 100 aspiring business owners will pitch their ideas and be awarded. For more information contact me on XXX-XXX-XXX-X.”
37: Solve a personal problem
People love you more if you can solve a problem that affects them personally. If you are already in touch through email or on social media, you might find out about a personal problem your target journalist is facing. For instance, they could have committed a traffic offence that caused them to delay reporting to work. If you have a solution to such problems, pitch them right away. You can say something like this:
“We are launching a program aimed at bailing out motorists who are caught on the wrong side of traffic laws. This program also pays fines for motorists who are not able to settle their fines immediately, and it works instantly. For more information, contact Bail a Friend on XXX-XXX-XXX-X.”
38: Sympathize with them
Is the journalist going through a tough season at home or at work? Post your goodwill and sympathy messages to them. You can even drop them an email or send them a card. Offering a journalist a pick-me-up in their time of need will help them to notice you and set the pace for future interactions.
39: Remember important days
Are they celebrating a wedding anniversary? Is it Christmas again? Sending them good wishes and seasonal greetings is very crucial if you have already started building a relationship. The journalist could have covered your company once. Send wishes from your company and make them feel special. They are also human and wish to know that you care.
40: Create an edge for yourself
You also need to be someone of interest. Journalists are always chasing after people who have made a name for themselves in their field. If you have been ranked the wealthiest person in your country, believe me your phone will be buzzing with calls from media.
You don’t have to be the wealthiest, most beautiful or most handsome person to win their attention. Become a trendsetter, an opinion shaper. Be the person who has the most followers on Twitter or Instagram. Write about topics that trend and have a solid opinion. With time, the journalists will be looking for you. Once you win an interview, share whatever you wish to.
41: Better ways to say thank you
If you have already won the first round of publicity, you need to learn how to keep that channel open. A good way is by saying ‘thank you’ after they run the story. How do you say thank you? Think about a good tip to give to your new buddy. With journalists, the little things make a big difference, even if it is a call back or email to thank them for their time and the coverage.
42: Make it easy for them to cover your story
It is easier for a journalist to attend your event if their transport is catered for. The best PR strategists always provide transport, meals and a small allowance as a token of gratitude for journalists’ time, and so should you.
43: Manage your reputation
Very few journalists will be willing to be associated with a fraudster or a company of questionable reputation. Are there rumors that you are dealing in drugs, or have been involved in other nasty crimes? You might need to clear your name first and then invite them to cover your event.
44: Be honest
There are companies that only use the media to create a name for themselves before slipping into other shady deals. For instance, you start a company aimed at helping the youth start their own businesses but withhold information that later causes them to lose their wealth. Be sure to remember that the same media that brings you into fame can also bring you down. Do not use the media to blind the public.
45: Provide enough information
Do not send your email pitch in a hurry. Sending a blank email body is a no-no. Even if your email pitch is in the form of a video, introduce the story first then provide the link for further information. Only sending a link portrays you as a lazy person who does not care.
46: Send reminders
Are you inviting a journalist to an event that takes place a month from today? It is possible for them to accept the invite but forget to mark their calendars.
It is your duty to remind them every week and make sure they actually do show up for the event. Ask for their contacts so you can be able to reach out to them even the day before the event. If they do not show up, call them to find out why and convince them to attend. Constant reminders will ensure that they do not skip an event they have shown interest in.
47: Be reliable
Do not be the kind of person who promises a story and fails to deliver. If they say yes to your story, deliver it in the agreed time. If it’s an invite to an event, do not keep postponing because that will disorient them.
48: Follow up
Most journalists respond to pitches within 24 hours. If they do not respond, however, you can send another email to follow up. By the time you send the third email, you will have become familiar to them.
49: Use freelance journalists
If you cannot get to the mainstream media, try other channels such as freelance journalists. These journalists work for many outlets and know how to get a story published. They also know the editors, as well as other journalists who can cover your event. They also tend to have more free time to build relationships and go to the field. In other words, pitching these journalists will increase your chances of being published.
50: Start a blog
If all else fails, then you can always publish yourself. A blog is a good way to practice journalism even if you are not a trained journalist. Start a blog on WordPress or Medium and publish quality content there.
In conclusion, pitching a journalist takes time. Take time to build a relationship outside their desk. Follow them on social media, comment on their blog posts, articles and status updates. Be persistent in your communication but do not be too pushy. If your first email pitch does not get their attention, try a different approach until you get their response. Most importantly, learn about their interests and offer a story they cannot resist.
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