A Guide to Constructing the Perfect Pitch
Constructing the perfect pitch is like pitching the perfect note, granted Fat Amy and The Bellas had the pitch pipe. Fear not PR pros, I’m going to share with you the steps you will need to construct the perfect pitch. This guide will act like your very own “pitch pipe,” and by following these tips you are sure to hit all the right notes!
Unlike journalists, PR pros don’t generally have the option to shoot down stories. It is our job to take the story, no matter how mundane it might seem at first and sprinkle our creativity and media savviness onto it. We are in the business of public relations after all! How the information is disseminated is up to us, which is a pretty powerful thing. We can tap into what is trending in breaking news or use various pop culture angles like the “Dwight Schrute” story that TIME ran on their website to take leverage for our clients.
Steps in Creating a Pitch
Step 1 – Create a Media List
Online media directories like Cision and Vocus are a good place to start. You can create lists easily and target effectively. However, the services do not do the research for you. Before you reach out to the journalist or blogger, do your research to make sure that your story is relevant to the beat they cover. Sending a pitch that bears no relevance starts things off on the wrong foot and makes it more difficult to build that relationship further. Here are some of the ways in which you can reach out:
- Cold calling – contact the reporter via email or telephone with your pitch
- Publish your news through a press release service – pay a fee to a press release service like PRNewswire where your news will be distributed to various sources and search engines
- Respond to source requests – Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is a great resource and it’s FREE. HARO connects reporters with sources who are qualified to talk about the beat the writer is covering. If your story is a fit, respond to the reporter’s request with your pitch.
- Form relationships with reporters via Social Media – building the relationship is half the battle. The journalist is more likely to respond if they know you. It’s a best practice to try to reach-out prior to sending that first pitch. You can do this by being a vocal fan of their work, sharing their articles on social media and commenting positively on their blog posts or articles.
Step 2 – How to Write a Pitch
A well-constructed pitch will give a journalist a persuasive story angle that relates to their readers while offering up all the information they could need to write the story. Michael Smart PRis a great resource, and he is continuously creating informative content to help the PR pro improve their pitching success rate. He recommends that a word count of 150 is best for a cold email pitch. When I first read Michael’s email on how to achieve this I was a bit dubious, but with these steps it’s totally achievable:
- Delete your first sentence
- PR pros often feel the need to begin with a set-up line to contextualize the story. If you’ve targeted your pitch correctly, this is not necessary.
- Leave out proper names and formal titles
- Unless the person has broad name recognition, the name can come later.
- Leave out common and usually unnecessary words
- Smart says to imagine these words in a sentence and you’ll see what he means: basically, essentially, actually, really, nice, past, future, located, currently, presently.
- Cut another 25%
- Once you’ve used steps 1-3, use the word count feature in Word to help you slice off another 25%. This puts you in the seat of the reporter or blogger and helps you determine what’s most valuable.
Step 3 – Tips and Tricks
Okay, so we now know what we need to do. Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts:
- Keep it short and snappy (remember, no more than 150 words)
- Conversational versus Formal – best practice suggests that it should not be too formal. Construct your pitch in a conversational tone; people can tell when you’ve sent them a boilerplate email.
- Address the need immediately – don’t self-promote; take a helpful approach
- When possible, use numbers and stats – this helps to paint the picture and is a great way to back-up the point you are trying to make
- Format information in bullet points – this makes reading easier for the reporter
- Move Fast – remember that reporters work on deadlines; first-come, first-served
- Think like the gatekeepers, answer the relevant questions—Who, What, When, Where and Why?
- Be relevant – make sure you are familiar with the beat the writer covers and their demographic.
- Add Value – send additional material i.e. good quality images, videos or infographics to help color the story. Never send attachments, instead hyperlink or use Dropbox if it’s a large file.
Step 4 – Practice Makes Perfect
In a recent whitepaper published by Vocus, they compared pitching a story to A/B testing landing pages on a website. I think most full-service agency employees will find this analogy rings true. Testing various styles is the best way to optimize your PR efforts. Keep track of the pitches you send and the responses they garner by creating a folder in your email. Focus on the language and technique that works best and allow this to become your own unique style.
Step 5 – Extend the Power of Publicity
So your story has been picked up, but your job doesn’t end there. You need to extend the power by sharing it everywhere. It’s important to sync your PR efforts with your social media networks. Here’s why: in the same whitepaper that I just referenced, Vocus conducted interviews on over 250 journalists; the results are as follows:
- 51% use social media to promote their stories
- 49% use social media to connect with viewers and readers
- 30% use social media for research purposes – but more than 95% don’t believe that it is a completely trustworthy source.
Your extension should utilize a hashtag – this makes it easy for readers to ask questions about your story by promoting a hashtag in your press release, then engage with readers on Twitter that use the hashtag. Using a hashtag can also help measure the reach and value of the media hit. There are a lot of great free tools out there such as WEBSTA, Keyhole and Tagboard. To further extend your efforts you could repurpose the content and turn it into a radio interview, news clip(s), blog post(s) and utilize any of the high quality images taken from news coverage to pin on Pinterest or post to Instagram and Facebook. However please be aware that there may be legal issues depending on whose content you are repurposing and where you are choosing to repurpose it. To be safe, always check with the original source and get permission before using anything that isn’t yours.
The study also concluded that of all pitch methods, 91% of reporters prefer email, while 2.7% opted for social media.
The steps for constructing a pitch around the holidays are no different, however you may want to more creative with your approach:
- Take a step back – consider ways to come at the holiday like no one else.
- Build on the holiday – allow it to become a part of your niche and tell the story from a different angle.
- Develop content after the fact – this is another way to help create a buzz. A prime example of this approach was demonstrated when a medical clinic hosted a “trick-or-treat trade in” two days after Halloween. The call-to-action asked kids to donate their candy in an effort to combat childhood obesity and the kids were rewarded with a movie voucher.
“Pitching is simply learning how words relate to people…” says Ed Zitron, author of This Is How You Pitch: How to Kick Ass In Your First Years of PR. Zitron makes a very pertinent point in his book: it will never become obsolete. This point deserves reflection; we know that trends come and go but the pitch is the one tool we will always use, thus it is up to YOU to perfect it. Create that human connection in your stories and think like the journalist; this is half the battle. Take the steps provided in the guide above and continue to re-work your style until you find an approach that works for you.