The do’s and don’ts of writing an effect PR pitch

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Like the age-old press release, the media pitch is a quintessential medium of the public relations industry. A successful pitch can accomplish several key goals for organizations and the PR agencies that work on their behalf:

  • It can lead to earned media coverage, either online or in print, within the PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) model of PR. The “earned” category accounted for half of agency revenue and 34 percent of in-house PR budgets, according to the Global Communications Report 2017.
  • It can strengthen their corporate brands and help establish competence as well as credibility, both of which are essential in driving business referrals. According to a report from the Hinge Research Institute, visible expertise is the biggest driver of referrals to professional services firms, accounting for 37 percent of them.
  • It can establish or deepen relationships with members of the press and influencers, who down the line may prioritize the organization when seeking comments on a news story, evaluating possible interview subjects or producing profiles about the movers and shakers in its field.

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With the staggering number of pitch requests that many journalists receive on a regular basis, the chance they get picked up is not a guarantee. A Fractl survey found that the staff at publications such as The New York Times and The Guardian get between 100 and 500 pitches per week, but consider only 5 stories.

3 common obstacles to a successful PR pitch

To cut through the noise and deliver a winning media pitch, PR professionals need to clearly recognize not only what an effective PR strategy comprises of, but also avoid some of the common barriers.

1. Not knowing your audience
PR pitches should be tailored to both the backgrounds of the journalists being pitched and the concerns of the larger media platforms they work for. This rule is especially relevant when pitching guest articles, since in these posts PR teams not only communicate with specific editorial audiences but also speak on behalf of the host publications.

Consider the fact that a pitch for a generic explainer entitled “How Accounting Software Benefits Your Business” would almost certainly fail if sent to an editor of a financial website, who has likely been pitched on a similar subject numerous times and would consider it to be too basic for the site’s CPA readers. PR specialists should speak to the readership of the targeted platform and not simply chase business prospects – the beginners who might read the aforementioned article title.

Pitch recipients are another vital audience. “What have they written in the past that is relevant to my pitch? What is in it for them if they cover my story or company?” Pitchers should do their homework beforehand by answering these questions, instead of placing a similar investigatory burden on journalists and increasing the chances they will ultimately ignore the request for a story.

2. Picking the wrong format
A pitch does not have to revolve around a press release. In fact, a common pitch miscue is writing a very short email that only instructs the recipient to see the attached press release. This approach violates the audience guidance we discussed earlier, plus it might not always give the media professional the information he or she needs to make a decision, since many press releases are laden with jargon.

The Fractl survey revealed that visual media is gaining ground on press releases and even articles as preferred pitch formats among publishers. While the article was still the single most requested media type (at 19 percent of survey responses), it was not far ahead of infographics (13 percent) or mixed media pieces (12 percent).

The upshot is that it’s not enough to just blast a press release to multiple outlets and expect any of them to pick up a PR campaign. Exploring alternative formats and focusing more on the email body itself – by using bullet points or talking about a specific article the recipient wrote – can help distinguish a pitch and build rapport with journalists.

3. Not writing well
Writing is one of the most sought-after skills across all professions today. With 73.4 percent of employers surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers cite it as something they looked for (only leadership and teamwork earned a higher percentage of responses) in a hiring process. But writing quality is still the weak link in many PR pitches and a major reason why so many fail.

Simple typos and grammatical mishaps can doom a pitch by ruining the PR professional’s credibility in the eyes of the recipient (using the dreaded phrase “please reply” in a subject line also fits into this category). Other factors such as the length and poor flow of a pitch email might deter the reader from taking any further action.

In other words: A pitch should not be a white paper. Only a few hundred words at most are usually necessary; 85 percent of the Fractl respondents preferred 200 words or fewer. Thousand-word pitches are too long for most journalists to sort through, given the volume of emails they get.

3 techniques to crafting a better PR pitch:

Now that we can see where PR pitches often go wrong, let’s turn to some practical tips for creating a pitch that can sustain a positive feedback loop, which delivers the following:
• Generates media coverage.
• Boosts prominence and revenue.
• Garners additional attention and leads to new accepted pitches.

To set this cycle in motion, PR professionals should aim for focused, concise and informative pitches, keeping the following techniques in mind:

1. Talk with audiences, not at them
Sending PR pitches is sort of like applying for a job: having a connection often makes all the difference. A blind email demanding action will usually yield worse results than a friendlier one sent to a contact the PR professional already knows in some capacity.

Interacting with journalists on social media about relevant pieces they have written is a good way to start productive conversations that might culminate in accepted PR pitches. Personalizing each pitch email – e.g., “I read your recent article on calls to action in SEO content…” is another effective tactic for getting a media relationship off on the right foot.

An added benefit of the networking approach is that it opens the door for mutual collaboration. Seven in 10 of the Fractl respondents stated that they preferred ideas over finished assets so that they could reshape them for their particular brands.

2. Tell a story that fits the platform’s character and rules
PR pitches require unique angles that editors will remember and consider valuable to their readers/viewers. Offering technical solutions to widely identified problems in the industry and commenting on current industry trends are both useful routes when pitching stories to specific publications. Presenting a clear point of view is essential.

Easily findable and relevant online content, such as blogs or infographics that directly address the same issues tackled in a PR pitch, can further improve the chances of success. If the recipients of the pitch can easily locate high-quality assets the pitching agency has previously worked on, they may be more receptive to ideas.

Note that many publications have publicly available guidelines governing what they will accept and how they will evaluate entries. Follow these rules and be sure to double-check all sources, materials and potential conflicts of interests before submitting a pitch.

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3. Make the pitch easy to get through
First, choose an attention-grabbing subject line, something that could double as the article’s eventual title. No one would entitle an article “Urgent: Guest blog idea,” which is a good sign not to label any pitch email as such, either.

Second, get to the point in the email body quickly. Put the most important details at the top. Use bullet points, boldface and use links throughout to highlight key information. Pore over the text to spot spelling and grammar issues.

Finally, provide additional helpful assets at the end of the email. These could be press releases, graphics or any other materials that reinforce the original pitch.
Interested in learning more about the ingredients of a successful PR pitch? A Master’s Degree in Strategic Public Relations from the George Washington University can give you the expertise you need to master the art of PR. Learn more by visiting the main program page today.

Recommended Readings:
PR Industry Trends & Keys to Success
How to Transform Your Content into Thought Leadership

Sources:
Study: 73% of Employers Want Candidates With This Skill
Hubspot
How to Pitch Editors & Win More PR for Your Agency
Here’s how to write a pitch that I’ll actually read
How to Deliver the Perfect Business Pitch: 8 Tips Inspired by ‘Shark Tank’
10 things we learned from outreaching 5,000 cold emails