Media relations pitching is challenging to say the least. Editors are busy people. Writers and journalists are often on the run, facing tight deadlines and email boxes that absolutely never get read down to zero.
When pitching a potential story, getting an editor to open your email is already a challenge, albeit one that can be overcome with a good subject line and some follow-up phone calls. But believe it or not, that’s the easy part.
The real challenge is convincing an editor that your pitch is one worth reading and, more importantly, the story angle you’re pitching is one worthy of publication. When your message is in competition with the hundreds of other pitches that flood a journalist’s email box every day, navigating the waters of media relations pitching is no easy task.
Successful relationship building starts with a single pitch. For best results, double check to ensure you’re avoiding these egregious errors each and every time you’re emailing an editor in an effort to earn their attention.
“To Whom it May Concern” leaves no one concerned
Remember that sea of emails I mentioned above? Well, your messages are likely to drown if you think a generic greeting is enough. “Dear Journalist,” “Hi Editor,” or “Hi There, Friend!” are all opening lines I saw during my time as an editor (yes, that last one is real); I’d roll my eyes each and every time I saw them. Nothing says “I don’t care about you. I’m mass producing emails in a desperate attempt to get someone to respond” like an impersonal greeting. Don’t do it. Avoid the practice whenever possible – and when you’re pitching a specific editor, it’s always possible.
If you can’t be bothered to take the extra time to be certain an email you send contains the name of an editor, why would they give your pitch a second look? It may go without saying, but ensuring you spell an editor’s name correctly and properly type the name of the publication goes a long way toward crafting a message that feels personal and worthy of a response.
You seem cool, but will readers care?
Have you ever had a date, or been to a dinner party with someone who just wouldn’t stop talking about their own accomplishments and life? It’s the worst. Even if those accomplishments are noteworthy – like if they climbed Mt Kilimanjaro barefoot – no one likes a bragger.
Making everything all about you evokes envy in those who are far too addicted to shoes to ever accomplish such feats. We all have to brag a little; however, for a media pitch, talking only about yourself, your company, and your brand simply isn’t going to fly.
An editor has one question on their mind: “Will my readers care about this?” The job of a pitch is to convince them that readers want to hear this story.
When selling a major personal accomplishment – one from a thought leader or a business – make sure you relate it to some larger social issue or current event. Every story has to have a newsworthy spin.
Make the pitch about something journalists are likely to care about. If you do that, they may not even mind if you brag a little in the process.
Don’t be the talk of the watercooler
If you’re trying to get a specific publication to tell your story, it’s OK to email multiple editors if you don’t get a response. In fact, that may be the only way to move things forward. However, emailing different contacts from the same editorial team on the same day isn’t going to help your cause. Not only do you risk two editors wanting to write your story when only one can, but you also risk your pitch becoming office gossip.
Editorial staffs share pitches with each other, and if two get the same pitch, that may be enough to bury your story completely.
As a personal anecdote, one time I received a pitch on an “exclusive story written specifically for [publication name].” Long story short, our sister publication in the office next door received the same pitch – and with one conversation, this potential menu option went from made-to-order cuisine to looking more like fast food. To avoid potential confusion, I abandoned the story and so did my colleague. It happens every day.
Unless you sign their check, they are not on your staff
This one is for vendors and in-house media relations teams: Don’t treat editors like they’re on your marketing staff! Unless you’re paying them for an advertorial, they do not exist to publish the language of your pitch or parrot your branding. This, by the way, is one of the biggest reasons you might want to consider working with a media relations agency such as Amendola Communications rather than trying to do it yourself.
While messaging is extremely important for any company to have, most journalists can do without it. Writers like to stick to the facts. If your pitch is loaded with buzzwords and messaging unique to your brand, it’s more likely to be ignored.
Every editor expects some “marketing speak” to make its way into pitches, but not at the expense of newsworthy content. The trick is to insert key messaging into a pitch alongside useful, interesting information.
But perhaps the worst sin of all happens after a pitch has earned a published article. Erroneously, some demanding media relations novices – particularly those who are on a company’s staff, as opposed to an outside agency – will email journalists asking for a litany of changes.
From my experience as an editor, these changes often include the insertion of obvious marketing language and patented buzzwords. If other editors are anything like me, these requests will almost always be met with righteous refusal.
No one likes having their story ripped apart. It’s worth saying again: Unless the editor in question also happens to be a copywriter you have on staff (which would be weird), bite the bullet and treat them as autonomous beings that are free to write their stories as they see fit.
Asking editors to fix errors is fine, but anything beyond that starts to infringe upon their ability to work freely. And once you cross that line, there may be nothing you can do to get them read your pitch again until you mend that relationship.
Of all the “don’ts” on this list, this one is the most important because it goes beyond a single pitch and speaks to effective relationship building. In the end, that’s what media relations is all about if you want the opportunities to continue long into the future.
Make it a win-win
All too often, pitches fail because the person doing the pitching is only thinking about themselves and what they want out of the encounter. That’s no way to build a relationship.
If you make sure writers and editor feels like you’re working with them, rather than talking at them, you’ll be much more likely to get your media relations pitches read – and your stories placed.