Clients often wonder how a PR agency can get reporters to read email pitches. It’s basically a combination of art, science, and alchemy – definitely not for the faint of heart.
When I was the healthcare reporter for the Boston Business journal, I got an average of 300-400 emails per day. In the run up to a major conference, such as JP Morgan or HIMSS, that number could easily reach 500 emails per day. I couldn’t possibly read them all. I deleted more than half, and immediately read about a quarter of them. The rest I saved to read later. Maybe.
4 ways to lose a reporter in 70 characters
The biggest mistake you can make is failing to take advantage of the subject line to quickly convey the value of the company, product, CEO, or scientific advance. Here are a few common types of subject lines that won’t get reporters to read pitches:
- “Heads up, big news from Health Inc.” – A lot of companies waste valuable space in a subject line with phrases designed to get reporters’ attention. “Heads up” is really useful only if you are a TV cameraman reviewing video and the President walks into the room. Simply state the news, in the format, “Who is doing what and why.”
- “Introducing CEO Bob Smith”- A lot of companies write to offer the expertise of their thought leaders, and that’s great. But this doesn’t give me any information about Smith’s areas of expertise, or whether he’ll be a candid, interesting or thought-provoking interview. Give the reporter some insight into your expert’s point of view and, if possible, his or her personality.
- “Health Inc. tops sales projections for the third year running” – This kind of blatant promotion will immediately be deleted by most reporters. First of all, where’s the story there? Secondly, whose projections are we talking about, the company’s? Reporters need independent numbers.
- “Health Inc. to revolutionize health care”- Subject lines that are intentionally vague or seek to tease the reporter and pique their interest can backfire. This particular one is too broad and strains credulity. I would probably give it a pass. It may be necessary to keep the news under wraps until, for instance, a reporter agrees to an embargo. But try to give as much detail as possible, so he or she can make an informed decision.
2 ways to lose a reporter once they are on the hook
OK, so you’ve survived the subject line gauntlet, and the reporter has clicked on your email. The next challenge is to get him or her to read the whole pitch, or most of it, and call for an interview. Here are a few Don’ts:
- Don’t overload the reporter with background – Keep it simple. A two- to three-line pitch explaining what the news is and why it’s important is best.
- Don’t abuse embargoes -Embargoes may be necessary for a variety of reasons – for instance, the news is tied to a JAMA article that has not yet been published. But putting an embargo on news to try to inflate its value may backfire. Reporters are willing to abide by embargoes as long as everyone is on the same playing field with the same rules.
If you can avoid these six pitfalls you will be well on your way to hearing the sweet sound of your phone ringing with reporter interest.
Have you ever fallen prey to one of these pitfalls? Do they ring true? What other pitching best practices have you discovered?