How to Pitch Digital PR Content to Journalists

The content space is becoming increasingly crowded. That means journalists and publications are under a constant barrage of mass emails, media pitches, and press releases. Each one fighting for coveted media coverage. 

How to Write a Pitch Email to a Journalist

So how do you cut through the noise and send a pitch that earns your digital PR media coverage? We’ve got five tips to help you set your pitch apart that journalists love to see in their inboxes.

1. Organize Journalists & Publications into Media List, by Category

Organization is critical to success. First you need to identify the types of publications you’d like to earn coverage in for your digital PR campaign. Then identify all the possible angles and opportunities for coverage within your content’s narrative arc. The next step is to break your outreach strategy into groups to target the right pitch angle to the right target audience.

Not everyone fits into just one category, however, placing people into larger “buckets” based on vertical will help you organize your PR pitches, and give structure to your outreach strategy.

For example, if you’re pitching research about children’s mental health during the pandemic there are three obvious verticals that would likely be interested in your research. 

  1. Journalists covering mental health topics
  2. Journalists writing about parenting
  3. Journalists covering childhood education
mental health vector icon, parenting vector icon, education vector icon.

Although they may be interested in the same research, generally speaking. Each of these verticals has a different audience, and thus would find different aspects of your content worthy of a news story.

By separating reporters based on coverage focus, you start to shape that outreach strategy. Which, in turn, shapes how you go about pitching those writers (and building relationships with writers by pitching them content that aligns with their coverage areas).

2. Write Different Pitches and Subject Lines, by Category

Pitching is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. What one vertical may find interesting, another may be put off by.

The first step on the road to individual personalization is using a broader pitch aimed at one target vertical as your foundation. If we continue with the children’s mental health research example, we would create three foundational pitches for each vertical. 

  • Mental health writers would receive a pitch highlighting statistics specific to mental health
  • Parenting writers would receive a pitch drawing attention to data most relevant to parents
  • Education writers would receive a pitch with data about the classroom  

The same thing goes for subject lines. We analyzed more than 400 subject lines in 2022 to determine the best practices for emailing journalists [You can read our full blog post here]. 

What we found was the most effective subject lines are short, engaging, and personalized. Using our children’s mental health research example you might consider a subject line that calls out a specific stat in the research. Leading with a relevant statistic signals to the writer that you understand their coverage, and are cutting straight to the point when pitching your story angle. 

Screenshot of outlook subject line:

Remember, journalists are sorting through subject lines to determine which emails to open and which to trash. Subject lines that spell out the hook of the email in plain English will undoubtedly have the highest success rates. 

Tip: While it might be tempting to get creative with your subject line, it’s best to be direct and make your pitch inbox searchable. 

quick tips: using keywords in subject lines.

What do we mean by that? If a journalist remembers your pitch from a month ago and is searching through their inbox to find it later it will be important to have the right keywords in the subject line and body of the email. In our previous example, you’d want things like “Children’s Mental Health Report” in the subject line or body of your pitch email so journalists can easily find the report again. 

3. Use Personalization Whenever Possible, Avoid CC’ing

This is media outreach 101: personalize your email pitches. Whether you’re sending one-off emails or using an email service, always lead with the writer’s name.

  • Personalize whenever Possible 
  • No “Hello sir/madam”
  • No cc’ing

It seems obvious, but too often journalists receive a templated pitch with no addressing name, from a random email address.

While false familiarity is never good, ]neither is complete anonymity. Before introducing yourself and the work you represent, at least let the journalist know you at least know their name when they open your email. If you want to go a step further, point to their recent writings that lead you to thinking your new content might be the perfect fit for their next article. 

Too often we see emails go out with “good morning” or “hello sir/madam.” It’s the laziest outreach tactic out there, and more often than not, it will earn your email a spot in the trash. 

The same thing goes with cc’ing. Carbon copying writers to the same generic pitch is the ultimate media outreach “no no.” Not only does it send a blaring signal that the email is not personalized to them, it shows a level of laziness that is a complete turn off.

Many writers at top-tier publications thrive off exclusivity. Even if you’re pitching your work, client, or expertise to multiple journalists at multiple publications, at least have the wherewithal to send separate emails!

4. Write Succinct Pitches With Clear Story Angles

Time is money, and in a competitive and crowded content market, journalists do not have time to read through exhaustive pitch emails to determine if what you’re selling is worth digging into. 

Your subject line gets you through the door, so if you’ve piqued a journalist’s interest with your subject line, your pitch itself needs to be succinct and direct enough to seal the deal. 

Things to Avoid While Pitching: 

  • Being Too Wordy 
  • Buzzwords
  • Hyperbole 

Emails should serve as an elevator pitch, they need to be short, sweet, and impactful. They should lead with the most newsworthy angle, and offer 2-3 supporting points to show your research/pitch is substantive. 

Screen shot of an email template.

Remember: This formula and format isn’t the right fit for every writer. Emails to journalists with whom you’ve developed a report will obviously look different than first-time contacts. As will emails to writers at various mediums. 

5. Write Pitches that Match the Medium

Pitching effectively means understanding what each journalist and platform is looking for. Before contacting journalists, you should have a basic understanding of what they want.

Some may want ready-made scripts, while others are looking for context, nuance, and extra detail. Familiarizing yourself with the styles of different types of publications, from magazines and digital-only platforms, to television and newspaper journalists will help mirror your pitches to journalist expectations. 

  • Use the language and style of the medium
  • Explain why it’s relevant to that medium’s audience

Using the same language is the first indication of familiarity with a journalist and their work. This is essential for cold-outreach. Television journalists are looking for something a little snappier, that can be easily summarized and explained in under 60 seconds. Whereas print journalists may want more context or supporting details for a broader story. 

Match your pitch style to the journalists medium to better communicate how your content is a good fit for their medium. 

What Should You Avoid Doing When Pitching?

Journalists are looking for any reason to archive to trash an email – we should know! Our digital PR team is full of former journalists and have been on the receiving end of these pitches. 

DTC's digital PR team headshots

These are some of the pet peeves we experienced while working in news. Don’t give journalists a reason to click the delete button on your email because of these mistakes. 

Top things to avoid when pitching journalists:

  • Duplicate emails: Accidents happen, but never send the same email twice. Whether in rapid succession or days apart. 
  • Generic emails: If the copy is broad and overarching, or if there are no personalized details, the pitch reads generic. The same goes if emails are fluffed with buzzwords and boring PR phrases — journalists can sniff that there’s no substance.
  • No context: Your pitch shouldn’t feel out of the blue. Explain (from the get go) why you’re pitching them. Maybe it relates to their coverage area, maybe there was a recent headline and you want to help them capitalize on the news cycle — whatever it is, give journalists context. 
  • Too promotional: Possibly the biggest turn-off of them all is overtly promotional content. Journalists are looking for content that helps them, not the other way around. If a pitch email comes across too promotional of a brand or a person, it’s almost always an automatic “no.” Your pitches need to offer something — whether it’s new research, an expert interview, or exclusive content — that will help the journalists tell a compelling and newsworthy story.

Every campaign and digital PR initiative will have a different media outreach strategy. But avoiding these taboo tactics will decrease your chance of ending in the virtual trash and increase your odds of success.

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