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How to Pitch Digital PR Content to Journalists

By Tricia Harte

How to Write a Pitch Email to a Journalist

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 do you cut through the noise and send a pitch that earns press coverage? 

Media outreach for digital PR campaigns needs to be performed strategically in order to see results. Successful digital PR not only creates brand awareness through brand mentions, but it also includes links to company’s websites and blogs for an added SEO lift. 

Effective PR pitches to journalists include five key components: 

  1. Organize your media lists 
  2. Don’t use the same pitch on everyone
  3. Don’t CC everyone and their mother
  4. Sell a narrative that benefits *them* 
  5. Don’t beat around the bush

Whether you’re positioning your client (or brand) as an expert commentator, or pitching research and content, these five strategies will help you get the attention you crave.

Organize Journalists & Publications into Media List, by Category

Organization is critical to success. Once you identify the types of publications you’d like to earn coverage in, as well as all the possible angles and opportunities for coverage, the first thing you’ll want to do is break your outreach strategy into groups.

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

Gif of a TV show, quote saying "I narrowed it down to a few options"

For example, if you’re pitching research about children’s mental health during the pandemic, there are three obvious verticals that may be interested in your research: journalists covering mental health topics, journalists writing about parenting, and journalists covering childhood education. Each of these verticals is very different, and would gravitate towards different data points in your hypothetical research.

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. 

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 old adage that personalization is key, is true. But 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 example of the children’s mental health research, we would create three foundational pitches for each vertical. 

For writers covering mental health, we might highlight statistics and revelations specific to mental health. For those writing about parenting, we might draw attention to data most relevant to parents, and so forth. 

The same thing goes for subject lines. Too often we see broad, overarching subject lines in pitches.

Generalized subject lines scream “I don’t really know what you cover, so here’s a general topic I hope you’ll find vaguely relevant and will open.”

If you’re pitching research about children’s mental health during the pandemic to a mental health writer, the broad subject line might read: “New report about children’s mental health during the pandemic.” Which could be enough to warrant a click-through. But why not go ahead and give them insights about the meaty content inside that report?

Why not lead with a (hypothetical) statistic from your (hypothetical) research: “65% of children suffered ____.” Leading with a relevant statistic, the hook of the report signals to the writer that you understand their coverage, and are cutting straight to the point when pitching your story angle. 

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

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.

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!

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. 

Avoid buzzwords and hyperbole, a journalist can sniff out BS-laden pitches from a mile away. 

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. 

But 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. 

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 – don’t give them a reason to. Some of the biggest journalist pet peeves include the following:

  • 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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