The Art of Pitching

The biggest challenge any PR professional faces is in pitching a story. Most often, we waste time in writing multiple mails, calling the reporter, being marked as spam… you know the way it goes.

So some questions to ask yourself before you started making that pitch

  1. Is your story actually a “Good Story”?
    Try to think from a reporter’s perspective as well as a reader’s perspective. Can the reporter write a story that goes beyond mere 2 lines? Will the reader be engaged reading the story?
    Most often, we get caught in the web of ‘have to deliver a story this month’ and try to pull out talking points out of thin air.
    Write the story in your mind. If you can actually hit anything more than 300 words, it is probably worth pitching.
  2. Is it something of interest only to a small group of people?
    Now, you might have a great story. It might be filled with heartbreak, success and all those beautiful things. It might be even ‘innovative’ and ‘path breaking’. But how many people does it actually affect?
    If you are pitching to a newspaper, you should definitely ask yourself this question. Most newspaper reporters do not want to write a story that affects probably 100 people in a million. Or if it does not actually relate to its readers.
  3. Does the reporter / publication even do such kind of stories?
    Know the publication. Know the reporter. The simplest way to get marked as spam is to write to a reporter about the wrong beat or wrong publication.

These are the basic questions. Once you’ve got these sorted, let us move onto writing the mail.

Mails are the easiest way to pitch a story. Really! The reporter has the convenience of reading it on their own time. The reporter can file it for later. Or if they are the really organized type, they can just bookmark it or add it to something.

  1. Write it like a story
    The first few lines of your pitch need to be the most important part of what you are talking about. Is your client launching a new product that will make commute easy for the residents? Is your client securing more funding? Has your client touched a new milestone – something that would be considered a milestone by people outside the company?
  2. Never send a mass mail
    If you think that your story is important to be featured by a reporter, don’t send a mass mail addressing the whole world. Personalize it. At least by their name.
  3. Check for spellings and typos:
    You’d be surprised how often people screw up with this, particularly the name of the reporter. The name is usually there in the email ID, you know. Double check it. Triple check it.
    Check your client’s name. Use the spell check function. In today’s world of spell checks available everywhere, wrong spellings are just not done. It tells the reporter that you are not really bothered.
  4. Don’t overload information:
    A pitch is like an invite. Would you put your entire story on an invite? So don’t do that with the mail either. Keep it short. Keep it simple. Add a brief document at the end of it with more details. Share links for more details. Become e-savvy. Use the numerous tools available to create temporary webpages featuring all the content you want to share – photographs, videos, text.
    If your pitch is good enough, the reporter will get back to you. If not, well, you can give them the entire history and they won’t actually care.
  5. Highlight:
    Remember how you’d highlight the most important part of your answer in exams? Use that philosophy here. The crux of the story can be highlighted (though some reporters hate this!)
  6. Don’t Follow Up Immediately:
    People need time to read mails, particularly when they get a mail every 5 minutes. They might be working on something else, taking a much needed coffee break, banging their heads on the desk. Give them some time to read the mail. Call after an hour. If they say they haven’t had a chance to read it yet, call back the next day. Don’t call back in 15 minutes saying “So did you read it?” There’s nothing more annoying than a pest.
  7. Don’t use the same mail for everyone:
    It is called a ‘pitch’ for a reason. You cannot use the same tone and cadence for everyone. Personalize it according to who you are talking to. (Refer to point 3 in the first section)
  8. Respond on Time. Give Realistic Deadlines:
    The worst thing you can do is get a reporter hooked and then scramble around to get things organized. Have all the information you need ready – additional information, links, photographs, videos, contact details, references, people who can provide additional inputs. The simplest way to get it done is to just get it done – now.
    If you are pitching for an interview, have interview slots ready and assign one when the reporter responds positively. This saves time and effort on both ends!
  9. Verbal Pitches:
    Despite your best intentions, some stories work better when you pitch verbally first. But you need to have a good rapport with the reporter. Before you make the call, have a summary ready. Know what you need to highlight and what would attract their attention. Have the mail ready as well, and send it within a few minutes after you finish the conversation – when it is still fresh in their mind
  10. Make your story fit!
    Sometimes, you need to work with the reporter to see how your client can fit into a story they are doing. Perhaps this can add a new dimension to the story, or you need to figure out better details. This means you need to know your client really well! 
  11. Sometimes, it doesn’t work:
    Yes, it doesn’t. Sometimes, the story that the client wants isn’t really a story. It is your job to tell the client that and figure out another way to tell the story. Use social media, use the blog. A media publication is not obligated to tell your client’s story. They are to report ‘news’, something that the public wants. You can try approaching a niche publication, which might just carry the story.

Do you have more inputs? Share in the comments section below.



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