Coming up with stories about clients and then pitching them in to journalists is at the heart of the PR process. How successful a campaign is will largely depend on how good the PR agency is at finding stories journalists will love and how good they are at pitching them in. As a former journalist myself I was used to fielding pitches from PRs long before I did the job myself so I came to PR with a good understanding of what works in a story pitch and what doesn’t work. This blog post will set out some of my insights into this key process and hopefully be helpful and maybe even interesting to anyone who wants to raise their pitching game.
Some background first. I started out in regional print journalism in the 1990s with brief spells on the Derby Telegraph and the Burton Mail before joining the Nottingham Post (then called the Nottingham Evening Post because we did several different editions across the day back then). After a couple of years there I went on to work at the Daily Mirror for six years before setting up Motive in 2008.
So I came through the old fashioned way, learning to craft stories under pressure of print deadlines and gaining an understanding of what makes the news and what gets easily dismissed as PR bluster.
Find unusual lines and newsworthy angles: Man Bites Dog
The past 25 years have been a fascinating time to work in media as I caught the tail end of old school traditional newspapers and saw up-close how the industry was completely turned upside down by the advent of the internet and technological advances such as mobile phones and, later, social media.
But despite this technological revolution, what makes news hasn’t really changed and never will. News will always be Man Bites Dog. Dog bites man isn’t news. In other words, find the unusual line. Something genuinely different.
The challenge for PR professionals is to find something novel that will appeal to journalists while at the same time communicating their client’s good news and key messages.
A lot of PRs fall into the trap of sending out what my old news editor used to dismiss as a ‘puff piece’. In other words a vanity story which flatters the client but which isn’t of any interest to anyone else.
Back in the day these would come through thick and fast over the fax machine only to be screwed up and flung into the bin after a cursory glance. Today it’s exactly the same, the only thing that's changed is the fax machine has been replaced by email and it’s even easier to delete those tedious puff pieces.
So offering a strong story has to be the first tip and should really go without saying. But once you've done that how do you make sure your pitch gets noticed? What can you do to make sure it’s read and maximise your chances of publication?
Targeted pitching and curated emails
Firstly, email is ok but avoid mass emails and BCC fields. Make your pitch as targeted as possible. Remember that journalists receive many, many emails so don’t assume it’ll be read. Everything about your pitch has to grab them by the throat and demand their attention.
The first thing they will see is the subject line so this has to be considered carefully. It must summarise the story hook in a few words. One of the worst things PRs sometimes do is send an email with a subject line such as ‘story for you to have a look at’ or ‘feature idea’. When you imagine how many emailed pitches these guys are getting your subject has to stand out and be different from all the others. Don’t give them something that just sounds the same as the other 30 ideas vying for their attention that morning. Make it different. Remember Man Bites Dog.
Once they’ve opened your email grab them again with your story hook. Get right to the point. Don’t start with a lengthy long-winded preamble that will bore them to death and cause them to hit that delete button. Don’t ask them how they are or tell them you hope they are well and staying safe. Don’t be insincere because savvy journalists can spot it a mile off and will click delete before they even get to your story. You’re not trying to sell them a new phone here, you’re pitching a story. What you are really trying to do is to make their job easier. If you’ve done your job right so far you’re going to be giving them something their audience will love. You’ve got gold for them here.
Being direct doesn’t mean being rude. It’s always nice to say hi. But that is literally all you need to say before you give them your story hook. Bang. Bang. Bang. Pictures. Video. Bang. Come back to me for more.
One last piece of advice. Avoid exclamation marks. They’re bloody annoying.
Summary: Make your story strong. Remember Man Bites Dog. Never issue a puff piece. Be targeted with your pitching. Make your subject line a snappy summary of the story. Don’t be fake or false. Get to the point. Give them what they need to make their job as easy as possible. No exclamation marks.
© MOTIVE 2020