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The Ultimate Guide On How to Pitch a Journalist
June 1st, 2021
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There’s a science to pitching a journalist. As a publicist, your goal always remains the same—securing media coverage for your client—but the PR strategies you exercise to make that happen will vary from client to client. Really, it’s up to you to put your client’s best foot forward, highlighting their wins, product innovations, interesting backstory, and expertise. It’s a mutually beneficial exchange (if done right). Not only do you want to land valuable coverage for your client that sparks interest and intrigue among potential customers, but you want to make sure the journalist sees this relationship as worthwhile too.

Some journalists can receive hundreds, maybe thousands, of pitches a week, so half the battle is sending an angle that is interesting, timely, and eye-catching enough to be opened—and, most importantly, read in full.

We spoke to two PR pros to find all of the strategies that have worked for them. Some rely on the shock factor, others pull at the heartstrings, and several call out unique ways to make your client relevant in any (and every situation). Not sure where to start? Read through these expert tips on how to pitch a journalist, and then incorporate these PR strategies into your daily work to give your clients the spotlight they deserve.

Highlight the founder’s story

The product itself may be a strong selling point, but pitching often requires publicists to use every tool in their toolkit, including the brand’s backstory. Try to get the brand’s founders on board for interview opportunities or, at the very least, supply you with enough information to build an engaging story for journalists to share. “Founders' stories are great because they offer a way to tell the brand story from a very personal lens,” Andrea Samacicia Mullan, the founder and CEO of Victory Public Relations, explains. This pitch should follow a similar format to any other product pitch. “We start by answering the who, what, when, where, and why and offering an anecdotal story to illustrate one or more.” Ultimately, try to craft a pitch that leaves the editor wanting more (just a little bit, though), so they can imagine their reader getting lost in the final story, Mullan says.

Incorporate your clients into valuable lists

As a general rule, it’s always best to pitch in a way that makes the most sense for the journalist—something that allows them to see your client in a story they’re working on. If you’re pitching a product (or line of products), keep in mind that round-ups are popular in both the print and digital media landscape. “The best way we've pitched this kind of media is by creating a specific media list and covering not only the obvious ones but also coming up with lists that might not be typical but are incredibly relatable,” Mullan says. An example: Recently, Mullan’s team created a “Ramadan-focused pitch that pulled from our roster of products the most appropriate for this holiday (both gifting and used in celebrations). We included in the pitch data showing that the Muslim consumer market is worth $26 trillion annually, making it abundantly clear that it makes no sense at all to ignore this holiday.”

Take the noncommittal approach

No risk, no reward… right? Although this might be the riskier move, it can pay off in the long run. Instead of spending hours crafting the perfect pitch, go for something simple and straight to the point. “We landed a client on Esquire's Best New Restaurants 2020 list by sharing with a particular journalist that we thought they should know about this chef and his restaurant. That was the full pitch,” Rachel Sutherland, CEO of Rachel Sutherland Communications, explains. This allows the journalist to take the little bit of information you’ve given them to visualize where this would work best, rather than telling them outright where or how it would be a good fit.

Don’t rule out customer or patient stories

Founders and experts certainly have a big draw, but don’t look past the people they are helping when drafting your pitches. Make it more relatable by pitching the brand or expert through the patient or customer’s lens. “ No matter how well-credentialed or popular on social media the expert is, the addition of a patient's [or customer’s] perspective always adds a compelling layer to a pitch,” Mullan tells us. Ultimately, this gives journalists insight into the real-life impact of the person or brand you’re pitching, which they can relay in whatever story they're writing. “Working with a series of patients who feel compelled to share their story because they want to help other people in the same position, or they're simply proud of how far they've come, is a great way to show the real-life impact of what we're pitching.”

Pitch like a journalist

Sure, as a PR pro, you should always honor a journalist's creative license. But still, even the best journalists won’t mind a helping hand from time to time. When drafting a pitch, Sutherland suggests that you “go one, two or three steps beyond the obvious.” Take a new restaurant opening, for example. Instead of simply sending a high-level news pitch, find ways to make this new spot newsworthy enough for the publication you’re pitching. Ask yourself: Does it have dishes with unique ingredients? Does the chef have a remarkable origin story? Is there a standout dish that people can’t get enough? There's your pitch.

Go for shock and awe—in a smart way

Bring on the wow factor. If you’re working with a more conventional client, lean into what makes them, um, shocking. When Sutherland was working with an OB/GYN client, she struggled to get the experts any TV placements because of their “sensitive” subject matter. So, her team made condom tins customized with the OB/GYN’s logo and mailed them to media outlets in the area. Soon, they started getting calls from reporters, raving about the tins and inquiring about future press opportunities. “The unexpected condom tins nudged doors open, allowing us to nurture relationships with numerous media outlets, many of which are still going strong. Building on that early momentum, the doctor has been featured in national media and has a Tedx presentation on sexual shame with more than 300,000 views,” Sutherland says.

Only pitch once you have all your client’s materials at the ready

Let’s face it; it’s hard enough as it is to get a journalist to open—let alone read—your pitch. When the time comes, do everything you possibly can to make sure that they have everything they need for possible inclusions: hi-res images, hyperlinks, social media accounts, and press kits. Even if you don’t want to overwhelm them with all the information right off the bat (that’s totally understandable, by the way), be fully prepared so that you can send it their way once they bite.