pitch anatomy

As a freelance journalist I both receive pitches and I myself pitch editors at multiple publications on a regular basis. It’s how I’ve been making a living for the last 12 years, so I know what works, from both sides of the fence.

This graphic shows the elements of a media pitch that works. Yes, email is the best format for this. It’s where I live and work and it’s the same with my editors. And it’s really this simple. I’ll break it down for you.

First, however, I want to be clear on what you don’t need. I may be going out in a limb here, and not everyone will agree with me, but my experience shows that:

  • You don’t need to be a PR pro or a writer to successfully pitch your products and/or services to the media.
  • Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect or even all that good.

What you do need is a passion for your work and how your offering can change the world, or even just some small corner of it. You may be an engineer, a business person, a developer first, and a PR person second. To my mind, that’s actually great, as long as you can get your ideas across. I want to feel your excitement. I don’t need you to be perfectly polished. (That said, if you are repping someone else as PR pro, a little polish doesn’t hurt—but then you probably don’t need to read this!)

Now then, on to the elements of a great media pitch. Working from the top of this graphic down:

  1. Pitch to a real person. Some people will tell you not to use mail merge, but I actually think that’s okay. I mean, who has time to pitch individual writers one at a time, waiting for a response before moving to the next? I get it. Hit ‘em all, I say. Just make sure that each email is addressed to a real person who covers the topics (“beat,” in journo-speak) where you fit in. This could be an editor or writer, but writers are your best bet.
  2. Create a cool subject line. This is one area where thought and creativity count. Note that “cool” is in the eye of the beholder. Make it something that you would be excited to read. If you’re in the programmable logic controller business and so are your targets, a headline like “new PLC phones home with status updates” could be cool to the right person—the person you want to click to open your email. Don’t get too creative, though. You want me to get a pretty good idea of what your pitch is actually about.
  3. Okay, so maybe you’re using mail merge, but you still need to make each email individualized. That means that you customize the first line of each email that goes out. No need to get too detailed about your target, just let him or her know you’ve been following their work or that you know what they cover, or provide some other indication that you thought of them individually. You want them to know that you really think they, in particular, will be interested in your pitch.
  4. Make it timely. Media outlets live and die on news. That means your pitch works best if it’s tied to some kind of event, either out in the world,or at your company, or both. Product launches, venture funding rounds, crowd-funding milestones or deadlines, major endorsements, and other significant advances can all work well. Unfortunately the promotion of an executive I’ve never heard of likely won’t interest me or most of my readers.
  5. Provide a call to action, or CTA. This lets me know what you want me to do with your pitch and how I can help you. Do you want me to request more information? Interview an executive or other VIP? Quote your opinion in the context of a larger news story? You want to provide me with an opening to continue the conversation you’ve started with your email pitch. A conversation that could lead to a story on you or your company being written.
  6. Keep it short. Check out all the white space in the graphic. The short sentences and paragraphs. The way you can take in the whole pitch at a glance. Now, the pitch may be accompanied by a press release or more detailed information that has been cut and pasted below it, but the pitch itself, the thing that makes me want to keep reading, should be short and simple.
  7. Provide your contact info. This includes your email address (not just a generic address I can’t reply to), website, and possibly your phone number. You’d be surprised how many pitches I get that are conversational dead ends. I’m looking for a unique way to tell your story, not just something built on the same PR and pre-written quotes everyone else is getting. I want to be able to talk to you and/or someone else at your company who can give me fresh insights and/or quotes that will be unique to my story.

There you have it: how to write a media pitch that works. Bookmark the graphic as a reference, let me know what you think, and ask me anything.