By Jim Williams, PR for UK tech firm Postcode Anywhere.
So, the journalist you tried to call left you feeling like you work for Staybrite Windows. And “doing lunch” went out with the Rubik’s cube, because the half-dozen underpaid hacks left staffing the UK’s publications haven’t left their desks for so long they’re wearing catheters.
Don’t panic. In this time-poor society it’s the email pitch that saves the day. Like a car crash on the way to work, a good email should flit across the retinas of a busy reporter just long enough to translate into a call or coverage.
Here are 11 tips to help email pitches work for you.
1. Do your research
Is there even a chance a certain publication will run your story? Or are you reaching out in blind hope? Immerse yourself in relevant publications and keep records of the type of story they run. Yes, it’s obvious. Just make sure you’re thinking “ah, this is a perfect story for readers of Computer Weekly,” instead of “I have no idea where this story will fly so I’ll mail it out to my entire list.”
2. Use your list wisely
Still, don’t be scared to send a press release out to a relevant lump of names (remembering to segment your list appropriately so your releases aren’t seen as spam). The situation when you should never do this is when proposing an interview or feature, where a personal approach is essential. Most of the time you need to offer exclusivity too, so pitching to a whacking great list is just going to make you look stupid.
3. Go for the jugular
Go for their throat, don’t clear yours. Start off with an attention-arresting fact, interesting opinion, or thought-provoking question. And don’t tell journalists what they already know.
Getting straight down to it is even more pertinent when mailing out to your list, where (depending on your available software or confidence in mail merge) you might not be using individual names. If you’re sending to a list, everyone knows it - so cut the “hi, hope you’re well” and get on with the pitch.
4. Get to the point
Whether you’re pitching an article, interview opportunity or press release, it’s imperative to communicate what you’re offering. What’s the story? Move into this as soon as you can. Journalists pride themselves on conciseness. If you prove you’re not a time-waster then even if this pitch doesn’t stick, you won’t have lost their respect for the next time round. Keep it to five snappy pars and maybe a PS, no more. I like adding postscripts because they add a personal feel (and everyone reads them first), but you might not.
5. Be current
A topical hook could make your story more relevant. Be careful not to crowbar national news stories into your pitch, though. No one wants to know how the latest terrorist attack has boosted sales of your client’s toilet roll holders – except maybe Private Eye.
6. Remember the reader
Journalists think about their readership. Spend a par pointing out the reader benefits for your feature pitches.
7. Put in your client’s credentials
The journalist might not know your client from Adam. If your client has particular industry expertise, you must make a point of mentioning it.
8. Spend time on the subject line
The subject line is the first and most significant line of defence against a journalist’s hyperactive “delete” finger. You probably need to spend as much time on the subject line as you do composing the email. Generally I wouldn’t advise writing the subject line first.
When you’ve finished the email a neat metaphor or theme may have arisen in your pitch which may be perfect for arresting attention in the subject field. It’s a good idea to preface the subject with a no-nonsense descriptor such as “Release:” or “Interview opp:” Best practice guidelines recommend keeping the subject below 50 characters. I’d say it should be below 40 if possible.
9. Use your own style
Some people work better with a straightforward email pitch. However, as you develop more confidence you may want to experiment. The odd dab of humour in your communications reaches out to the reader and assures them you’re not some faceless flunky, but someone who’s passionate about what they do. The most important thing is for you to find your own voice, and believe in what you’re pitching. If for some reason you don’t believe in your story, no one else will either – so you need to find another angle.
10. Make notes of preferences
Many journalists hate large attachments. I’ve worked on at least one local newspaper where attachments over one megabyte were automatically bounced out of the system. The editor had a special hatred of that little paperclip symbol and any contributions sent as an attachment wouldn’t even end up on the NIBs pile.
However, some journalists hate having to click around, and would prefer everything came attached. For mass press releases, I fudge it a bit, attaching a .rtf release (not everyone has Word) but also appending it in the email body. Unless responding to an actual request for an image, I tend to link out to photos, which I upload to our website. But individual journalists have preferences which you should take note of.
11. Use Twitter
The beauty of Twitter is it’s a real-time tool, allowing you to get inside the heads of the journalists in your industry. This gives you more individual insight into when and how to pitch. Some hack you follow having a bad day? Thanks to Twitter you’ll know about it. Or maybe he’s out of the office from one till three, so you should pitch at four. Again, this will probably all be announced on their Twitter feed. If you’ve not used Twitter before, download TweetDeck, or even better, use its online cousin HootSuite. Twitter itself is just a bunch of data, and you need software to manipulate it. You can, of course, pitch via Twitter too.
These tips are just that – the extremity of the iceberg. Experiment with them and use what works best for you.
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