How to pitch to journalists
Hello there, how are you?
I am contacting you because I want to tell you about the greatest campaign you’ll ever come across…
And this is not how you pitch to a journalist.
Let’s start with the beginning. The campaign has been thought out, developed and designed, following the four pillars of a killer digital campaign, and it is now ready to go out into the world (of journalists).
However, only half the work is done at this point and your pitch will need to stand out among the 300 daily emails that the average journalist receives. In order to make your email glow like the brightest star, we recommend you follow these 9 steps:
Target the right journalist
Start off well and target the right sector. If your campaign is about cars and driving, then do not contact Ben from Recruitment. There’s nothing a journalist hates more than receiving off-topic emails. And next time you actually need Ben (this time for recruitment), you’re most likely to have been put on his blacklist (aka junk folder).
Also, pay attention to their job title. It might not seem very important at first, but let’s say you are promoting a video. Frank the Editor-in-Chief, is alright, but, for more useful feedback, Chiara the Video Reporter might be a better fit.
Worst-case scenario, if you happen to find a general email address, make the task easier for the person redirecting the general inbox emails by simply writing in the subject line the team you want the email to be read by.
If you are still in doubt about whether you have the right person, check on Gorkana or search for their latest work to get an idea of what they cover.
Do not underestimate small publications
No need to blast the Daily Mail, the Independent, or the BBC with an email every hour until they tell you they are not interested. There are other online publications and blogs worth the attention.
Go beyond the well-established names and have a browse for lesser-known blogs that may just be the right fit for your campaign in terms of reader’s personality and background.
Create a spot-on email title
The subject line is key, as this is the first thing that the journalist will see (after your name). You don’t want to write something illegible, too long, containing typos, or that simply does not make sense.
Your email title should be concise and include one of your hooks. For example, “XX ways to do XX” or “The top 5 ways to XX” often work well.
Define the shape of your email
This varies according to the journalist you are reaching out to (check their preferences on Gorkana), but here are the basics:
- Make the email as clear as possible.
- Avoid useless information: write all you need to but do not drown the journalist in details. You want them to read the whole email and not stop after two confusing sentences.
- If you have a press release, send it! Try to anticipate the needs of the journalist to avoid too much back and forth (again, time is precious and news go fast).
- Be polite: read your email to make sure you are not coming across as rude. You want to start by building a good relationship.
Below is an example that worked quite well:
The email is not too long but it gives sufficient information on what it is about. The subject line is concise, the bullet points show the key facts, and there is a link taking the journalist to the campaign’s page for further details.
Don’t hit ‘Send’ just yet…
Before you hit ‘send’, take a moment and double-check the date and time. Your email might be the greatest you’ll ever write, but it might also be completely left aside because today is Beer Lover’s Day and no one wants to hear about interior design.
Be mindful of anniversaries, current events, and Fridays (when it’s almost the weekend and even if the journalist read your email, they have 2 whole days to forget about it). Evening messaging is not necessarily encouraged either, as the response rate is likely to be low (the journalist is either home or at an event).
Emailing or calling during working hours is always better, and if the journalist already told you what days and times they are available, you’re winning!
To chase or not to chase
Everything in life should be done with balance, and although this is not always possible (e.g. when eating all the ice cream or buying too many striped shirts), when it comes to chasing journalists, I will refer you again to Gorkana to check journalists’ preferences.
Some tend to encourage follow-ups, whereas others are quite strict on the fact that they don’t want any reminders. Based on my experience, I know that follow-ups work well to get a response from journalists, but you have to be careful not to drown them in weekly reminders if you want to avoid making an enemy for life.
The same goes with phone calls – while you’ll happily see journalists give away their phone number and urge calls, some will not allow it. In some situations, you’ll have to weigh if it’s better to talk to the reporter directly or if an email would get your point across better. Really, it’s your call (pun intended).
In short, do chase but do not abuse it.
Believe in your story
This will probably be the best tip I can give you: believe in the story you are pitching. It might seem pointless, but it is actually essential.
Think back when you bought your car. Was the car dealer lethargic and unsure about the car safety? Probably not. Any seller will be excited to talk about the model you have your eye on or make you change your opinion by singing the praises of that beautiful Mini Cooper. And who hasn’t been influenced by the waiter in this restaurant when they said the ratatouille was their favourite item on the menu?
Well, pitching to journalists is almost the same. You have to be excited about your campaign (it’s your baby, after all) and you need to be prepared to answer anything about it. Show your enthusiasm!
Build the relationship
If the journalist is showing interest in your campaign, your time to shine has arrived. It’s time to start building a relationship. Remember to be available and to reply quickly if they want additional information. The life of a journalist is fast-paced and scattered with deadlines, so if they don’t get the information they requested on time, they might skip it and go to the next topic on their list.
Follow them on Twitter and interact. If you’ve commented on their last tweet and they see your name in their inbox, they are more likely to spend a bit more time on your email.
Don’t give up
You’ve followed all the steps, you believed in your story, and you emailed all the relevant journalists… But no one is getting back to you. Unfortunately, this happens.
Maybe you just need to rethink your email or change the angle (have a look at the news and see if you can jump in a hot topic and tie it to your campaign), or maybe the timing wasn’t good or the hook isn’t strong enough. Don’t force your campaign onto journalists and instead of going down the emails list, brainstorm ways to improve it and make it more appealing.
And, for some inspiration, why not have a look at our campaigns…