While it is doubtful that any journalist has ever said “that was the perfect pitch,” there are several elements which can make or break a message to journalists. Make sure your media pitch includes the following, and you'll be closer to securing coverage for your story idea.
- Who, what, when, where and why: Those words are the basic tenets of journalism, and they should be in every public relations pitch, even if in one sentence, which ends in a plea to read the full press release below. Always include critical information such as when or where a product was launched, who's behind the announcement or how the journalist's readers can get involved. Always leave the journalist feeling this is a tangible story, which is best accomplished by including this basic level of detail.
- An exciting subject line: Make it clear your pitch is something the journalist’s audience will find interesting. Don't just use the press release title, but find the most interesting angle for that specific journalist. For example, include the publication's name. This makes it clear it's not a distribution list, which will be appreciated. If you can, make it clear you're prepared to work with the journalist by including an offer of collaboration, such an exclusive angle (interview or stats for example) or an offer of an early preview. Ideally, use words with a sense of urgency such as "today," "upcoming" or "expected."
- A good first sentence: Get to the meat of your pitch within 20 words or you'll lose your reader. Make sure the first sentence is a continuation and expansion of the subject line. Ideally, fit as much information as you can into this sentence. Every word counts as the journalist is reading but probably won't continue forever.
- Humanity: Journalists want to feel they're being communicated with on a human level, person-to-person, and aren't being spammed by a public relations machine. Make it clear you're a person and you're keen to work with the journalist instead of expecting them to cover you. This is also the place for some flattery -- enough to make it clear that you've done your research, you know what the journalist writes about and confident that you're doing them a favor with this media pitch.
- Options: Every good media pitch offers options. Today's journalists can present articles in a variety of ways, whether through an interview, a slideshow, a podcast, a feature, an announcement, some comment, a diary item or anything else. It's your job to support the journalist in whichever way they want to cover your story. Be clear on what you can make available in terms of interviews, case studies, images and multimedia, and pitch far enough in advance that the person has time to think about how they can make your story work. If you can do it politely, it's not necessarily bad form to suggest a part of the publication that you think your news might fit in (e.g. "this might make a nice news-in-brief item for this week's paper"), but don't push it.
What elements do you find essential to a good story pitch? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet your responses using the hashtag #mcgblog.