Can You Take a Hint? 7 Ways to Ensure Your PR Pitch Doesn’t Fall Flat

Written by Paige Dawson

While our hit rate for PR coverage is strong, we can always learn and improve. That’s why I was excited to join Peter Shankman’s webinar with reporter James Ford and former journalists/producers & PR pros now Cindi Avila & Mike Avila for a refresher on some dos and don’ts for media pitching. Below you’ll find some of my notes and personal tips. This is a fast read for experts seeking publicity and PR professionals wanting to up their game.

Nail the Subject Line

Reporters and editors will glance at every subject line. James advocates the adage: every story can be told in three words – perfect for a subject line. He used the example “machine creates vodka” to grab attention. Cindi shared another example of referencing a past story the reporter did with “RE your story on XYZ.” This shows a reporter that you know what they cover and did your homework. This tip is great if we want to pitch an expert who can talk on the same topic in the future or offer a counter perspective.

Make It Short

For your email pitch, the first line and first paragraph are key. Many reporters will only give you the first paragraph before moving on. A good rule of thumb is three paragraphs: who I am, how I can help, and my contact info.

Mike said if we’ve worked with a reporter before, start with “I don’t know if you remember me, but we worked together for XYZ story – or when you interviewed Joe Smith.” Reporters cover so many subjects that mentioning history gives you a little extra nod of credibility.

Reporters are busy, so look at your pitch from the reporter’s view and make it easy for them. Craft the story for them and even include a suggested introduction and interview questions as a bottom appendix-type info. Just make sure it isn’t an advertisement and remember less is more.

If you’re pitching to broadcast, include a clip reel link to show that your source is good for video. It’s a higher bar for broadcast as an interviewee must know the topic and be an engaging conversationalist with concise sound bite answers. If you’re pitching print, include a quote or two that can be lifted and used as-is for a reporter to grab and include. And make sure the client’s online bios are updated.

Speed Matters

When something timely happens that you can add commentary for stories, speed matters. If it’s a plane crash, shooting, bankruptcy, trial verdict, election result, weather event, etc., reach out that first hour to offer up your expert and relevance to help the reporter on that story. Current events move at a fast clip.

When reporters need sources for a story, they usually reach out to 3-4 folks in their database concurrently. Whoever responds first and can help wins. The same goes for general reporter queries that we get from HARO, ProfNet, Qwoted. Once a reporter gets a source or two, it’s a done deal.

Read the Room

It’s key to pay attention to the bigger picture. If a huge news focus is happening with a major weather event, mass shooting, election results, or the like, you can bet reporters won’t care about your new product release, research report, economic insights, or any type of evergreen story. This is critically true for broadcast news and local reporters that care about timely events. So, push your plans a week or two until you have a better shot of getting attention. We even advocate this approach when pitching an industry or business story; it’s better to wait a few days or a week when the news cycle dies down. We’ve pulled planned PR on the day of many times for just this reason.

Be Relevant

It should go without saying, but we’ll say it: make sure you pitch the right person. Look at the reporter’s last 10 stories to make sure your pitch fits their beat and that outlet. We also make sure to social follow the key reporters and outlets we’re targeting.

Along this same line is do your homework on how a reporter likes to connect. Most still have emails as the primary means but some are open to direct messages on social media as well. A service like Meltwater or Cision is great as often the reporter preferences are noted in the databases.

Take a Hint

If you only hear crickets from a pitch, take a hint. Don’t overpitch and annoy reporters. A good rule of thumb for follow-up: if it’s super timely for a current event tie-in, follow up the next day. If the story is evergreen or is a longer lead time piece, follow up in one week.

For clients who produce ongoing research and analysis pieces, we often curate a monthly roundup to send to reporters to stay top of mind on what we’re covering. It may not lead to an interview request that day or week, but it keeps us in the mix for when a reporter is covering that topic in the future.

Get Asked Back

The best interview outcome is becoming a go-to source for future stories. Tips for a great interview include:

  1. Speak in succinct, interesting soundbites of 7 – 15 seconds. Practice beforehand to get your answers crisp. Invest in media training.
  2. Wear a color that pops (avoid green) and a style that isn’t overly busy.
  3. Be early in-person or virtual – aim for 10 minutes before for virtual to test your setup – both video and audio quality. For in-person, usually the call time is 30 minutes in advance; if not, aim for that for safety.
  4. For virtual setups: invest in a ring light to place behind your screen to illuminate your face; ensure the height and angle of your camera are high enough to look straight ahead and not down (seriously, even put it on a box if you must); invest in a stand-alone camera that connects to your computer, and check to ensure the background is simple and clutter-free.
  5. Just as we all like social engagement, likes, shares, and comments, so do reporters and outlets. We always social share coverage we get and send a thank you tag – and email. It’s just good manners and it helps get the outlet/reporter engagement, and it helps get our clients more visibility.

And if the interviewee or gatekeeper (i.e., PR person or assistant) is rude, boring, or just unenjoyable, you won’t get asked back.

Need Help?

If you need help thinking through your publicity strategy or getting feedback on your current approach, we’d love to chat with you. Our PR Principals have more than 25 years of experience each – yep, we’re old in other words – and love helping match clients and reporters to tell great stories.

Drop us a line and let’s chat.

About Paige Dawson

With expertise in marketing, business strategy and public relations, as well as ‘in the trenches’ experience as a business owner, Paige Dawson brings a unique blend of talent to clients. As president and founder of MPD Ventures Company, Paige works with executives and entrepreneurs throughout the country to develop key messages, marketing strategies and measurable campaigns, driven by client business goals. She has extensive experience providing counsel for professional service firms, technology companies, associations and nonprofits.