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The Subtleties of a Perfect Pitch

Date published: July 29, 2014
Last updated: July 29, 2014

A recent study conducted by the Media Relations team at involved interviewing more than 500 writers, editors and publishers from domains with varying degrees of authority. Kelsey Libert, VP of Marketing, and Ryan McConagill, Promotions Supervisor, at presented the results in a webinar, which was recapped on Buzzstream. Most of the insights won’t be terribly shocking to anyone who’s ever written a pitch email, but a few of the finer details are worth highlighting.

Most writers write only one story per day, despite receiving an average minimum of 20 pitches.

Even worse, only 11 percent of those surveyed say they regularly write stories based on information sent in a pitch email.

The takeaway: Stop using language that assumes you’ve got what they need, because chances are good they can get what they want without involving you. To increase the odds of providing value, do your due diligence to learn the reporter’s beat, writing style and personality.

Writers would like for you to stop, collaborate and listen.

A whopping 70 percent of publishers surveyed say that they prefer to collaborate on articles and assets, rather than have a finished piece dumped in their inbox. The report suggests nurturing existing relationships with publishers, continuously forging new relationships with editors, employing static assets over interactive ones and remembering to make the pitch about them, not you.

The takeaway: Journalists and publishers are looking for sources of new information such as exclusive research, breaking news and emotional stories. They’re more likely to be interested in the final piece if you have their best interests in mind as it’s being developed.

Social pitching is on the rise, but email is still preferred.

Survey respondents displayed a normal distribution of responses when asked how important it is for a person to establish a personal connection before pitching content, but the majority said it was of moderate or little importance. Interestingly – whether you’ve personally connected or not – an astounding 81 percent of writers, editors and publishers say they want to be contacted via email; social media comes in at a distant nine percent. Phone-pitching is almost laughable.

The takeaway: It never hurts to comment on articles and retweet messages written by the author you’re targeting, but it’s not a prerequisite for a pitch, either. Connecting the right people with the right information is the name of the game – and that goal can be achieved without weeks of meticulously planned social outreach to the journalist you plan to approach.

Pitches should be concise and to-the-point.

Most people know this already, but the survey provides a few quantifiable rules of thumb to underscore:

  • Almost 90 percent of survey respondents want pitches in less than 200 words.
  • Eighty-five percent of respondents determine if they’re going to open an email by quality of the subject line
  • When it comes to subject lines, disclosure of the type of content found within the email typically works better than wordplay

The takeaway: Explicitly tell them what you’ve got, why you think they will care and what you want them to do in fewer than 200 words. And never let your headline be an after-thought.

The survey recap concludes with a lengthy list of quick tips to create the best pitch possible. Don’t overlook standard formalities like addressing the person by their name, having a good understanding of the subjects and beats they cover, spell-checking your work and not writing in all capital letters. But don’t sugarcoat your pitch and pretend you know them better than you do, either.

If done well, this sets the stage for your offer to be warmly welcomed by the recipient of the pitch. Don’t blow it by extending them something they can’t use. Make sure your well-researched content contains breaking news, exclusive research, emotional stories, data visualizations, solutions to problems, or useful insights.

The science of pitching journalists and media outlets isn't changing radically from day to day, but those who are best at the trade are incessantly tweaking their approach. How have you recently refined your pitching skillset?

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