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Hackernoon logoHow to Pitch Like a Pro: Grab a Journalist's Attention by@techsoup

How to Pitch Like a Pro: Grab a Journalist's Attention

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@techsoupTechSoup

In the past two posts, you learned about what piques a reporter's interest and how to make it newsworthy. It's time to take the knowledge and create a pitch for journalists.

One of the first things you need to know is that you have about five seconds to get a reporter's attention. (That isn't just for reporters, but for everyone!) You've already figured out what your story is by using the criteria gleaned in the last two posts, but now you need to also tell them why.

Why does this matter? Why should people pay attention?

Once you understand your why (hint: it's not about your brand or organization), you'll be able to communicate that value in your pitch.

The Windup

The key to developing the right pitch is knowing who you are sending it to.  

Journalists get hundreds of pitches each day, and most end up being the same pitch sent to hundreds, if not thousands, of reporters. And most of the time the pitch is irrelevant because the reporter doesn't cover your kind of story.

To stand out, you need to just pick a few reporters who specialize in the topic you want to pitch and create a unique pitch relevant to them.  According to PRWeek, the top request of journalists is for people to do a better job at researching and understanding them and their publication before pitching. This extra work will not only get your pitch noticed, but you'll also get a journalist who trusts that you know what you're doing.

The Throw

Usually, pitches are delivered via email. That's why that research about the reporter you want to pitch is important. You'll discover that most — but not all — want contact via email. And you'll also find that the public email address that you have for the reporter may not be the address that you should send your pitch to!

When sending an email, your focus really needs to be on the subject line and the first couple of sentences. They need to not only get the attention of the reporter, but also make them want to read more. If you start off with an angle or a statement that is impossible to refuse and offer content that is unique and exciting, you'll get a positive response.

Keep the pitch short, about 200 words. Start with an introductory attention-getting sentence or two; then bullet point no more than three key facts and ideas.

Here's an example:

People in the Mohawk Valley are not able to access the COVID-19 emergency support they need to help their families, including unemployment benefits. That's according to a Help House internal poll of their clients. It also shows

  • 36 percent of clients struggle to file for benefits due to a language barrier.
  • 45 percent of clients do not have access to the Internet to file a claim.
  • 73 percent of clients file incorrectly and are denied benefits they need to survive.

To give area residents access to the benefits and services they need during this crisis, Help House has created a new hotline to assist anyone in the local area with filing benefits claims free of charge.

Finally, add a call to action. Use a question to get them to react.

For example:

Jane Smith, a client of Help House, is available for an interview today. Would you like me to set up a time to talk to her about her experience, which resulted in assistance to support her entire family during the pandemic?

Or

Would you be interested in talking with John Doe, Help House executive director, about how the hotline works?

Once you have your pitch, look it over with the eye of a journalist, or better yet, have someone else read it who is not so close to the story. Reporters take less than a minute to scan through your pitch to them, so make sure you've reviewed what makes a story idea newsworthy and of interest to them.

Home Run!

If journalists or producers like your idea, they might respond right away, but often, your idea is saved but not replied to. Sometimes you'll need to do a little follow-up with reporters in order to make sure the story is seen. After all, people get busy, and things can — and do — get missed on occasion.

The trick is to do it in a way that doesn't annoy them. Wait a week or so, and then send a follow-up email or a call. Either way, be brief and only follow up once.

What should you say? Instead of asking if they received the pitch, give the reporter some additional or exclusive information that you didn't mention in your short pitch previously. 

So what happens if the story isn't picked up?  Don't let the idea go to waste! You can use it in many ways, including these:

  • Engage brand ambassadors or influencers to spread the word for you with awesome content you create or they generate.
  • Write a blog post or develop an infographic and promote it in social media to amplify its reach.
  • Use video — according to Richard Carufel of Bulldog Reporter, 40 percent of communicators are now using live video of CEOs on social media to break news and build thought leadership in a more authentic way.
  • Hold a Twitter chat with industry experts on the topic and invite some social media–friendly reporters.
  • Create an article for LinkedIn.
  • Use the story as a part of a donor appeal letter.

In this three-part series, you've learned the basics of getting your story out to the world through the media. Don't be discouraged if many of your pitches don't get knocked out of the park. The key is to start understanding and building relationships with reporters. The more you focus on that, the more success with the media you will have overall.

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Originally published as "Pitching Like a Pro" with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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