Welcome to our fifth blog on DIY public relations. So far, we’ve talked about creating stellar media plansmedia lists, press releases, and press kits. Each of these blogs is important, as one builds on the next. But, I’ll let you in on a little secret: this particular article is really critical! If you don’t master proper pitch protocol, you will have a difficult time getting media coverage. So let’s get down to it.

Press Release vs. Press Pitch

You really do need a compelling pitch. My clients often question why they need a press release if they already have a pitch, or vice versa. A pitch will draw the reporter’s initial interest and the press release will provide the information needed to build the story.  There are situations where you won’t have or need a press release to accompany your pitch (which I’ll cover soon), and you certainly can garner interest in your news by simply distributing your press release widely over a wire service. But, for a media outreach campaign targeting reporters with the goal of a specific message, you need a pitch.

I had a colleague tell me (and I think he even believed it himself when he said this) that he has never written a pitch—and that all of his media coverage was secured simply by distributing a press release. Unless you are the White House Press Secretary distributing news coming directly from the President of the United States of America, there will be times when you need to “sell” your story, piece of news, or press release. And this is where a pitch comes into play.

Say My Name

The most important step is also the first one, which is to be sure you pitch the right reporter. If you’re already consuming your target media and building a solid media list, you know exactly who you are going after. I can’t stress this enough: you need to pitch the correct contact! Not taking the time to research your media contacts will result in pitching the reporter who covers home gardening on your new software—or something equally off target. And in doing so,  you’ll also most likely irritate whoever you’re pitching, while simultaneously not getting yourself any coverage.

Get Personal, But Stay Professional

It is important that you walk the line between being friendly and formal when pitching. For instance, if you are pitching Robert, don’t begin your email with “Hey Bobby!” Does Robert go by Bobby? Perhaps. But you don’t know that for sure, nor do you know if his childhood nemesis called him Bobby and now he breaks out into a cold sweat whenever he hears the nickname. My point? If you do your job correctly and pitch the reporters who cover your industry, you may develop a more casual working relationship, and Robert may indeed one day become Rob, Bob or Bobby. But until then, he’s Robert. Reporters aren’t robots, and I am not suggesting a completely formal and sterile email—but use common sense.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the one size fits all, cut-and-paste pitch. Literally and figuratively. Unless you are pitching an exclusive to just one reporter, you will most likely type up your pitch and send parts of it to more than one media contact. And that is perfectly okay. But beware of copying and pasting from the same email. After a while, you will likely include someone else’s name or publication, or your email program may start to show different colors or fonts, making it obvious that the email was pieced together. It just looks sloppy, and people will notice. Take the time to type the correct name, and ask how they are. We are all human, after all!

While you should avoid nicknaming reporters in your pitch before you build a relationship with them, you can and should reference past articles they have written or current news and market trends—anything to make your request for coverage more compelling and show that you have put some thought into your pitch and done your homework.

The Main Event

The pitch itself is quite simple. In it, you are suggesting a story idea, not proposing solutions for world peace—so don’t over think it. Your press pitch is essentially a shortened version of your press release. It covers any relevant “who, what, when, where, and why” information, along with your suggestions for the story or type of coverage (product review, interview, profile, etc.) and why you think it would be of interest to the readers/viewers/listeners. A pitch doesn’t have to be (and often shouldn’t be) lengthy; even just one paragraph will suffice if you feel that’s all you need to convincingly pitch your story. Make sure you include all relevant information, but don’t add excessive paragraphs just because you think longer is better.

Be sure you include your desired call to action, and let the reporter know what you have in mind or can provide to support your pitch, whether it be an interview with an executive or spokesperson, a facility tour, and/or product sample(s).

As for your press release and press kit, I am not a fan of sending emails with attachments and don’t recommend it. I would either paste my press release at the bottom of my email, or just mention that I have a press release and further documents available, should the reporter be interested.

Subject Matters?

The subject line can play a big role in the success of your pitch. Think of it this way: When you check your email in the morning and your inbox is undoubtably overflowing, what factors help you decide which emails to open first? It’s generally the subject matter. You don’t need to drain your creative resources to come up with something witty and charming, but do be effective at conveying your message. For example, would you be more inclined to open an email with the subject line: “New Laptop,” or, “New Laptop Powered Solely By Recycled Materials?” Exactly.

At the same time, mind your Ps and Qs. A colleague was publicizing a new cookbook for men that promised enhanced energy and… let’s call it vitality. Her subject line was “Is Vegan the new Viagra?” Clever, compelling and just plain funny. But unfortunately, it was also inclusive of a big, flashing keyword for spam filters nationwide and hardly anyone received her original pitch, which she had to resend with a new subject line.

No Release Needed

There will be times you won’t need a press release for your pitch, such as when you are responding to a reporter’s query (HARO is a great PR resource, by the way). You may just want to introduce yourself as a spokesperson or a category expert for future stories, or share additional thoughts, data, or even an opposing viewpoint to a story they recently wrote. In these cases, you are not pitching “new” news, which is the main criteria for a press release—therefore it wouldn’t be relevant.

Call Me… Maybe?

If the reporter is interested in your pitch, you will get a response. Not always immediately, but you will most likely hear back. If not, either they aren’t interested or they could be, but they didn’t deem your news as urgent. And sometimes they just forget! Following up on your pitch is standard procedure, so go ahead and make a call or send an email if you don’t hear back after several days (just beware of deadlines before you pick up the phone and call a reporter) and reference the pitch, asking if they have any questions or need more information.

Well, so far, we’ve officially covered: media plansmedia listspress releasespress kits, and now press pitches. So, what if you get interest? Great question—and that will be the topic of our next blog: “What to do when you get your first ‘yes’…or even ‘maybe!'” Until then, let’s get pitching.