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Marketing | Aug 19
Elise Dopson on July 3, 2019 (last modified on July 8, 2019) • 20 minute read
You’ll probably be one of the third of our PR experts who say just 10% of their pitches end up resulting in media coverage:
We wanted to find out how you can make that figure slide towards the higher end of the scale. Everybody wants their press releases to land in coverage every time, right?
So, we asked our experts to share the tips they use to create a successful PR pitch–based on their past results.
Here’s what they said.
According to Cascade Communications‘ Jennifer Fortney, journalists “don’t have time to figure out what your story is and why it’s important. You have to tell them “why”.”
“The secret to successfully generating media attention for your business is to tell a compelling “Why”. Why does your business matter? Why is it different…better? Why should people, including media, pay attention? What is so interesting that people should pay attention?
“The “why” is your newsworthy story. Without it, there is nothing media will find worth writing or reporting on. It is the meat of your story. It is what gives your business validity in the market,” Fortnet explains.
It’s easy to write a press release with the goal of convincing everybody how awesome your brand (or product) is.
But when pitching your story, Rockay‘s Vedrana Damjanovic thinks “it’s not about you or your company (even when you think it is: new product, new release etc.), but rather what your audience can gain from it; what would be of interest to them.”
“To do this successfully, before sending the pitch you initially wrote, ask yourself: “Why does this matter? Who cares?” If you can’t find answers to this in your pitch, go back and make sure you provide a clear answer to these questions.”
Sphoorti Bhandaresummarizes perfectly: “If your pitch doesn’t include angles or insights which help the audience, journalists will see no value in your pitch. Emphasize how your new service, remarkable milestone, or eye-opening industry report brings change (the good or bad kind) in these readers’ lives.”
One of the first steps of your press release distribution is to find an outlet likely to be interested in your story. This could be anything from local news sites to huge blogs.
ClydeBank Media‘s John Donnachie thinks you should be wary when picking the stories to pitch to each outlet because “not everything is newsworthy.”
“When pitching, keep the needs of your prospect in clear focus. Before pitching, ask yourself “If I was a news outlet would my readers be interested in this?” and perhaps more importantly “Does this benefit the outlet and my organization or just my organization?”
Donnachie continues: “Try to send only pitches that are truly valuable to your prospect instead of pitches that cover every aspect of your organization and aren’t really newsworthy.”
221 Building‘s Hagai Schetcher thinks you should ask these three questions to judge whether your story will be a hit with your target publication:
GeoJango Maps‘ Michael Anderson also advises to “make sure that your pitch is relevant to the publication that you’re reaching out to.”
“Sometimes you may need to get creative and find a way to present your company and idea so that it’s useful, relevant, and interesting to a specific publication. Think outside the box and think about why that publication would benefit from covering your company.”
*Editor’s note: Backlinks are a huge bonus for landing press coverage. So, when putting together a list of target publications, take a few minutes to check whether the SEO performance of your target website is up to scratch.
You can do this by adding the URL as a competitor in Moz, and using our Moz Competitor Overview dashboard:
You’ve found the website you want to cover your press release. Next, you’ll need to find someone working at the publication to hit “publish” on a piece including you.
“Make sure that you research the reporter you’re pitching so that you understand what type of stories they tell,” writes Danielle Ruckert of Raffetto Herman Strategic Communications.
“You wouldn’t want to pitch a reporter who only covers healthcare on a story about a new coffee machine… that’s a waste of your time and theirs. Make sure you’re offering something that the reporter needs so that you can continue to build a solid working relationship.”
That’s whyClutch‘s Riley Panko advises to “get to know your contact. It is definitely more time-intensive, but nothing will turn off a media contact more than a generic, clearly automated pitch.”
…But how do you get to know the person you’re emailing?
Panko says: “Get to know their other stories – what beat do they cover? Is there something they posted recently on their Twitter channel you can reference? Can you connect with them on LinkedIn?”
“These actions show that you see the media contact as a real person, as opposed to an input, and it will make them more likely to cover your company or story,” Panko summarizes.
Nikki Corbett’s team at Precise think “when writing a PR pitch, it’s best to focus on the widest appeal possible. If your message only appeals to a small segment of the population, it’s less likely to garner attention–especially the attention you want.”
“However, when you take the time to work at a more strategic approach and appeal to the widest mass possible (a.k.a. more people that care), then your pitch is more likely to receive maximum attention–and from the right people,” Corbett says.
Troy Frink of Medicare Plan Finder, on the other hand, thinks you should “ask a handful of prominent industry outlets if they want exclusive coverage before you cast a wider net.”
“The quality of the outlets that feature you can often be more important than the quantity. When you’re selective about which sources you reach out to, you maintain your media relationships by further establishing trust,” Frink says.
Tamas Torok of Coding Sans agrees: “Don’t blast a huge list of journalists but rather select 10-15 who are super relevant to your company and the story.”
“When you make a pitch, you might not always get a response. One of the reasons for the rejection is that you’re sending out the same pitch to everyone,” says Shahzad Saeed of Is It WP.
“But if you write a pitch exclusive to the journalist and their publication, you’ll increase the likelihood of getting coverage. I’d do some research to find a list of potential journalists and then tailor the pitch based on their publications.”
Summarizing, PromotionCode‘s Mike Cantina says: “Writing a pitch is like writing a love letter. Yes, you can mass produce it and send it to a wide swath of reporters, or you can take the time to read what a reporter has written and craft your pitch to exactly their niche.”
When you’re collecting journalists’ names for your distribution list, there’s a high chance that it will be your first time hearing of them.
That can be a huge downfall, as Crisp‘s Antoine Goret explains: “As you maintain a conversation, it’s much more easier to tell them that you have a big update and they should have a look at what’s new. As they already know you, you’ll be able to raise curiosity which is something key for a journalist.”
For that reason, Goret advises to “build your list of “close” journalist and focus on creating a real relationship with them rather than just saying “Hello this is my nice PR you should really have a look at it even though you’ve never heard of my product/company.”
Community Tax‘s Jacob Dayan thinks you can do that by using “social media to turn cold selling into warm selling.”
“Follow your contact on social media and engage with them in meaningful ways: like and share their content, comment on their posts, and ask questions. This can help open up the door for your larger ask, but be sure not to rush it.”
Dayan continues: “Just because they responded to your tweet or LinkedIn request doesn’t mean they want to read your pitch just yet!”
Tate Olsen of Nine Nine Six also has a smart hack for warming-up your journalist contact: “I like to prime my campaigns first by running paid traffic to an article from a smaller publication, and then using that as leverage for larger publications. In the end publications want eyes on their website. If you can provide that in numbers your odds increase dramatically.”
When delivering a PR pitch, Matt Zajechowski of Digital Third Coast thinks you should “personalize and tell the author how covering your pitch will benefit their audience.”
“Journalists get hundreds of pitches each day and a good chunk of them are templated and irrelevant,” Zajechowski writes. “You need yours to stand out and taking the extra time to both prospect the best writers for coverage and to create a unique pitch will provide long term value in extra coverage.”
Dai Baker of Dai Baker Creative Group LLC agrees, and thinks you should “show that you have done your homework. People want to know you actually cared enough to do your homework further than finding their contact info.”
Sounds time-consuming, right?
That extra effort can be worth it–which is why 15% of pros write more than 100 unique pitches for a single PR campaign:
“This is not a copy/paste game, it’s strategic communication with a journalist that deserves thought and time,” says Threads‘ Rosalee MacKinnon.
MacKinnon continues: “Making your pitch relevant and customized to your specific target will show the reporter that a) you pay attention to their beat and believe you’re offering them something their readers would be interested in and b), shows that you’ve done your homework and aren’t just throwing things at the wall to see if they stick.”
This can pay-off in the long run. According to PRWeek, 28% of journalists‘ top request is for marketers to do a better job at researching and understanding them and their publication before pitching.
Once you’ve understood the journalist you’re emailing, Claire Shaner of BestCompany recommends to “frame your story in a way that relates to them and what they care about.”
Shaner puts that into practice: “I saw that you recently wrote a blog post about dog owners and this story about cat owners would make a great follow-up piece.”
“If you can’t find a connection, you’re sending it to the wrong reporter,” Shaner summarizes.
“For writing a successful PR pitch, you want the subject line as well as the intro to be attention grabbing,” says Growth Hackers‘ Jonathan Aufray. “You want to make sure the journalists will read the rest of your press release.”
Aufray thinks “you can either be shocking, funny, unexpected and tell an incredible story”, but “don’t be boring! Make sure you stand out of the crowd.”
“Since you’ll be one of many people emailing, it’s challenging to get your email even opened – let alone responded to,” writes writes COFORGE‘s Eric Melillo.
“It may seem like the most obvious but, changing our subject line approach has helped get our emails opened in the first place – which is much of battle.”
Melillo continues to explain that their “tactic is simple – stop trying to “sell the pitch” with gimmicks, exaggerated wording and using ALL CAPS anywhere. Once we started following a few rules and started treating the exercise as an offer of value the they now treat our outreaches with much more respect.”
Canz Marketing‘s Daisy Campbell adds to that: “If it catches the attention of the user in 3 seconds (AT THE MOST, they usually don’t have this kind of time), email would probably get clicked. If the subject line is vague and unclear, your email would rest in peace with dozens of others for a while and would be deleted forever soon after.”
So, how do you nail your subject line and create a short snippet of text that journalists can’t help but open?
Faveable‘s Liz Jeneault says: “Do you have a perspective you don’t think any other PR professional will? Capitalize on that and show it off by mentioning it in the subject line!”
Jeneault does that by adding “my own credentials in the subject line. I’ll often put “Emmy-nominated former TV news anchor” as I believe that makes me appear more credible to reporters.”
But Beth Adan of NISONCO PR & Consulting thinks you should “focus on workshopping a few different subject lines and A/B testing them. Make sure to include the key details and something enticing, but never over-promise or lie about the contents of your pitch.”
Their team use the CoSchedule Email Subject Line Analyzer to help with this–something Adan says “scores your subject based on a few factors and can help you brainstorm more click-able words with their Word Bank.”
“People can get the steak anywhere, what they want is the sizzle,” writes Rio Rocket. “Use the most sizzling and exciting component of your brand or product upfront in your pitch.”
Roger West‘s Natalie Lane summarizes perfectly: “Give journalists a reason to read and pick up your pitch. 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 more coverage for your business.”
“A PR pitch must provide adequate information, but it also must get straight to the point,” says Mailbird‘s Andrea Loubier. “It’s important to provide a short intro, but often companies are must more interested in what you can do for them, rather than your entire business profile.”
“People are busy and nobody really enjoys reading a very long email, that’s why it’s important to keep it short and straight to the point,” writes Cedrick Capati of Spiralytics. “Your prospects would find this really convenient for them.”
Successment‘s Jonathan Mentor agrees, and shares some quick tips to make your PR pitch emails digestible:
“Read your pitch as if you’re the journalist receiving it,” writes Morgan Taylor of Jolly Content. “This means getting to the point with a quick call to action. Ensuring that your email doesn’t look like it is copy and pasted either by making sure the fonts are all matching.”
When we asked for VIP Spades‘ best tip for creating a successful PR pitch, Deyan Drazov said that humor and charm is “my go-to method for securing PR coverage.”
“Being boring is a sure way to NOT stand out from the rest. Add a bit of humor, make fun of yourself and insert a joke or two. Be authentic and it will be noticed!”
Jennifer Magas of Magas Media Consultants, LLC & Pace University agrees: “No matter who you’re pitching to, no one is going to respond to what you have to say if you don’t appear passionate.”
“Make sure your pitch shows that you truly believe in what you’re pitching – you can do this through your knowledge and your tone of voice. Be sincere when you’re talking to them, and don’t just rely on facts to seal the deal.”
Did you know that the average journalist spends less than a minute reading a press release?
Maria Mora of Big Sea explains: “Journalists and media professionals are bombarded with pitches every single day. You need to give them everything they need to tell a compelling story that doesn’t read like an advertisement.”
“Always ask yourself is this REALLY editorial, or is it likely to be seen as advertorial,” says Tracy Lamourie of Lamourie Public Relations.
“In most cases, you’re fighting the editors first impulse to tell you to buy an ad to let people know what your business is doing, or about your event. So you need to come at it with a strong strategic editorial angle. IS this actually news, and if so, what audiences might it be of interest to?”
“There is nothing that annoys a reporter more than sending them an irrelevant release and you’d be surprised how many people don’t do the appropriate research to target their releases to the right reporters, the right media outlets and the right audience – and then to tailor their message to ensure news rooms see it as something they need to share with their audiences,” Lamourie summarizes.
…So, what is classed as a news-worthy story?
Jennifer Tolkachev of SmartBug Media notes “there are many interesting things you can learn about your top executives (and even regular employees) that make for a good story.”
“What was the catalyst that led your CEO to found your company? Why did your CTO feel the need to develop your newest software offering? How can your services potentially help people in need? What kind of pro bono or charity work do your employees like to do in their spare time?”
“Don’t get lost constantly talking about products and services—get personal,” Tolkachev summarizes.
Whitegate PR‘s Dana Humphrey adds: “If you have nothing newsworthy to share, create something… partner with a non-profit, win an award, hire someone, create an event, there are so many ways to tell a story.”
“If you write a meaningful pitch out of a really good story about your client, who wouldn’t want to cover it?”
When you’re writing your PR email, Morgan Lathaen of thumbprint thinks you “need to be 100 percent transparent in your pitch.”
“Be clear in regard to what you are looking for. Being honest will earn you an instant respect. By sugarcoating your pitch, you will likely be ignored. Everyone knows that there are motives and intentions behind every pitch, so make yours clear for the best response,” Lathaen says.
When writing an effective press release,OnePitch‘s Jered Martin thinks you should “include data to back up your pitch and your claim,” such as “sales or revenue numbers, percentages, [or] statistics, all help validate WHY your pitch is worth being talked about.”
“Use data, numbers, research, survey results – whatever hard evidence you have – as a focal point of the pitch”, writes GenM‘s Darcy Cudmore.
“If you are saying that your _____ can do ____, don’t just say it’s ground-breaking or disruptive. These words are way over used in 2019 and often are followed by an eye roll. Don’t talk about it, prove it!”
Womply‘s Dallin Hatch adds that “the most successful pitches focus on insights (especially data-backed insights) your company can share from its unique vantage point that nobody else could offer in quite the same way.”
(So much so, Hatch says this “watchtower test” is the strategy they’ve used to generate 1,300 press hits without the help from a professional PR agency.)
According to PowerfulOutreach‘s Elijah Masek-Kelly, “the most effective way to get a response from a journalist is to provide them with exclusive data, original research, or independent surveys/statistics that is directly in line with the types of content they like to write about.”
“Journalists need credible sources. They need evidence to back up their claims. They need data-driven insight to help shape their stories. If you can be a source of this information – it is a powerful methodology for securing media mentions and press opportunities.”
“This is particularly true if your data shows something new or interesting or refutes a common perception,” Masek-Kelly writes.
You’ve already got the angle you want to take in your release.
However, Josh Weiss’ team at 10 to 1 Public Relations think you should expand and “give the reporter more than one potential story angle of why and how they can share the story with their audience.”
Weiss says that could be as simple as “a simple bullet point style list of story options [which] give more opportunities for the reporter to say yes.”
The same concept applies to follow-up emails–something you’ll probably need to factor-in to your distribution attempts. Just 8.5% of outreach emails get a response.
To make your follow-ups a success, “incorporate different pitch angles to increase the appeal and reach of the story,” advises Abby Radovski of Thornley Fallis.
When we asked Mark Armstrong of Mark Armstrong Illustration for their best PR email tip, they advised to “always use a link, never send an attachment.”
Why? Because “email attachments are associated with malware, and can trigger spam filters.”
Attaching your press release as an attachment could result in your content not being opened, read, or covered.
“In terms of immediate PR success, I think using the approach of writing a pitch that contains embargo news is often the most effective for businesses,” writes Deborah Sweeney of MyCorporation.
“This is generally news and information journalists must agree not to share anywhere prior to when an official announcement is made on behalf of the company.”
Sweeney continues: “Embargo pitches are generally timely (with the embargo lift often in the same week the initial pitch goes out) and relevant. It can be anything from a celebrity spokesperson representing the brand to the brand launching new internal initiatives like longer maternity leave practices.”
“Putting the term “embargo” in the subject header of an email is an effective tactic to make sure the email, at the bare minimum, gets opened and read by the journalist who decides if the story should be covered by their site afterwards,” Sweeney summarizes.
Who said press releases always had to be sent via email?
“My biggest tip in terms of generating coverage is to pick up the phone,” says Slice Communications‘ Justin Burkhardt. “As simple as that sounds, so many public relations professionals, especially younger ones hate talking on the phone/aren’t used to it.”
However, Burkhardt says: “Journalists are shrinking by the numbers, and many emails get lost in the shuffle – so picking up the phone is a great reminder and shows initiative (plus it gives you a little extra room to pitch your story further).”
As you can see, there are tens of things that contribute to a successful PR pitch.
Using the techniques we’ve shared here, there’s no reason why you couldn’t land tons of coverage for your business.
…But don’t stop there.
Keep on top of the press coverage you earn–and measure how many people are visiting your site from the website–with our Google Analytics Referrals Overview dashboard.
Find the referral websites where your coverage drives the most website traffic, and prioritize them in your distribution attempts for future releases.
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