We’ve all been there: You’re sitting in front of a blank document, staring at a blinking cursor waiting for inspiration to strike. Then suddenly, it hits you and you feverishly begin typing what you think is the best pitch that’s ever been written. You polish off an attention-grabbing subject line, and start mass emailing editors.
But instead of getting great coverage, your pitch gets publicly shamed, like this one from a data recovery company in 2006:
If earned media is part of your demand generation strategy, your pitch does not want to end up here. No matter how revolutionary, unique or mind blowing your product or service, blindly pitching the media (and tying your product to a porn film) will likely kill any chance you had at interest.
Incorporating public relations—and smart pitching—in your earned media strategy, though, can make your demand generation efforts shine. Remember how awesome and amazing you think your product or service is? Earned media helps solidify that by creating positive third-party sentiments.
There’s a reason sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp exist. They allow an un-biased third party to create sentiment about a brand. And when it comes to trust, consumers are going to trust their peers over a brand. When considering a purchase, 85 percent of customers consider third-party, expert content over any other.
Plus, you've put in the time to create helpful, relevant content and you want people to see it. This is where a solid demand generation strategy and earned media come in.
Whether you want to contribute your expertise to a publication via an article or you want to include an influencer’s quote in a blog post you’re writing, you need to have a solid pitch. And to create a solid pitch, you’ve got to know where you’re throwing the ball.
Start at the buyer insight process by asking your buyers which publications they read and where they get information. If you are unable to interview anyone, do research on your industry or business sector. You’ll likely find a few trusted publications. For example, in the SaaS industry, marketing professionals and SaaS vendors consult publications like Adweek, AdAge or AdExchanger.
Now that you’ve got a few publications in your PR arsenal, get familiar with them. Don’t just do a quick skim—actually take the time to read through each section and note their tone and target audience.
Next, find the correct editor to contact in the publication’s masthead; this can usually be found in the “Contact Us” section of a website or in the first few pages of a printed publication.
Sometimes, though, finding the right contact requires a bit of extra sleuthing. You might find a publication only uses a generic online form that gets routed to several departments.
Whether your target publication has a full masthead or uses a form, it’s still important to know the name and beat of the person you’re going to pitch.
The thought of writing a successful pitch can be overwhelming: What if it doesn’t grab anyone’s attention? What if it gets deleted? This is where doing your research is essential.
A poorly targeted pitch demonstrates a lack of understanding of the publication and it can harm your relationship with the reporter or blogger.
John Miller from Scribewise points out that these poorly targeted pitches “can even turn out to be a negative—vindictive/angry/curmudgeonly reporters have been known to blast misguided pitches … publicly. So begin to dip your toe into the journalist’s world—follow them on social media, maybe even share some of their work that you find especially compelling (don’t overdo it), and read what they’ve done in the past and are working on currently.”
And that mass emailing option? Don’t do it. Take it from journalist Mikal Belicove: “The last thing any journalist wants to receive is an auto-generated message that is being pitched in the same manner to everyone on a media list. Your PR staff should operate with a media-targeted distribution list that takes into consideration the specialties of a particular writer and your company’s association with that writer.”
To make an impact, your pitch should include these elements:
Personalization: As Belicove mentioned, a mass email is easy to detect. You know the reporter’s name, beat and previous work—use them when communicating. It might seem painstaking, but these one-on-one conversations are important to building a relationship. As Miller notes, “The more you can make your pitch email the start of a relationship rather than a transaction, the better off you’ll be.”
A Compelling Subject Line: Think of this as a headline. It’s got to be compelling enough to get the reader to click, but short enough to not be cut off by email clients.
Just Enough Information: Reporters, bloggers and influencers are busy. Provide just enough information to spark a conversation or interest, and keep it short. A paragraph or two at most.
A Next Step: Give the person you’re emailing a call-to-action. Drive them to your site for more information or invite them to call or respond to your email. After you’ve given them a next step, let them know when you’ll be following up.
Well-known tech columnist David Pogue shares an example of one of the best pitches he's ever received from a PR pro at camera manufacturer Nikon. What makes the pitch eye-catching and relevant is that it's written from the point of view of a Nikon camera. Pogue had recently reviewed a Canon camera and written his review in the form of a love letter to the gadget. Nikon then responded as if it were a scorned lover.
Of the pitch, Pogue says, "Come on. That’s brilliant. I hadn’t heard of the P7000, but you’d better believe that I’m going to review it now."
You’ve sent your personalized, thoughtful pitch. And now you’re obsessively checking your inbox to see if anyone has responded. Relax and give it some time. Remember, the folks you’re pitching sometimes get hundreds of pitches every day.
“Things fall through the cracks,” points out Rebekah Epstein at PR Couture. “Just because they don’t respond doesn’t always mean they aren’t interested.”
A follow up is necessary most of the time. However, there is a fine line between following up and being annoying.
Here’s what to do when you follow up:
Wait a Few Days: If you wait a week to follow up, the person might have forgotten about your pitch. Waiting a few days instead gives them time to recall your pitch.
Use a New Subject Line and Body Copy: The standard “Following up” subject line won’t cut it, especially if the person has no recollection of receiving your pitch. Using a new subject line and copy can give new life to pitch that was previously ignored.
Keep It Short: Usually one follow-up email or phone call (depending on the person’s contact preferences) is sufficient. You don’t want to be annoying.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, pitches go unanswered. This comes with the territory. As long as you continue to research, do your homework and write short, compelling pitches, you’ll eventually receive a response.
At best, you’ll get a great piece of press coverage. At worst, you’ll be forming a valuable relationship with the media, which has the potential to generate the earned media—whether it’s a tweet or a link or mention in an article—you’ve been working hard to secure.
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