If you’re part of an internal public relations team or represent clients, you know one of the biggest challenges you face is how to get the media interested in your stories, your products and your campaigns.

You might work for weeks at pitching and then cross your fingers and hope to get those coveted media hits.

How to write a pitch and get the media’s attention is something I’m asked to speak about frequently. In fact, last month I was a guest panelist for the Public Relations Society of America New York Chapter’s Meet the Media: Healthcare event.

unnamed                                                                      Credit: Cherry Dumaual

I enjoyed speaking with the public relations teams about the types of stories I write, what journalists look for in pitches and how to get placement. Here are some tips we spoke about and a few more.

1. Know your audience.
You might think you have the most exciting new product or irresistible story idea but if you’re sending the same pitch to every single outlet, you’ll get nowhere fast.

Each outlet you pitch has an audience with their own unique demographics and drivers so the stories they decide to cover must be written for them. Sure, you might pitch a health story but it must be different enough that their competition won’t also be interested.

  • Before you pitch, ask yourself:
  • What does this outlet cover?
  • If it’s a freelancer, what outlets does this person write for?
  • Will they be interested in this story?
  • Has this person already covered this story?
  • What makes my pitch unique?
  • Is it newsworthy or new?
  • Is it timely and relevant?
  • Am I pitching a product when this reporter doesn’t write about products?
  • Am I leading with a product when I know they won’t mention the product?

Do your research first and make sure your pitch is perfectly suited and personalized for the media outlet and the journalist you’re pitching.

2. Cut to the chase.
According to a survey by ISEBOX.com, 52% of journalists write at least 5 articles per week so suffice it to say they have less than a minute to scan your email and decide if it’s a good idea or not.

Don’t take two paragraphs to get to the point and don’t bury the lede. If you can’t get to the hook within the first 2 to 3 sentences, your email will probably end up in the trash.  

3. Write a strong subject line.
With dozens, if not hundreds of emails filling up a reporter’s inbox everyday, it’s easy for your pitch to get lost if it doesn’t grab their attention. You want to make sure that your subject line summarizes the story idea in as few words as possible and is interesting enough for them to open.

Avoid these headlines:

  • Quick question for you
  • Expert available
  • Great story!
  • How to lose weight (or anything generic)
  • Breast cancer awareness month or New Year’s Resolutions
  • Connecting: story idea
  • John, can you chat?
  • What’s in your food? Pesticides (really, no way!)

4. Make it easy.

The reporter you pitch doesn’t always have the time to dig further into a story idea and see if it’s worth pitching to their editor or producer.

They might be interested in your story but they need to know why? why now? and why you or your client?

Make it easy for them and cite new studies, surveys or quotes from experts proving this idea is newsworthy.

5. Don’t pitch topics, pitch stories.

Here are some examples of ineffective pitches I recently received. The reason they don’t work is because they are topics, not stories:

  • October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
  • Story: Children’s Health During Back to School
  • Flu myths…
  • Staying Sane During The Holidays
  • Toddlers and Fussy Eating

These are much better:

  • 6 Food Myths That Are Making Kids Fat
  • 6 Worrisome Vaginal Issues
  • New Data: Sleep Problems for New Parents

6. Write content.

It’s no longer enough to simply be an expert, you need to think of yourself as a publisher too. Content marketing and public relations go hand in hand.

Writing your own content will establish your company as a thought leader, build brand awareness and help reporters searching for a source find you.

7. Offer video.
If your goal is to be on TV, you need to show the producer you’re pitching that you have the chops to pull off an appearance. If you don’t have links to prior appearances, then shoot your own video.

Even if you’re simply pitching a story for a print or web article, video can show the outlet that you know how to give a great interview.

8. Be available and reliable.
If you respond to a HARO or tell the outlet that your expert is available for an interview, do everything in your power to make sure he is ready at any given moment.

Journalists work quickly and have fast deadlines so if your source isn’t available, they’ll find someone right away who is.

9. Offer a unique point of view.
Reporters always need to write balanced stories and one of the best ways to land an interview is to pitch a strong perspective.

For example, when an executive pitched me “the dirty little secret” of a particular medical sector, I had him on the phone immediately. Another time, a doctor pitched me the downsides of a diagnostic tool and it made for a strong story.

10. Conduct your own interview.
One of the best ways to uncover great story ideas is simply to ask. After I interview a source, I always ask, what are you working on? and what trends do you see?

Instead of pitching only the stories your client has on their agenda, take some time to interview them about what they’re currently passionate about and you’ll come up with plenty of new story ideas to pitch