While a press release can work great for the launch of a new school or interesting findings from a new research paper, some topics will be more successful if pitched as an idea for a wider article.
Pitching is a more personalised and targeted approach to sharing interesting information about your institution or organisation with journalists. Perhaps an academic has an idea for an op-ed they could write related to their area of expertise or they can provide comment on a current, trending topic.
When it comes to writing an effective pitch, we can break it down into a step-by-step process:
Decide on the topic
Firstly, you need to actually decide what the topic of your pitch will be. The best pitches will be those focused on a topic relevant to current news or, if not explicitly related to current events, be about an interesting, evergreen topic. Speak with your subject or spokesperson and find out what their area of expertise is and what they can offer to the media.
However, you can’t just offer journalists an op-ed or interview on something that has been written about a million times over. Try to find an angle or opinion that brings something different or novel to the conversation.
Write the pitch
Next, put the pitch together. The most important part of the pitch will be what you write in the subject line – essentially the ‘title’ of your pitch. And with any title, it needs to be eye-catching and attention-grabbing to encourage journalists to open and read the content of your pitch.
If the subject line isn’t as interesting as it can possibly be, then journalists might simply ignore your email and never even discover the fantastic topic you were offering them.
As you move on to the body of the pitch, take note of how long it is. A journalist doesn’t want to open an email and be presented with a dozen paragraphs of content. Your pitch should be short and sweet; keep the most interesting aspect of your topic in the first paragraph, go on to provide some more context as to how your subject is an expert and some detail on the topic, and then explicitly state what your offer is – “would you be interested in a copy of the research paper or speaking with Professor XYZ to find out more?” – or something along those lines. What you offer will depend on who you are targeting.
You might approach the structure of your pitch slightly differently, but as long as you keep it to a few short paragraphs, then you’re heading in the right direction.
Depending on your target country and the journalist you’re pitching to, you might also want to personalise even further by pitching in their native/local language. Online translators such as Deepl can actually do quite a good job at translating small pieces of text, as your pitch should be.
Tailor the pitch based on targets
After writing your pitch, you need to decide where you will be sending this pitch. It’s no use sending a pitch on the impact of climate change on employee performance to a publication’s food and drinks editor. You need to compile a list of appropriate target journalists that write on topics relevant to that of your pitch. For the aforementioned climate change pitch, perhaps target journalist that write on environmental topics or business topics.
After selecting target journalists, you can then want to familiarise yourself with their content and online presence. Have a look at previous articles they’ve written as well as their social media accounts; they might offer some advice on how best they liked to be pitched to: some might include their email in their social media bios, indicating they are open to pitches, or even state they prefer to be messaged by DM.
Although I called this a step-by-step process, writing a pitch isn’t an exact science, and you might have to continue the writing process after selecting targets. You can’t always write a generic pitch, send it to some journalists, and job done. Sometimes you will need to change the content of your pitch slightly from one journalist to another.
You might change what you are offering the journalist, whether that’s expert comment or an op-ed, based on what they have published in the past or what they mention on their social media. You might also slightly alter the focus of your pitch or the subject line based on their very specific niche within their topic area.
The follow up to your original email could be considered part of writing your effective pitch. If you don’t get a response from any of your targeted journalists, whether positive or negative, it might be the time to follow up. Feel free to reach out to the journalists again, maybe a few days after your original pitch, just inquiring as to whether they had received your email. I’d advise making your follow up even shorter than your original pitch; just a short sentence on what you are offering and why they should hear from your spokesperson. This should entice them to go back and read your full pitch.
After all, journalists are extremely busy people, receiving masses of emails a day from PRs and other contacts. Therefore, it’s entirely possible that a target journalist has simply missed your pitch and a follow up will bring it back to their attention.
Kyle is experienced in working with leading institutions in far-flung corners of the globe, from London to Kazakhstan. His client list features the likes of the London School of Economics’ Department of Management, ESMT Berlin, BI Norwegian Business School, Nazarbayev University, and many more around the globe.