A more personalised and targeted method of disseminating interesting information about your institution or organisation to journalists is through pitching. Pitching involves suggesting a potential story idea to a journalist for a piece that you can provide content or comment for.
While press releases can work great for the launch of a new school or interesting findings from a research paper, some topics will be more successful if pitched as an idea for a wider article.
For example, perhaps an expert from your institution has thoughts on how the COVID-19 pandemic should have been handled or has a series of tips on how to negotiate for what you want in your career. These story ideas can be pitched to a journalist and ultimately lead to coverage in a publication.
When it comes to crafting a successful pitch to grab the attention of journalists, we spoke with PR consultants from the BlueSky Education team to find out what advice and top tips they could share:
Short and sweet
The phrase ‘elevator pitch’ is one you might have heard. It essentially means that if you and a journalist get in an elevator, you should be able to pitch your entire idea to them by the end of the elevator ride.
Although in reality, you don’t follow journalists around joining them on elevator rides, the concept of a successful pitch being short and to the point still stands and one that Kate Mowbray agrees with, “Keep it short and personal, and include the most interesting part in the first paragraph.”
Subject and content
Kate is right that you should include the most interesting part of your proposition in the first paragraph as this will encourage the journalist to keep on reading to find out more. However, before journalists reach the first paragraph, they will read something else first: the subject line.
Katie Hurley states, “The subject line is key when pitching to journalists – you need to write it as if you’re writing a headline in order to get journalists to even open your email.” If journalists see your email come into their inbox and the subject line isn’t interesting or enticing enough, then they won’t open the email to read your pitch in the first place.
This is further reiterated by Olivia Nieberg, “Always keep the most interesting point in mind.” This is a fantastic point, as you should always be conscious of the most interesting aspect of your pitch throughout your entire email, to keep the reader aware of why they should say yes to your idea.
Now, before actually sending your pitch to recipients, make sure you have done your research and are aware of who best to send your pitch to. You’re not going to have much success if you pitch an article on the advantages of executive coaching in the workplace to the environmental editor.
After finding the journalist or publication you think you’d like to target, get to know them first. Have a look at previous articles they have written and their social media accounts, especially Twitter and LinkedIn. Perhaps they have some advice in their bio for how they like to receive pitches. In regards to this, Kerry Ruffle says, “Getting to know the journalist will ensure you’re able to offer the right information or opportunity in the most compelling way.”
You should also make sure you’re familiar with current media trends and themes relevant to your topic area. If a topic is hot in the news right now, such as the long-term effects of having worked from home, then pitch around that topic. In comparison, many people have been remote working for more than 18 months now, so a pitch around how to approach working from home for the first time might be less pertinent.
And your research shouldn’t just be restricted to your target; you should also read up on your subject. Peter Remon says, “Utilise people’s credentials heavily, showcasing exactly why they are an expert in this specific area.” By doing some digging and finding out more about the academic or expert you are pitching – what awards they have won, what research they have conducted, what achievements they’ve secured - you can really emphasise the expertise and prowess of your subject and why your target journalist should say yes to your pitch.
When it comes to interacting and pitching to journalists, it is also valuable to build a good relationship with them. “The better a journalist knows you, the more successful your pitches will be,” says Stephanie Mullins. This is because they can develop an understanding of the topics you offer and know that you only offer excellent content or interviewees. In the future, they may then approach you directly for interviewees or comment from experts.
And finally, at the end of your pitch, don’t simply ask the journalist if they’re happy to receive what you are offering, whether that’s an article or an interview. You will have more success if you are slightly flexible with your offer. Jonny Stone says, “Ask them if something along the lines of your pitch would be of interest and, if not, what they are looking for.”
If you follow this expert advice and top tips when writing your pitch, then you will have journalists eating out of the palm of your hand.