Mastering the E-mail Pitch

March 28, 2009

For many Kent State students, spring break is an opportunity to escape Ohio’s bipolar weather and the stress of the semester by heading to the southern states.

Isle of Palms, SC

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to dig out my flip flops and bask in the sunshine on a trip to sunny South Carolina.  Instead of flocking to the beaches during this spring break, I found myself at work, drinking coffee while glaring at my computer screen.  (Note: I am not complaining.  I love my internship, and I love my cubicle!  But I have to admit: Looking at the dreary Akron sky made me long for some precious beach time.)

One of my internship assignments this week was to interview sources for a Mother’s Day story and create a pitch letter to target local newspapers.  Although I was excited for an opportunity to pitch to a reporter, I knew I had to do my homework.

As I chomped on my spinach salad and browsed my Google Reader during a lunch break, I started to wonder how I should create the pitch letter.

I wondered: How do journalists really want to be pitched these days?  Is the formal, snail-mail letter dead?  Do journalists actually read e-mail pitches, or will my hard work be thrown down the drain?

I knew the last thing I wanted was to end up like an example on BadPitchBlog, so I did some research on e-mail pitches.

Believe it or not, the days of journalists calling PR specialists for stories and sources are coming to an end.  According to PR Daily, Free Web services, including Peter Shankman’s Help a Reporter Out (HARO), connect reporters will access to more than 50,000 PR pros at one time.  Journalists can post e-mail inquiries on HARO and wait for PR reps to offer their information and experts.  Therefore, the PR pro needs to pitch his or her information and/or client as the best option for the reporter.

As Rob Jewell said in his post “Life After Newspapers,” the newspaper industry is changing. As journalists adapt to changes in the industry, public relations professionals will have to change the way they interact with each journalist to ensure lasting, quality relationships.

Business Wired offers the following tips for creating e-mail pitches:

  • Think like a reporter.

Know how to work on the deadline.  Scope out the sources you need.  Be sensitive to newsworthy topics in industry.

  • Use eye-catching, concise subject lines.

When I open my full e-mail box in the morning, my mouse gravitates toward an eye-catching subject.  It’s the same for journalists, too.  Make your subject clear!

  • Develop a relationship before pitching.

If you’re pitching a specific reporter, read some of his or her work before pitching.  Find out his or her niches and interests.  Connect the reporter with other stories he or she may enjoy reading.

  • Don’t call a reporter to ask if he/she received your email.

I was actually surprised by this advice, but it makes sense.  E-mail could be overlooked, sent to the spam box or deleted automatically, so feel free to send a follow-up e-mail a few days later.

  • Contact the correct reporter.

This one’s pretty common sense, but it’s easy to overlook.  Newspaper staffs are shrinking, and turnover can be high.  It’s important to make sure you’re contacting the correct reporter.

  • Get to the point.

Don’t bury your story!  Get your point across in the first few sentences of your pitch.

I’ll be keeping these points in consideration as I prepare to write my pitch letter.  It looks like I’ll have to do some homework on my reporter and establish a relationship with him or her before I pitch the story.  Do you have any stories about e-mail pitches gone marvelously good or terribly bad?  If so, please share!


One comment

  1. Rebecca,

    Excellent post and information. PR pros really do have to think differently — and in many ways, work harder these days.

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