Engaging with the (right) editor: 4 tips for pitching
I recently read this article by reporter Zach Schonfeld about his weeklong quest to “read and respond to every PR email” he received. The story gives some interesting insight as to the number of great (and not-so-great) PR people out there. While reading the article, at times I was laughing (especially at the “weirdest PR excerpt of the day”) and other times I was questioning why someone didn’t do enough research to know that Schonfeld resides in New York, not Chicago or Los Angeles.
The article got me thinking about my own pitching and communications with editors. Even after researching and fine-tuning a pitch, sometimes it just doesn’t resonate with the editor. While this can sometimes be frustrating, I understand, and appreciate when an editor is courteous enough to reply and state that they’re not interested or in some cases provide insight as to why it’s not a fit.
After thoroughly enjoying Schonfeld’s article (and follow up article), four things stood out, that those of us working in PR should follow when working on a pitch.
1. Make sure your idea is strong. It’s important to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward. When brainstorming ideas or drafting a pitch, collaborate with coworkers to cover all angles. In our office, we have two brainstorming rooms with white board walls. When I’m working on a pitch where I’ll be reaching out to a new editor or publication, I put together ideas and then ask my coworkers for help fine-tuning the ideas. A few questions we always ask are, “Why would the reporter care? What’s interesting or unique about this person/product/event?” These meetings almost always end with at least one solid idea.
2. Know who you’re pitching. Research, research, research. Don’t just stop with the contact name a media database gives you – they are sometimes out of date and I for one, don’t want to learn that lesson the hard way. Make sure you read the publication and look at their online content. That’s the best way to find the best (and most current) contact for you to pitch your story to. Once I think I’ve found a good contact, I usually look them up on social media to see what they’re talking about and how they’re engaging with their followers. If for some reason you can’t find a contact outside of the publication’s website, enlist help. Hannah in our office is our go to for tracking people down, her super stalker skills are second to none.
3. Call the reporter. Our team always recommends trying to get a reporter or editor on the phone first. This can be challenging and if it’s not working, email is the next best thing.
4. Focus on the subject line. Most editors, as Schonfeld shared, don’t get past the subject line, so it’s important your message stands out. Make sure your subject line is strong (but not spam-y) and that you convey your idea within the first sentence of the email. Last year I pitched Runner’s World a story about a bass fisherman – I can hear you now, “what do running and bass fishing have in common?” In this pitch the two had a lot in common and the subject line is what got me a response from the editor (she stated as much in her reply). The subject line: Running helps pro angler stay at the top of his game.
The development of the idea, editorial research and first impressions are all important parts of the process, so make sure to give each its dedicated time and attention. The proof the work has paid off? You’ll see a bass fisherman in the December 2014 issue of the Runner’s World.