As a local TV reporter, my inbox, along with all my other colleagues in the newsroom, was ever expanding by the minute. 10 percent internal e-mails from sources, assignment desk and the news director. The rest was filled with dozens of account executives and publicists trying to entice me with the “news” of their client’s latest book or media availability. Most, if not all, of the information didn’t benefit my interest in telling the stories of the communities I covered. At least, that’s what I figured when I glanced at the subject line, a tell-tale sign that said “Delete me!”
Flash forward to three months ago when I put down the microphone and camera to switch from an industry focused on keeping the audience’s attention to one that deals with jockeying for the attention of those same reporters. I now had to learn how to pitch from the other side.
Throwing a Change Up Pitch
Up until last week, the subject lines of my pitch e-mails were straight forward. MEDIA ALERT. STORY IDEA. It felt like I was casting a wide net only to get a few minnows to bite back. I didn’t take it personally—as a former journalist I understood the pressures of juggling many hats (social media! Multiple deadlines! Do more with less!) and not having time to read every PR pitch and reply “thanks but no thanks” to the ones I didn’t deem newsworthy.
Why up until last week? I had the privilege of attending a PRSA workshop from pitching coach and communications consultant Michael Smart. One of his key takeaways was the subject line should be a teaser. What better way to pique someone’s curiosity than to be unconventional?
Putting It into Practice
A few days ago, I was pitching a groundbreaking ceremony for a client. Instead of going blindly down the media list of dozens of trade publications, I decided to glance at the Twitter feed of each reporter or editor. One editor had a tweet from April about a co-worker bringing a French Press to an editorial meeting with the hashtag #FrenchPressFridays. I used that hashtag as my subject line and started my pitch:
“Hi, <editor>. Hope the caffeinated subject line caught your attention. As you can understand, PR professionals always need an edge to get editors and reporters to open their pitch e-mails. (Although TBH, I am a huge fan of the French Press for making cold brew coffee at home). Anyways, I wanted to introduce myself on behalf of…” and so went the rest of the pitch.
The result? The editor wrote back the following morning, “This is the best pitch I’ve received. Ever, actually. So thanks for that. I’m also interested in learning more about this project…”
This tactic, of course, isn’t for every target. It should be reserved for reporters that post more than links to their recent work and come off as easy-going with a sense of humor. Generic pitches may save time, but it is worth researching your contact and taking the time to personalize each pitch. Not only does this catch their attention, but it can be the “icebreaker” for an ongoing relationship with a media member.