How to Pitch Your Press Release to Journalists

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A pink laptop on a bright pink backdrop
A pink laptop on a bright pink backdrop

As public relations professionals, we’ve mastered the art of writing a press release. Catchy headline? No problem. Securing that perfect quote from the CEO? Easy. When it comes to crafting that ideal, newsworthy press release, we’ve got it down. So there’s nothing worse than sending it out to your list of media contacts and having it fall flat.

The hard truth is, a press release is only as good as your pitch. And with reporters getting dozens (if not more) pitches in their email inbox every day, you need to make sure yours stands out.

In this blog post, we’ve compiled some best practices on how to pitch your press release to journalists. The following steps will make sure your pitch is more than just a mass email blast and help your team secure the visibility you’re seeking.

Contents

1. Prepare Your Press Release for Distribution

This seems obvious, right? We know that you know how to write a press release. That said, there are a few simple ways to optimize your press release to make it even more appealing to a journalist. As always, be sure it has a compelling title. It should be descriptive enough that it gets your point across but still sparks curiosity. Including a quote is a simple way to show off your brand’s human side, and a visual will catch their eye as something they could include with their story.

How to determine if your press release is newsworthy

  • Timeliness:
    Is the story new/current? No one enjoys reading about or writing about old news.
  • Proximity:
    Does it impact me? Stories in our own back yard are more interesting than stories that happen 10,000 miles away.
  • Prominence:
    Who’s involved? Celebrities, politicians and business leaders are interesting to readers.  If they’re involved in the story, you probably have a slam-dunk win.
  • Conflict/Incompetence/Scandal/Shock Value:
    Is there something shocking or scandalous in your story? If you’ve read a tabloid recently you know this rule well; like it or not, conflict is almost always newsworthy.  The old adage “If it bleeds, it leads” didn’t happen by accident.
  • Future Impact:
    Will this news shape the future in any way? Often a story fails the timeliness test but still gets a pass if it has future importance to a company, person or other subject people care about.
  • Human Interest:
    Human-interest stories are the newsworthy wild card. A story can fail all of the above but win based on human interest.  After all, everyone loves a heartwarming story!
Person on park bench reaching a newspaper. Tips for pitching a press release and getting reporters to pick up your new story

2. Build Your Target Media List

When it comes to building the list of media outlets and reporters you want to target, there’s a balance you should aim to achieve. It’s essential to research and make sure you’re targeting media outlets and journalists that typically write about the topic you’re pitching. Spending the time to build a good-sized list of reputable, relevant outlets will be well worth your efforts.

Know who you're speaking to

Research. Research. Research. Who are you speaking to and why? Thoroughly learn everything you can about their interests, their needs, and their audience. Read past stories they’ve written and follow their social accounts. This allows you to craft an effective pitch that will resonate with the person you’re speaking to. 

Only Meltwater offers a media contacts database that allows you to search for journalists by recent coverage. This will help you tailor a media pitch to their most recent interests. Along with phone and social media contact info, you’ll also be able to send email straight from the tool and keep track of your open rates.

Important questions to ask yourself

Ensure you are sending your press release to the most relevant target media list:

1. Are you pitching to the right people? 

Before you begin the pitch process, it’s useful to know the audience you’re pitching to. Traditional media and influencers, such as bloggers, might have slightly different motivations for covering certain topics.

The modern convenience of media databases means that email pitches make it easy to spam hundreds (or even thousands) of journalists and influencers at the click of a button. If you’re tempted to do this, take a deep breath and reconsider. You can now create a list of journalists who are writing about topics like yours and in the cities or regions in which they are relevant. Use a media database to find those contacts more easily.

2. Have you established prior relationships with the journalists and influencers you are pitching to? 

Is the only time you have contact with media or influencers when you want them to cover your brand or company? If so, you may reconsider this strategy.

Once you know where and by whom you’d like media coverage; try to establish an ongoing relationship. Starting a dialogue as soon as possible (especially when you aren’t immediately asking for coverage) will only to work to your advantage.

This can be as simple as following them on Instagram and commenting on their photos or engaging with them on relevant topics on Twitter. Or you can invest a bit more time and try asking those who are located near you out for lunch or coffee.

laptop on wooden desk with coffee mug, phone, and writing pad

3. Write The Perfect Pitch

Once you’ve identified an interesting topic, make sure that how you’re coaching the pitch for maximum impact. Can you explain simply and quickly? Or in other words, will your audience “get it” right away. Find someone outside your company and give them a 60-second elevator pitch.

Did you make all your most important points? Did they find them interesting? If the answer is no, focus in on what’s important, condense if necessary, and try approaching the topic from different angles. Is there a human interest angle? New hire? How does this impact the community-at-large? Ask yourself why someone should care. Ask an outsider again if they think how you’re saying, what you’re saying, is interesting. If the answer is still no, rinse and repeat, until the answer is yes.

Your pitch should be informative but concise - a sweet spot is anything from four-to-six sentences.

This offers plenty of space to explain your story without going overboard – if it gets much longer, the reporter is more likely to skim over it. Just be certain to include your who, what, where, and when, as well as location and time (if it's an event you’re hoping they’ll cover) and any other critical and newsworthy details. This should include your most important messaging, so if you have a selling point (an exclusive speaker / a special guest), now is the time to break it out!

Where possible ensure your pitch is both timely and relates to something the journalist has written about previously or recently.

Close up of microphone. Pitch the perfect press release to the right audience

4. Write a Compelling Subject Line

You could write a stellar pitch, but if the email never gets opened, then it won’t do you any good. Reporters receive hundreds of pitches every single day. To increase the chances that yours is the email they open, it’s all about writing a compelling subject line.

Be cautious if you begin your subject line with “press release,” “pitch,” or “story idea.” Everyone does this! Did we mention reporters receive hundreds of pitches per day? Yours should stand out; not blend in with the masses.

Additionally, you may have heard to start your subject line with “Fwd:” or “re:” as to imply you’ve already been in a conversation with this reporter (when you haven’t). Don’t do thisReporters will see right through this and ignore it. And if they don’t? Well, as soon as they open the email and realize they haven’t been in communication with you, your email will go in the trash bin – and so will your professional relationship.

But don’t worry – there are some subject line best practices that will increase the likelihood of your email getting opened, without the dirty tactics.

Your subject line should be short (five-to-seven words is a good rule of thumb), compelling, and lead with the most important part of your story. Let’s be honest – unless you’re a household name, the journalist probably won’t care too much about the company itself. Instead, focus on the most grabbing aspect of the story and build your subject line around that.

Don't ignore the subject line's little sibling: the pre-header text

In most cases, people focus on the subject line of an email, yet the pre-header text—the little text that shows up to the right of the subject line in the recipient’s email client—matters a lot too.

The goal of the pre-header text is to act as a preview of what your email has to say. You want to grab the recipient’s attention in the pre-header as well as the subject line. One of our clients saw a 30% increase in their pitch open rates thanks to optimizing their pre-header text.

woman holding tablet, writing a press release email

5. Personalize your email

Now that you’ve written your basic pitch and subject line, you can personalize the content of the email to fit the needs of the journalist to whom you’re sending it. And yes, this means no CCs or even BCCs.

Meltwater Media Database Screenshot
Meltwater Media Relations PR Suite

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That means addressing them by name. Beginning your email pitch with “To whom it may concern” is the online equivalent of saying “Hey, you!” when you don’t remember that new colleagues name – not terribly friendly and likely to leave a bad taste in their mouth.

When you have an understanding of the reporter’s media outlet, focus, and style of writing, you’ll be able to explain why your press release may be of use to them and offer valuable story ideas.

As a general rule of thumb, never attach your press release or media kit to the email. Instead, include a link within the email text they can click on to view and download the materials. Any opportunity you have to make their life easier is valuable. This is a simple measure you can take that will better your chances of success. You could also just copy and paste your press release directly into the document (below your pitch). 

Finally, be sure to include relevant contact information. Consider offering not just your email address but your phone number as well so that you’re easily accessible to answer any additional questions they may have.

Screen on a laptop showing Gmail open on Mac Safari, email tips for pitching a press release

6. Hit Send (At the Right Time)

The last step may seem simple, but there’s a bit more to it than simply clicking “send.” This final step is all about timing. Something is only “newsworthy” for an extremely limited time. And since most reporters need between a day and a week to turn around a story, you’ll need to send your pitch well before you expect the article to run. Email marketing software can help get manage email campaigns and gain more visibility to any type of content you’re pitching.

Not every pitch you send will result in a story, but if you follow these steps, you’ll certainly better your chances of snagging some coverage.

Nail the follow-up after hitting send

Always follow-up after your pitch. By now, you should know journalists have a ton of pitches to filter through.

Stay persistent and persuasive and explain the benefits of picking up your story. Give them concrete reasons why your story is better than anyone else’s. There is also a fine line between being persistent and being annoying.

Give the journalist a few days to process your pitch. If they sound busy, don’t take up too much of their time, and if the journalist says no, ask them why. Rejection is par for the course in PR - turn it into a learning experience by using the opportunity to ask what future topics they would be interested in.

Pitching your press release to journalists can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! Follow these steps for a simple way to increase visibility and build valuable relationships with your media contacts.

Most Importantly, the Metrics!

When sending email pitches, it’s important to analyze the results to track performance. One of the first and most widely used metrics is the open rate, as it measures how many people seem interested in receiving your email.

Look Beyond Open Rates

While this metric matters, it doesn’t take into consideration what the recipient—the journalist in our case—does with it. If one journalist opens an email and deletes it, they are probably not a candidate for an even more personalized follow-up.

Along with looking at who opened your email, you’ll want to look at how long they spent reading it, and whether they clicked on any links. These actions show engagement and will help you determine which subset of the initial send you should continue to pursue, offering them additional information. Making the extra effort to follow-up, based on everything you know about their interests and audience, signals that there is a strong story for them to write.

Think of your initial email as a way to test the waters and the follow-up as a way to zero-in on your most promising prospects. When a journalist engages, signaling that they’re ready for additional details, provide the clincher that will lead to coverage of your brand.

Close up of data graphs and person holding ball point pen, reporting PR pitch metrics and kpis

Advice From Industry Pros

As our industry continues to evolve, it’s clear that focusing on the relations part of PR is essential in pitching reporters. Here's what some top PR and media professionals had to say about the best way to achieve success. This advice, along with the help of a media intelligence platform and access to an influencer database, brands can get results.

Have a "why"

“It takes more to build a pitch of interest than it did say five years ago,” says Susan Thomas, founder, and CEO of Bay Area agency 10Fold. “Gone are the days when writing a clever pitch and working with the right reporter would be enough. Now, you have to have a ‘why’—and it has to be impressive. It takes more forethought, more planning, more research. It’s no longer about product coverage, especially for unproven companies.”

Lauren Stewart, media relations advisor for Canadian airline WestJet, agrees. “Spending more time preparing and researching will bring you more success when pitching your story. And when I say pitching your story, I mean it. Not a product. It takes some skill to create a story that will make the journalist interested in talking about you. No reporter wants to be a shill for your product.”

The "people side"

So what should you pitch? “Often, it’s the people side of things that get coverage,” says Stewart. An example involved her company WestJet giving away what they dubbed “Christmas miracles,” and allowing the media behind-the-scenes access to those who received the “miracles,” which included vouchers for air travel. “We got fantastic in-depth coverage with a third-party telling our story for us.”

Think beyond the pitch

What else works when you want to make a pitch about more than the product? Thomas, who works primarily with technology clients, says that even for funding announcements, the standards have changed.

“Because the media is tougher on validation and proof points, we have to think beyond the pitch and go further to get the coverage.” For example, conduct a survey, Thomas suggests, so that you can include the results in your pitch to help validate the need for the product. However Thomas cautions that, for this strategy to be effective, you have to start long before the announcement date. “Much more goes into this type of effort, but it’s what we had to do to achieve the results the client was looking for.”

Taking advantage of a trend can also lead to success. Meagan Ewton, a public relations coordinator for Rogers State University, explains how her team was able to ride the wave of Pokemon Go’s popularity to promote a community event by pitching a story instead of issuing a press release.

“Our most successful pitch this year was for a Pokémon Go event held three weeks after the app’s launch. There was synergy there for reporters already covering the story, so we took advantage of that. We were able to share about our game development, software development, and graphic design programs, and this made it into the story, which drove up attendance at our event.”

Be results focused

Another piece of advice to create a winning media pitch comes from Karen Swim, PR consultant and founder of Words for Hire. “The most successful campaigns begin with a clear-eyed focus on the result,” says Swim. “The objectives aren’t merely to ‘get press’ or ‘increase visibility’ but have specific end-goals that are measurable. It’s critical to have tools that allow you to analyze and measure your efforts and then use that feedback to inform your next steps.”

“Data-based decision making has become part of our everyday lives,” adds Thomas. “You need to have data that backs your performance.”

In Conclusion:

Using your email as a tool to pitch to journalists and influencers is one of the most effective ways to raise awareness and increase your reach. If you use these insights, based on the thousands of email pitches we analyzed, you will increase the chances of getting your email pitches opened, read, and acted upon.

You’re ultimately selling a story. Your pitch is your product. The journalists are your prospects. Be persistent, persuasive, and stay confident.

Have a look at our Journalist Contact Database if you're serious about getting your press releases published by some of the top journalists and publications in your industry. 

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