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 quite like the feeling of sending it out to your list of media contacts and having it fall flat.
The 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’ll 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.
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
Is the story new/current? No one enjoys reading about or writing about old news.
Does it impact me? Stories in our own back yard are more interesting than stories that happen 10,000 miles away.
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!
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.
Top Tip: 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.
Two Important Questions To Ask Yourself
You can ask yourself these two questions to ensure you are sending your press release to your 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.
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.
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 this. Reporters will see right through this and ignore it. And if they don’t? Well, as soon as they open the email and realise 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.
Top Tip: 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 optimising their pre-header text.
5. Personalise your email
“When at all possible, you should be sending a unique and personalised email to each and every reporter on your list.”
Now that you’ve written your basic pitch and subject line, you can personalise 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. When at all possible, you should be sending a unique and personalised email to each and every reporter on your list.
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.
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.
Top Tip: 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!
Look Beyond Open Rates
When sending email pitches, it’s important to analyse 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.
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 personalised 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, signalling that they’re ready for additional details, provide the clincher that will lead to coverage of your brand.
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 analysed, 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.