Pitching compelling story lines and sources are the crux of any PR strategy. In the higher education digital marketing space, we leverage the expertise of professors from the programs that we partner with to help increase the school’s visibility, student enrollment, thought leadership, and brand awareness. For us, this is primarily an SEO and link-building tactic to help boost program search engine rankings and visibility. Professors make excellent sources for stories through their unmatched level of expertise and experience in their respective fields, but without the correct messaging and communication strategy, this may never come across effectively to the media when pitching them. Regardless of the industry that you’re in or represent, knowing how to effectively craft a pitch for the media is the most critical step to success in PR and content marketing. Here are some tangible tips and examples that will help you become a PR pitching pro in no time and write a persuasive media pitch.
In this article, I will go over best practices for media pitching in addition to reviewing the most common types of media pitches, with examples below. These include:
- Initial (cold) media pitch
- Pitch with an established contact (warm)
- Personalized pitch
- Follow-up pitch
How to Structure a PR Pitch
Before we dive into best practices, tips, and examples of PR pitching, I want to go over some of the basics of how to structure a media pitch. Creating a set standard for yourself and your team will not only streamline the process and allow you to be as efficient as possible, but it will also makes training and consistency amongst your team much more feasible. Below I have included the basic outline/structure of a PR pitch. For a more in-depth look, please see my article on how to structure and standardize PR pitching across your team.
- First, start with the lead. There are two main types of leads that are the most effective when it comes to media pitching. The first is a news peg and the second is a time peg. To learn more about the differences between these two types of leads, read this article.
- The second part is your call-to-action. This is the action you want your audience to take. Whether it is writing a product review, publishing a piece of content, or conducting an interview, it’s important to make your intention here as clear as possible.
- Next comes your value proposition. This is a key piece of the puzzle as it will be the meat of the pitch; this is where you can showcase the value of what you are offering and why they should be interested in it. It is essential in differentiating yourself from the hundreds of other pitches they receive.
- The last piece of the puzzle is your conclusion. This is pretty straightforward and is where you should recap your call-to-action and thank them for their time and consideration.
Create an Effective Subject Line
Subject lines are the first and sometimes only thing that a media contact will see–often times determining whether they will even bother to open your email or not. Ensuring that your subject line is clear, concise, and enticing are some of the most important elements. While many would assume that shorter subject lines work best, especially considering the character restrictions of mobile devices, a report from Marketing Sherpa actually found that subject lines with 61 to 70 characters had the highest open rate. This proves that you shouldn’t spend too much time trying to cut down your subject line, as it can actually be beneficial to have a longer one. While creating a subject line that entices the media to want to open your email should always be the goal, make sure that you don’t use “click-bait” phrasing as a tactic to draw the recipient in as this may leave a bad taste in their mouth and hurt the chances of them opening your future pitches. The last thing you want to do is mislead them or appear spammy.
Pitch Using Timely News Pegs or Research
Don’t do yourself the disservice of not using relevant news pegs or research as your hook for your pitch. It’s no secret that the media lives off of news pegs, trending topics, and new research to tell their stories. To increase the chances of someone showing interest in your pitch, it’s important to make their job as easy as possible; it’s a good idea to help to spell out the story for them so that your source or story fits in seamlessly with trending news topics and their target audience’s interests. Reporters and editors receive hundreds of pitches every day, so providing them with a story that their readers will be interested in and offering sources to help supplement that story will make them more compelled to move forward with the conversation. Along these same lines, always try to include hyperlinks to any research or statistics that you reference in your pitch. You don’t want them to shy away from expressing interest or continuing the conversation simply because they don’t have time to do the legwork to track down the sources themselves. When pitching a source for a story, I recommend abiding by this same rule of thumb and hyperlink to their bio page to provide more context and information on their specialities and background in case they’re interested.
Know the Reporter’s Beat
You can have the best pitch in the world, but if it doesn’t align with the reporter’s beat (the types of stories they cover), then it will provide no use or value to them. In fact, it will only blatantly show that you are sending out mass email distributions and aren’t doing the appropriate research and legwork before pitching them. While it’s not always realistic or feasible, personalize pitches whenever possible and mention any related articles that they recently wrote.
Keep it Concise & Know your Story
As I mentioned earlier, media contacts receive hundreds of pitches a day. If you’re lucky enough to get yours opened, the worst thing that someone with very little time can be confronted with is an unnecessarily long pitch. Find out how to say everything that you need to say in a paragraph or less (with rare exceptions). The more specific and focused you can be, the better. It’s also crucial to understand and communicate the story you’re trying to tell and how it aligns with the larger media trends yet provides a unique angle to the storyline. Here’s how our typical pitch is structured:
Following up is Key to Media Pitching
Following up on initial email pitches is one of the most important pieces to the puzzle. This is where most of your interest and responses will come from, so ensuring that you schedule reminders to do so is vital. It’s good to wait around one week until you send follow-ups out; this will ensure that the media contact has sufficient time to get through their emails and respond if they are planning to. If the story is incredibly time-sensitive, it’s ok to follow-up a bit sooner. Similarly, if it is not a time-sensitive story at all, then waiting a little longer than a week is also fine. Include your original pitch at the bottom of your follow-up email to help jog the recipient’s memory and provide more context for them. To see more about how to follow up on a pitch, see my example below.
Media Pitch Examples:
Initial (cold) pitch:
Hi [NAME] A recent report pointed to the frightening reality that hackers using ransomware on medical devices could pose the biggest–and most dangerous–cyber security threat in 2016, with insulin pumps and pacemakers being some of the devices most vulnerable to these risks. For this reason, I wanted to see if you were interested in speaking with [NAME], a leading encryption and cybersecurity expert, DARPA contractor, and professor in NJIT’s Computer Science program. He has been conducting research on security and homomorphic encryption of embedded medical devices and can discuss the severity of this looming threat and the ways that we can leverage new protection techniques against this potentially fatal new cybercrime tactic.
Please let me know if you’re interested. Thanks for your time and consideration.
Pitch for established contact/relationship:
I hope all is well. Thanks again for featuring [NAME] in your article on ICD-10. I wanted to reach out about a new story and source that I thought you might be interested in:
Scientists are reporting a sharp rise in colon and rectal cancers in adults as young as their 20s and 30s, according to a new study by the American Cancer Society. For this reason, I wanted to see if you were interested in speaking with [NAME], a professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Ohio University and an expert in colon cancer, who is currently applying principles like fluid dynamics to look at how cancer cells move through the body and how metastasis can be countered. Dr. [NAME] is also researching the potential of liquid biopsies for less invasive cancer screenings and their ability to impact personalized medicine. While increased rates of screenings like colonoscopies among older adults have been considered the reason that colorectal cancer rates have declined overall, they have usually been deemed unnecessary and invasive for younger populations. However, with this new upward trend among young adults, research that Dr. [NAME] is conducting in this field could be the key to reversing these ominous trends.
Please let me know if you’re interested in speaking with [NAME] about the important work she is doing in this area and how it could impact cancer trends. Thanks for your time and consideration.
I really enjoyed reading your article, “CBO’s estimates of the revised Senate health bill” and wanted to see if you would be interested in speaking with [NAME] about the impact that this would have on our doctor shortage crisis. When we reduce insurance coverage, we make it harder for patients to address their preventative needs, and therefore create a more sick population with an increased need for doctors who can treat subsequent ailments. [NAME] is the program director and professor of healthcare systems engineering at the University of Central Florida and is actively looking at the most pressing long-term issues facing our healthcare system, such as the doctor shortage crisis, and how we can take steps to address and alleviate such crises. Extended life spans and treatable diseases are straining our already burdened system, and studies show it’s only going to get worse. [NAME] can discuss the complexities of solving this issue and how repealing the ACA will have a direct impact on the doctor shortage crisis.
Please let me know if you’re interested and I would be happy to set something up. Thanks for your time.
Subject: Re: Just Following Up: Medical Device Ransom is Biggest Cyber Threat of 2016
I just wanted to follow up and see if you were interested in speaking with [NAME] about the dangerous and inevitable threat of medical ransomware.
Thanks for your time. Any feedback is appreciated.
On Mon, Dec 21, 2015 at 6:38 PM, Caroline Khalili email@example.com> wrote:
A recent report pointed to the frightening reality that hackers using ransomware on medical devices could pose the biggest–and most dangerous–cyber security threat in 2016, with insulin pumps and pacemakers being some of the devices most vulnerable to these risks. For this reason, I wanted to see if you were interested in speaking with [NAME], a leading encryption and cybersecurity expert, DARPA contractor, and a professor in NJIT’s Computer Science program. He has been conducting research on security and homomorphic encryption of embedded medical devices and can discuss the severity of this looming threat and the ways that we can leverage new protection techniques against this potentially fatal new cybercrime tactic.
Please let me know if you’re interested. Thanks for your time and consideration.
To learn more about our digital PR services, read here: Digital PR.
Caroline brings a wealth of knowledge in communications, marketing, and account management to the Circa Interactive team, and she has worked with partners such as HP, Cisco, and Adobe. Graduating with honors in Business Administration and Marketing from the University of Oregon in 2011, Caroline now plays a key role in Circa Interactive’s digital PR strategy by building long term relationships with internationally recognized media outlets on behalf of our clients.