What Makes for a Great PR Pitch

Dennis McCafferty
McCafferty: “The best way to both capture and keep the attention of a journalist is to make the best use of his or her time.”

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Frankly, it’s competitive to get great placements for clients when you’re a high-tech PR agency. There’s a constant conversation here that underscores an eternal riddle: How do you capture the attention of a journalist?

Then the logical – and perhaps more essential ‑ extension of the discussion: How do you keep that journalist’s attention once you’ve grabbed it?

Naturally, I’ll contribute to many of these exchanges. That’s because, yes, I’m the designated, former “reporter guy” here. My history in newspapers and magazines goes back so far, I can recall when reporters were allowed to smoke at their desks. (This “past life” of mine can sometimes serve as a dubious honor.)

In essence, I’ll say, the best way to both capture and keep the attention of a journalist is to make the best use of his or her time. Because even when media outlets were relatively well-staffed, reporting always demanded peak efficiency skills. Today, reporters are tasked to report, write, tweet, produce multiple forms of content, interact with readers/users, etc. ‑ all while dealing with skeletal staffing levels.

With this in mind, here are some best practices to make the most of your interactions with media members:

Sell ‘em with the subject header. Yes, many reporters are getting leads via social media. But the emailed press release still remains the tried-and-true method to initially reach out. Which means that subject header better be a “grabber,” or the recipient won’t bother to open it up. It’s best to make sure every word is as punchy and news-driven as possible. Don’t feel compelled to put the name of your executive in the header. (Unless, of course, that’s a “must do” from the client’s perspective.) Don’t simply say your client is introducing a new product and/or partnership. Do hint at what the compelling aspects of the new product/partnership will be. Similarly, don’t just say a client exec is speaking at an event in the header. Tell us what the client will be talking about – the more substantive and topical, the better.

“Pick your spots” for your followups. Look, any reporter worth engaging these days is going to get literally hundreds of pitches a day. So ease up on the incessant “I just wanted to follow up on my pitch from yesterday/last week/last month to see if you were interested …” The rule of thumb here isn’t cheery but it’s generally true: If there was no reply, there’s likely no interest. Follow-up sparingly, and most often only if you already have a decent relationship with the journalist. Otherwise, you’re contributing clutter to the in-box. This will hurt your credibility the next time you have a new pitch.

Text still matters. While many new products/services or general subject-matter expert opps are presented as webinars these days, best to make sure video isn’t the only way for journalists to access information. Because they very well may opt to pass on it entirely. Sure, webinars present a valuable service for a client, and streaming content is a traffic magnet. But if a reporter can get the same information within two minutes by reading a press release, that’s likely going to be the preferred route in the early stages as opposed to a 45-minute streaming presentation. (That said, the webinar will make for a strong followup option for the journalist, once a story commitment is made.)

Look to this blog for future pointers on not only getting reporters to “bite,” but how to reel them in.


Dennis McCafferty is Director of Content for W2 Communications.