In this blog post, we sit down with Dennis McCafferty, Vice President of Content at W2 Communications, to discuss – from a former journalist’s perspective – what reporters look for in a pitch.
Dennis joined W2 Communications in December 2010, after working more than 20 years as a journalist, with experience in all forms of content: metro/national newspapers, regional/national magazines, custom publications/content marketing, radio, TV, blogs and social media. From September 1997 through March 2010, he served as Senior Writer at USA WEEKEND, for which he interviewed newsmakers such as Presidents Bush and Clinton, Caroline Kennedy, Donald Trump and web founder Tim Berners-Lee, in addition to actors, musicians and sports figures such as Russell Crowe, Clint Eastwood, Peyton Manning and Shaquille O’Neal. Before WEEKEND, he was a staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he won a national, first-place award for investigative reporting. He also worked at Washington Technology, as well as for custom content clients such as IBM, AMD, USAA, GM and Ritz-Carlton.
What is the first thing you notice about a pitch in your inbox?
Whether it’s actual news or just an attempt to “sell client stuff.” If there’s no news in there, I will see that and quickly delete the pitch from my inbox. Look, reporters completely understand that PR folks have clients who want them to pitch what amounts to be thinly disguised ads. But that doesn’t mean they need to give those pitches the time of day.
How important is the subject line?
Incredibly important. It astonishes me to see how many PR pitches “die a quick death” because of a failed subject line. Think of the subject line as your headline. Identify the most compelling news aspects of your release and then write up a classic headline focused on that news. Remember the rule of “show don’t tell” too – don’t simply tell me your client is great. Tell me what your client is doing that amounts to greatness.
Do you prefer quick, short pitches, or long informative pitches? Why?
Both. I prefer a really short, tidy summary at the top. But then I like to see fleshed-out details next, preferably with bullet points to make each key “news” point stand out. I would like to see this in the very first pitch. Reporters don’t have time for “teases.”
What is the single-most important thing a PR professional should realize before pitching a journalist?
Reporters receive literally dozens of pitches day, if not 100 or more. There are lots of competitors out there seeking to get on our radar. We will naturally gravitate to the pitches that are the most compelling while aligning to what we write about. And they must contain actual “news.” I’m sorry, but unless I write IT product features, your client’s product platform upgrade isn’t likely to qualify as “news.” If you understand this and pitch accordingly, you’ll dramatically improve your batting average.
What is one sure-fire way to grab Dennis McCafferty’s attention in an email?
Aside from what we’ve already covered, it never hurts to remind me that we’ve worked on something in past, probably at the top of the main body of the pitch, as an informal, friendly note. At the very least, it will immediately establish your credibility as someone who has pitched good news before and was able to execute the required follow-through to get it published.