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Tomorrow’s launch day. You’re a startup founder, and have invested weeks crafting the perfect pitch to send to 100 journalists. You’ve spent hours thinking of the perfect subject line, and story angle. You’ve even injected some human emotion into it.

You hit send, go to bed, and wake up waiting to see everyone talking about you on Techcrunch. But it’s already 10 AM and nobody has responded to your email. You wait another hour.. then another day… then weeks. And then you face reality: nobody really cared about what you had to say.

The brutal truth is that most journalists receive 100′s of pitches everyday. If your pitch isn’t 100% perfect, it will be ignored. So what are some tips to ensure your pitch will be read? I interviewed a few journalists from major publications like Techcrunch, Mashable, NY Times, Fast Company, and TheNextWeb and asked them what pitches they love to receive, and what they ignore. Here’s what they had to say:

 

Anthony Ha, Techcrunch


1) How many pitches do you receive by email per day?

The last time I counted, it was around 80 to my personal account (well, that’s emails, but most are pitches), and several hundred sent to tips@techcrunch.com and forwarded to all of us.

2) What are some tips for writing a well-crafted email that you find hard to ignore? IE. was there anything that really impressed you from any recent email pitches you’ve gotten?

In general, a subject line that spells out what the news is and a pitch written in honest, plain English.

3) What are some pet peeves that makes you delete an email pitching their product?

Pitches that are impossible to understand because they consist primarily of buzzwords, or that obscure the actual news in a long introduction stretching to connect the company to news that’s more exciting. Also, there seems to be an uptick in “we’ve given the exclusive to another publication but we’ll let you publish 30 minutes later” pitches, and I HATE those.

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Jason Abbruzzese, Mashable


1) How many pitches do you receive by email per day?

It’s kind of tough to say how many pitches I get by email, as they tend to fluctuate. I also well be in a dialogue with any number of PR people at a time discussing their clients, what they’ve got going on, what they’re seeing. Ballpark I’d say something like 25ish.

2) What are some tips for writing a well-crafted email that you find hard to ignore? IE. was there anything that really impressed you from any recent email pitches you’ve gotten?

Two things stand out. The PR people who have taken a bit of time to get to know me, my beat, what I’m interested in and the types of sources I’m looking for always have my ear. Their emails are usually succinct because they know what information they need to convey to me. The other thing is bullet points. If you have a ton of info, just lay out out simply. Sadly, I’m trying to read your email as fast as possible and am just not interested in any narrative.

3) What are some pet peeves that makes you delete an email pitching their product?

I will usually just ignore a pitch if it has absolutely nothing to do with my beat or clearly is just a blast. My biggest pet peeve is taking too long to get to the point. A PR pitch is an elevator pitch – make it lean and impactful.

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Alice Truong, FastCompany


1) How many pitches do you receive by email per day?

I get roughly 100 emails per day–the overwhelming majority of them pitches.

2) What are some specific tips for writing a well-crafted email pitch? IE. was there anything that really impressed you from any recent email pitches you’ve gotten?

In my opinion, a good pitch is first and foremost relevant. It’s remarkable how many emails reporters get that are untargeted and not germane to what they cover. Furthermore, it should be concise while conveying just enough information. A head’s up to upcoming news is often appreciated as well.

3) What are some pet peeves that makes you delete an email pitching their product or company?

I have a specific email where I prefer to receive pitches that’s listed on my website and Twitter page, so that’s usually the first thing I tell people in PR when they ask about how to pitch me. Given the sheer quantity of emails I get on a daily basis, I look for any reason to archive an email: if it’s sent to the wrong address, if I’m sent duplicates (they automatically go to spam), if the body contains a wall of text, if it’s not on topic, if it contains any buzz phrases that I’m tired of, if there’s an offer of a talking head who has nothing to do with the news itself, and so on.

But my No. 1 pet peeve would be unsolicited phone calls. I’m filing and in meetings basically all day, and if we haven’t scheduled to talk on the phone, getting a call unexpectedly can be very disruptive to my work flow. There’s no point to ring me because the first thing I tell people who call with pitches is to send it over email. And then I proceed to block their numbers.

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Paul Sawers, TheNextWeb


1) How many pitches do you receive by email per day?
Maybe 40-50 on average.

2) What are some tips for writing a well-crafted email that you find hard to ignore? IE. was there anything that really impressed you from any recent email pitches you’ve gotten?

I actually wrote an entire post on this a couple of years ago. And at the bottom, I provide an example of what a perfect pitch would look like: http://thenextweb.com/media/2011/08/21/pitch-perfect-a-startups-guide-to-getting-coverage/

In a nutshell – just get straight to the facts, avoid hyperbole, buzzwords and rambling – just tell me why it’s different to the competition.

3) What are some pet peeves that makes you delete an email pitching their product?

Pitches that aren’t directly to me (so mass-sent BCCs, for example) will often get binned, unless it’s about a company I know well. Long, rambling emails at the best of times are off-putting, but when it’s about something that’s really dry anyway, it can often lead to deletion. I must stress though, I will usually take the time to reply to an email if they’ve taken the time to pitch me personally, even if I’m not going to cover it – but only if it’s something that we could conceivably have covered. For example, I’ll sometimes be pitched something that’s got nothing to do with what I write about (technology), and I don’t see why I should respond to them if they clearly don’t know what my publication covers.

To touch on a point from number 2. again – buzzwords are probably the real killer. ‘Game-changing’, ‘Revolutionary’, ‘Distruptive’ – they’re so overused that they’ve lost all meaning and just make me switch off.

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Caitlin Kelly, NY Times


1) How many pitches do you receive by email per day?

Not that many — maybe 2-5. (Which is weird — I write for the NYT a lot. You’d think more people would want to get into the Times through my work.)

2) What are some specific tips for writing a well-crafted email pitch? IE. was there anything that really impressed you from any recent email pitches you’ve gotten?

I delete virtually every email pitch I get. They’re 99.9% useless: generic, evergreen, have nothing to do with me or what I am working on.

The only two emails I opened recently that were useful to me came from people who actually noticed (!!) what I cover. I had written a story about women car designers and someone pitched me an interesting and offbeat story related to automobiles. It actually made sense; I have not yet pitched it, though.

The other one was a follow-up from someone who knows the NYT runs special sections every year, and that I write for those sections, (this one is on retirement) and asked if I was looking for ideas (which I was.) THAT is useful. That is someone actually paying attention to what I need and they can help out with their client. Sadly, it is very rare.

3) What are some pet peeves that makes you delete an email pitching their product or company?

99.9% of the emails I get are useless! That’s a pretty damning statistic, I’d say.

  • Generic — you have clearly sent this email to 100s of other writers. I’m not there for that.
  • Boring. No news or not enough news to make this appealing to any editor I know.
  • Not enough detail.
  • No color…just bland, boring PR talk.
  • No context; why now, why me, why this matters today and not 6 months from now…?
  • NO understanding that the only way to get my attention is to HELP me.

Throwing random emails at me is deeply annoying, rude and sucks up my time. No freelancer has extra time to re-focus their attention on your need for a hit by wading through yet another crappy email (see numbers 1-5.) The PR people who are truly helpful and will get their client’s mention are those who ask me what I need and help me get it, fast.

The only way to really work with me….and NO one bothers. Get to know me! Ask for a few minutes of my time, let’s schedule them, and then find out the various markets I’m currently pitching to; the kinds of stories I need and let’s see if there is a fit. I am appalled by how lazy PR people are and completely fed up with the BS they keep sending me.

I need ideas, every single day. I do need pitches! But not random stuff.

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Alden Wicker, EcoCult


1) What are some pet peeves that makes you delete an email pitching their product or company?

Here are some things that make me delete emails/not want to cover what they’re doing/make me feel like crap:

- When I respond to their email asking me to cover their client, and their next email is asking me to tell them about their blog, plus describe the story I will write. I feel like I am already doing them a service. They could have taken some time to read the About page on my blog (it’s linked in my sign off). Plus, there are better ways to phrase their request than, “What will your story be about?” Maybe, “Do you know yet what angle you’ll take?” The former implies that they are going to try to control the narrative. The latter implies that they want to provide me with the best possible material so I can make my story angle happen.

- During fashion week, confusing me with a buyer.

- Multiple people from the same agency or showroom emailing me about an event or thing, even after I had already responded to one. I once got emails from three different people about the same event, which led to some confusion.

- Emailing me after a story is up, and asking me to change my opinion, or to omit an accurate negative I included in a largely positive story. Nope, you get the whole package. That’s why it’s free publicity.

- Sending me big, physical folders of stuff. As a blogger, I work best from digital information. Your fancy, probably expensive, package of papers and glossy photos is going in the recycling bin. I mean, my laptop doesn’t even have a CD drive. And I already have 15 USB drives. Dropbox me. Always.

- Thinking I am a man. Again, the About page on my blog is a great source of information.

- After I politely say that the client is just not right for my blog, continuing to pitch me in mass emails ever after.

On a positive note, I’ll tell you about the most positive PR experience I ever had. I received a form invitation to a fashion week event. When I emailed back asking for more information, I got a personalized response with just the information I needed, plus a cell phone number so I could call the PR person when I got there. When I arrived, the PR person found me, remembered the name and focus of my blog, and escorted me to talk to the designer. Then, he followed up with an email inviting me to the afterparty, and took the time to treat me as a human being with interests other than his client. I will give his clients so much positive coverage always.

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Conclusion

Pitching to a journalist isn’t rocket science. Assuming you have a compelling story, make sure you follow these simple tips:

  • Don’t use buzzwords like “disruptive”
  • Don’t write long introduction – cut to the chase.
  • Make sure it’s relevant to the journalist.
  • Make it short and sweet (lean and impactful)
  • Tailor your pitch to each journalist
  • Answer the question: Why does this matter today?


  • Alesia Krush

    Good stuff in this post, thanks! Love your app, btw

  • josephjrobison

    Caitlin Kelly’s advice is the most surprising…but makes sense after thinking about it. Ask journalists what they need help with and give them ideas! Wow.

    Henley – how were you able to get these journalists to respond to you? That’s the real question!

  • Thomas Sumrak

    I believe it was Larry Kim that said 95% of the emails that he sends to Journalists are tips for content that isn’t his own. It is amazing how many people simply contact a journalist out of the blue in order to get some publicity, thinking that it only takes a single email. I love that it is said over and over in this article that journalists want a more personal connection and they are looking for people that want to help them.

    Instead of trying to simply promote an event, an article, or piece of news, try contacting a journalist and giving them useful tips and information. If you keep this up, I bet they would be more than happy to help when you want to do your own publicity.

  • http://www.iheavy.com/blog/ Sean Hull

    All this drives home that email is a terrible way to reach journalists.

    Why not try twitter instead? They’re reading, they’re engaged. Say something helpful, provocative, interesting, insightful, confounding, challening… it works for me.

    http://www.iheavy.com/2013/10/17/email-pitching-fails-social-media-succeeds/

    • http://ogcontent.com/ Scott Taft

      I disagree. While Twitter is a great way to get the attention of journos, I think the general message here is, journalists are people too. They just want to make to a meaningful connection before you start pitching them.

      Whether that’s through Twitter, email, linkedin or blog comments, making that connection and actually realizing who you are talking to will go a long way.

      • http://www.iheavy.com/blog/ Sean Hull

        Completely agree Scott. And from the numbers above it appears for many email is a pretty saturated channel.

      • https://bench.co/ Cam @ Bench

        “Journalists are people too.” — couldn’t agree more with this. Kudos to all of these journos for dealing with a daily glut of poorly targeted, impersonal pitches. No surprise that the respectful, focused, targeted pitches (and PR people) are the ones that get their attention.

  • Kilaan

    Seems that no one likes buzzwords, but the irony is the reason those are “buzzwords” because media & journalists themselves overuse them. So naturally, people think you like those buzzwords. BTW, the name of this website is buzz….sumo, lol

  • http://www.captainspinksgames.com Captain Spinks Games

    Great article. This is some very sound advice – Thanks for sharing!

  • http://bloggerjet.com/ Tim Soulo

    Yep.. it seems there’s no rocket science with pitching journalists..

    Here’s what I’ve found interesting:

    1. I don’t think that 100 emails per day is a big number. If you’re journalist – it’s your job to always be looking for the next big thing. This makes me think that every email (even if its awful) has the chance to get noticed.

    2. Since most of these 100 emails are pure generic crap – you can easily win the game just by reading a few articles of the guy you pitch and writing him a very personal email.

    3. But of course the content of the email is super important. If you don’t have breaking news – you won’t get published, no matter how good your pitch is.