Five insider tips for catching a reporter’s attention – and keeping it

Alyssa Wood

Tip No. 1: Ask a question right off the bat

Think about the emails you receive every day from colleagues, clients -- even your friends. Do you get notes that go on and on, rambling for a few paragraphs, leaving you wondering what the point is? Or more importantly, what the question is? The grand finale of most emails is a question: The person is contacting you because they need something or need to know about something. And it can be confusing and annoying if they don’t make that clear up front.

The same goes for pitching: Don’t leave the question until the end. If a reporter has to wade through four paragraphs until they get to your question (for example, would they like to chat with a spokesperson from such-and-such company about such-and-such), they’re going to get bored and trash it. Try starting with the question instead; get right to the point. Say, “Hey, would you be interested in meeting with John about…?” That way, they know right away what the topic is, who the person is, and can make a quick and easy decision about whether this pitch pertains to them.

Another good way to start out with a question is to ask one that doesn’t have anything to do with the specific pitch. Start by asking the reporter what they’ve been covering recently, or what they think about a current trend – something to catch their attention and make them more likely to respond to your note at all.

Tip No. 2: Craft a great subject line

This has been said time and time again, but to me, it’s the most important one. No one responds to an email with a boring subject line. They might not even open it. A few personal pet peeves during my reporter days were when subject lines included the word “briefing” or when they started with my name. “Briefing” doesn’t tell me anything about what this conversation will include; it’s vague and dull, and it tends to alienate reporters who don’t want to focus on a vendor-y angle. Starting the subject line with my name was just creepy and disconcerting.

Instead, write a subject line that’s catchy – fun, even – and definitely unique. Use words that you wouldn’t normally see in a tech PR pitch for instance. Stay away from anything too technical; save that for the pitch or the follow-up. And critically, keep it short! It’s a subject line, not a full-sentence summary of the entire pitch. Plus, long ones get cut off by the email application, which defeats the purpose of a subject line in the first place.

Tip No. 3: Don’t pitch a topic the person just wrote about

This seems obvious, but oftentimes it seems like a good idea to pitch someone a story that’s very similar to one they just wrote. The thinking might be that


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they’re likely to grab onto your idea if they already cover that topic. But reporters are always looking for something fresh. It’s still good practice to read their recent work and even mention a recent article in your pitch, but make sure your pitch is adding something new that they can use for a completely different story approach.

Tip No. 4: Respond in a timely manner

Reporters are often on a deadline, so if they ask for follow-up info and it takes you forever to get it to them, they might ditch the story altogether. Try to get an idea of your spokesperson’s interview availability before you pitch, so that scheduling doesn’t get hung up by all the back and forth. I can’t say how many times I received pitches, responded with interest, and then had to forget it because PR couldn’t get an interview lined up in a timely manner on the other end. And if they’re looking for additional info, like a case study or survey statistics or just a confirmation on a name’s spelling, get back to them ASAP so it doesn’t hold up the article.

Tip No. 5: Have a customer reference ready

It’s always nice to get a pitch that already refers to a customer the reporter could speak with, especially for publications that particularly value having a non-vendor angle to their work. If you include the mention of a customer right in the note, the reporter may be more likely to respond, and you’re still likely to get coverage that mentions the client. Also keep in mind that nothing irks a reporter more than having the promise of a customer in the pitch, then being unable to connect with them. So, make sure if you include the possibility of a customer reference, that that customer is ready and willing to speak to press.

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