Ethan is CEO of Lightspeed PR, overseeing a team of skilled PR execs and a client roster of talented, cutting-edge tech companies.
After more than 20 years in public relations — both in agencies and in-house — I’ve learned the hard way that delivering a solid story idea to the right journalist at the right time isn’t enough. You also have to package that story in a compelling, concise way. In other words, you need a pitch. The truth, though, is that most pitches miss the mark. I’ve developed a series of guidelines that my own agency, Lightspeed PR/M, uses, which has helped us deliver wins and surpass expectations. I’d like to share those guidelines so you can do the same.
To start, let’s get out of the “pitch” mindset. I’m going to keep using that word in this article for convenience, but the word fundamentally suggests that we are trying to sell something. You shouldn’t be selling. You should be offering value and opportunity to the reporter receiving your pitch. In other words, don’t ask for their help; offer to help them.
Keep it short.
The first thing I do when editing pitches is strip them way down. A good pitch should be a few sentences at most. Get rid of the long introduction setting up the scenario, or the many statistics you might quote, and jump straight to the cool factor. This respects the journalist’s time and also makes your pitch seem more authentic and personal. A pitch shouldn’t read like a press release. Save the details for the release and just give them the good stuff.
Know what you’re talking about.
One of the most fundamental elements of creating a successful pitch is knowing the subject matter yourself. If you don’t understand it, how can a journalist ever be expected to? As Albert Einstein has been credited with saying, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
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“Friction” means anything that makes it difficult for the reader to get the information they need. A few examples: requiring a password to access a website to download a press kit or needing to install an app. Put everything they need in the email and link to a video they can access with one click.
If it isn’t new, it isn’t news. Sounds obvious, but so many pitches just explain that a certain product or service exists. You need to explain what the news is — whether that be an unveiling, a partnership, an event or something else.
Unless your pitch is coming from a household name brand, the recipient may not be familiar with what you’re promoting. The burden is on you to prove why this company can be trusted and can credibly deliver what it is promising. For instance, mention the company’s history in launching other products successfully, or the last venture started by the CEO, or how many patents they have, or how much money they have raised — anything to prove they are the real deal and not just a solopreneur with an idea.
Make it real.
“A picture tells a thousand words.” It’s a cliche for a reason. At one point, PR people were told to never include images in a pitch, but times have changed. These days a picture can make or break your pitch. Include it right in the email so it can’t be missed. You can even use an animated GIF.
Talk like a real human.
Try reading your entire pitch out loud. Does it sound like something a person might actually say or like a bunch of contorted jargon? The best pitches are conversational and written in plain English. Leave the specs to the press release. Just summarize why this is interesting and say it clearly. Leave the stuffy corporate writing behind and craft your note as if you’re reaching out to a friend.
No journalist wants to be one of thousands of people receiving a pitch. That’s why sending a generic email won’t help your cause. Take the time to customize each pitch to the recipient, mentioning their past work and why exactly you are offering to them specifically. It takes longer to do this but is well worth the time. Also, do your homework — don’t rely entirely on media databases like Muck Rack, but take a look at the actual published content to be sure you are reaching out to the right person.
Journalists sometimes talk about a “solution in search of a problem” — a product that exists for no clear reason. A good pitch will explain the impact this will have. Will it save time? Make money? Improve safety? Explain the problem and how you are solving it.
Don’t include CEO quotes.
Sometimes I see pitches with CEO quotes embedded in them and I never quite understand why. They rarely add value. Lose it and save the quote for the press release.
Offer a customer.
Speaking of the CEO, almost every pitch asks the journalist to please set up a time to interview the CEO or some other executive. Spoiler alert: The journalist probably doesn’t want to talk to the CEO. They want to see the product or innovation, and if they want to talk to anyone, they will be more likely to speak with a customer who can talk about how this product or solution solved a problem for them.
Following the above advice won’t guarantee your pitch is successful, but it will certainly help.
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Author: Ethan Rasiel, Forbes Councils Member