Working with Journalists – How to Get Your First Pitch Read


By Michael Corbett

So, you’ve created a great story – now it’s time to distribute it to your list of contacts and create an earned media campaign. But how big is this list? Will everyone on it want to see this piece from you? Do they even know you?

It can be tricky at times but targeting the right journalists, bloggers, and influencers for your earned media campaign can make all the difference in your performance outcomes. But once you’ve found them, how do you make your first pitch count?

First impressions are everything, so here are a couple of tips on how to make that initial pitch:

Review their Work

Before making contact, do your homework. See what your intended target has written, where they take deeper editorial dives, and what their views are on your particular subject. Preaching about how great your client’s new surfboard is doesn’t make a lot of sense when your target has no interest in surfing. Assess your own work to see if it lines up with what they write about – and chances are you’ll see more responsiveness. Even if it narrows your list, doing research on a prospective journalist or influencer will lead to a much more pleasant and productive conversation.

Tailor Your Pitches

After completing your preliminary research, it’s time to craft your approach – but make sure it’s created specifically for your prospect. This doesn’t mean you need to rewrite the entire body of your appeal, but each should reflect the research that you’ve done on the individual and demonstrate that you’ve made the effort to review their work. Once that happens, they quickly realize (1) you’re not a robot, and (2) you may truly have a story of value to them.

Keep it Short
Any effective business development or sales professional always has an elevator pitch ready. That’s exactly what you need here, but in an email format. Sell your story by keeping it concise and to the point. Less is more. You don’t need to regurgitate the back story that you pulled from the ‘About Us’ section from their website; you don’t need to write a review on the influencer’s last piece of work. Stay on track and get to the point.

Be Personable

Have some fun with your pitch. It’s not going to be perfect – nothing ever is in this world – so give it some flavor and show yourself to your prospect. Every email you send doesn’t have to be strictly business – but you also shouldn’t act like you’re talking to your best friend (obviously!). You don’t want to be robotic. People like seeing personality, but don’t go overboard!

Be Enthusiastic

You need to be enthusiastic about your client’s product – because if you’re not, why would they be? There’s an email that I seem to receive yearly from an individual who comes off as downright sad. The intro sounds something like, “Hey, I know this is probably annoying to you but…” and then the person goes on to tell me about an event in which I typically have no interest. After reading that first sentence, I am already annoyed! From the moment I saw that phrase, I already assumed that whatever content he had for me simply wasn’t for me.

Follow up

Last, and possibly the most effective way to ensure you’re serious, is to follow up with a simple email or phone call. Don’t be angry that they didn’t get back to you and pester them with a barrage of messages. There’s at least 10 other people like you and me trying to hook them for their earned media campaign – and only one of them. A brief follow-up explaining that you sent a message recently and, ideally, perhaps a new piece of information. Done. Nothing too aggressive, just keeping your idea fresh in thoughts.

Once you’ve built a relationship, getting a response to your subsequent story ideas happens much more quickly. You’ve earned trust. But, that process starts with that all important first pitch. Make sure it’s your best!

Michael Shepherd

Michael serves as Managing Partner of The Shepherd Group, a brand and communications firm with offices in Seattle and Newport Beach. A former journalist, he specializes in building narratives through discovery, design, and development of branded editorial and visual content.