Perfecting the pitch: 26,000 pitches reveal what editors want

Perfecting the pitch: 26,000 pitches reveal what editors want

Confession: I spend a majority of my day agonizing over pitches, so much so that I’ve actually had dreams (or perhaps nightmares) about them.

Was that the right subject line? Was the intro a little too personal? Could the call to action be a bit stronger next time? These are all important questions, and we often revisit them when pitching an editor for the first time.

And when you consider that 90 percent of journalists prefer to be pitched via email, it’s an understatement to say you’ll revisit these key questions a lot. Whether you’re a freelance writer hoping to see your byline splashed across the front page of a publisher or a PR manager looking to share your client’s story, what you write before you click “send” definitely makes all the difference.

So how can you make sure your next pitch isn’t a complete shot in the dark? My team at Fractl recently analyzed 26,988 pitches to determine what piques an editor’s interest, specifically when it comes to subject lines and introductions.

Remember that you only get one chance to make a first impression, so in an effort to make it count, here are six ways you can nail that initial interaction with an editor.

1. Prove to editors that you have something new before they even open your email.

We typically go online because we have a question (“Google it” is commonplace for a reason), and a great subject line reveals how your content can provide an editor’s audience with answers. “Know,” “changed,” “ideal,” and “showed,” for instance, all indicate that your content can help explain something – each of these words generated more than a 17 percent response rate when included in subject lines.

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2. Your subject line should be tailored to an editor’s beat.

In a survey of 500 publishers, more than 60 percent of journalists agreed that the perfect subject line connects to their beat, so it’s important to read some of your target’s previous posts to get a better understanding of what they cover. Terms like “content,” “marketing,” “house,” “travelers,” and “body” were among the top 15 highest-performing subject-line words, indicating just how important it is to reference a vertical if you want a response.

3. The word “exclusive” doesn’t guarantee success in a crowded inbox.

Merriam-Webster defines “exclusive” as something “not shared; available to only one person or group.” However, journalists seem privy to the fact that your so-called exclusive might actually be sitting in more than one inbox: The word had about the same success rate (11.9 percent) as subject lines without it (12 percent).  

4. It’s OK to mention something an editor posted on social media.

Although it’s normal to feel like a stage-five clinger when stalking someone’s online profiles, our data indicates that editors don’t mind an introduction that proves you’ve taken a peek. The word “Twitter,” for example, generated a 16.8 percent success rate when used in a pitch’s opening paragraph.


5. Your introduction should prove you’re human (particularly a polite one).

Words like “weekend,” “wanted,” “hear,” and “week” indicate that pitch introductions should show you’ve taken a genuine interest in what a writer has going on in his or her life (e.g. “I hope you had a great weekend,” “It’s great to hear you’re feeling better,” etc.).

Along these same lines, positivity and politeness also go a long way: The words “happy” and “hope” were the most successful words out of more than 26,000 introductions – reminding us that beyond a placement, a secondary goal of any pitch is to develop a mutually beneficial relationship.

6. Open with what you liked about a writer’s previous post.

We all love a little pat on the back, and a journalist is no different. While skimming someone’s past work, you’ll want to mention one or two things you really liked about them in your introduction: “Article,” “list,” “tips,” and “piece” all generated high response rates when used in the opening paragraph of a pitch.

And there you have it. Remember that although your initial email sets the tone for the relationship moving forward, it doesn’t require endless hours of second guessing before you click “send;” all you need is a subject line tailored to an editor’s beat with an introduction that proves you’re capable of a lot more than copy and pasting.

Andrea Lehr is a Brand Relationship Strategist at Fractl. Connect with her on LinkedIn for daily musings on great content; follow her on Twitter for the GIFs.

Photos: Inbox via Shutterstock, infographics via Fractl

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