5 actionable tips from top industry editors
If you have ever put any time into pitching a story, you’ve probably gotten used to sending a lot of emails with very little response.
It’s the harsh reality of trying to get some exposure. Not everyone is going to take interest in what you are sending out.
That being said, almost every publications out there is looking for stories and ideas to satisfy their endless stream of content.
So why do some pitches work and others get the silent treatment?
Writers, agencies, PR firms, businesses, startups, kickstarter campaigns and everyone else is out there trying to get an editor’s attention, but most of them end up failing despite their efforts.
It doesn’t matter how many times you copy and paste a pitch or how big your automated mailing list is -- if you don’t put in the work to make your pitches appealing, no one is going to listen.
Lucky for you, we’ve spoken with a couple editors from Fast Company and Inc. in an effort to gather 5 key pieces of actionable advice for avoiding the abyss of the inbox.
1. Know the publication you're pitching
“Most PR people do not read the publications they are pitching, or at least they do not read them closely enough to comprehend what makes a story work for ABC magazine/website,” said Bill Saporito, editor-at-large, Inc. “They craft a one size fits all pitch and then blast away.”
This shotgun blast approach with mass emails might get one or two publications interested, but more often than not, it's going to fail. Publications receive countless emails from tons of people every day. One more generic PR email is not going to stand out.
“If you go out with the same exact generic pitch to five or 20 different publications, expect to come back empty-handed,” he said. “If you can’t tell a story tailor-made for a specific audience—and if that story doesn’t potentially matter more to that audience than it does to your company’s marketing department (most people get this formula precisely backward)—then wait to pitch it until you can.”
2. Check the masthead
Knowing a little about the publication and what they cover goes a long way, but it’s all for naught if you’re sloppy with your targeting.
Put simply, it doesn’t do you or the recipient any good if your thoughtful pitch is sent to the wrong person or the wrong department. According to Kris Frieswick, Inc.’s executive editor, information on whom the story should be sent to can be found by taking a little time to look at the masthead.
And please -- get the name and gender right!
3. Less is More
Just knowing who to send a pitch to isn’t enough, though. Crafting a specific and precise message to the editor takes time — and it’s something that shouldn’t be rushed.
Why? Well, first impressions are everything, and incessant follow-up emails with revised pitches will only serve to undermine your credibility.
Bellis promises extra time and attention on the front end is well worth the effort:
“If you’re in my inbox with a new pitch every day, you fundamentally suck at your job and are wasting your clients’ money,” said Rich Bellis, associate editor at Fast Company. “There’s no conceivable way your clients have newsworthy things to share with me or my readers on a daily or even monthly basis—period. Less is more. It’s a relationships game. Get to know what your editors cover, how they like to be pitched, and save your ammo for when you’ve got something really good.”
4. Get personal and get to the point
Bellis also encourages the writer to get personal when telling their story
“Ask yourself: What change out there in the world have I directly brought about already? Whom does that change affect right now; how significantly; and does it point toward the future for this industry/this customer set/this major intractable problem nobody’s solved yet? It’s a fairly high bar, and it should be.”
Meanwhile, for Frieswick, this means getting rid of flowery and overwritten language, which is the hallmark of a press release or a sales pitch. She emphasizes a different approach to get her attention.
“If you send us an email, pretend that you’re explaining what your company does to a 10-year-old.” Not because, she added, that they’re stupid or incapable of understanding what’s being said, but for a more practical reason. “Truthfully, we can’t know all the jargon from all the different industries that we cover. So, if you can reduce what you do to real basic stuff, that is going to be tremendously helpful in cutting through all the clutter that we have to deal with on a daily basis.”
5. Are you talking to me?
So, what ultimately makes a good pitch? What can help you stand out from the others?
Know your audience.
Just as importantly, know something about the individual you’re pitching.
Bellis explained what separates a good pitch from a bad one:
“They’re 1-2 paragraphs long at most; they reflect a sharp awareness of what I cover without reciting back to me a litany of recent stories I’ve written—editors and reporters know what they themselves wrote; the weird PR tic of saying, ‘Oh, hey you wrote about this one thing, which reminded me to tell you about this other related thing’ is totally counterproductive… it frames even potentially good stories as seemingly redundant right off the bat.”
He concludes that the key for anyone pitching him is being specific in their approach and knowing what they want to write about.
“They tell me exactly what the news or key idea is right in the subject line. They also don’t try to pitch me multiple angles in one go.”
Remember, initial impressions are key. It’s up to the writer to do everything they can to make themselves stand out. A clear, concise message to the editor that tells a good story the first time will go a long way.
Those who work on their craft and remain persistent with their message will eventually break through, while the rest will end up relegated to the spam filter or the waste bin.
The lesson here is - think about what you are doing. Don’t just pitch the same old tired template over and over. If it’s not working, you’re doing something wrong.
Take a little advice from the people who are bombarded everyday with hundreds of pitches. They’ve probably seen more pitches than anyone else and know exactly what they are talking about.
Elijah Masek-Kelly is the founder of PowerfulOutreach. As a writer and PR professional, Elijah is in a unique position to help people tell stories that matter. Not many people can say they've ridden a freight train across Canada or that they've been hit by lightning, but one day - Elijah hopes to say something exactly as it's meant to be told.
Photo via Pixabay