Pitching 101: Reaching Out to the Media and Getting Them to Bite
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After spending so many years reading pitches from publicists, I can tell you there’s a right way and a wrong way to pitch. To help you get the coverage you’re looking for, I asked Jason Feifer, the editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur magazine, to share his thoughts on the subject.
Jason started as a community newspaper reporter and has worked as an editor for Boston magazine, Men’s Health, Fast Company, Maxim and now Entrepreneur. He has freelanced for GQ, ESPN the Magazine, New York magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post and more. And he has two podcasts: Problem Solvers and Pessimists Archive.
Jason says the hardest part of his job is also the most exciting part. “Media is an ever-shifting industry, so we have to be constantly thinking of new ways to be relevant to our audience and go beyond the basic content products we’ve relied on for so long,” he says. “A strong media brand needs to be so many things. I think we’re only at the beginning, which means when you send a pitch, you have to keep in mind what media companies are looking for today beyond just filling space in a magazine or airtime.”
Since getting the right coverage can help you engage with consumers or sell products or services, here’s what Jason has seen work best:
Sometimes you're not the story
You may be pitching outlets hoping for an entire feature on you and/or your company. If no one’s biting, you may have a better chance at being mentioned in a bigger story. While fancy features are great, consider pitching trends in your industry that no one seems to be talking about and how you can contribute to that discussion. It’s really important to know why you want coverage before going down the time-consuming (and sometimes expensive) path to getting press. Identify your goal, and whether or not media can help you reach it -- then focus on the publications that make sense. Perhaps the bigger feature on your personal story or your company’s success will come later.
Fascinating and compelling stories are always welcome
Reporters are always happy to learn something fascinating, and if you have a compelling story to support your pitch, that’s a win-win. Even if a reporter isn’t working on that topic at the time, most save the really good pitches to revisit when they need a story that can run anytime. For example, have you failed and made a major rebound? If so, how did you do it?
Don’t throw a dart in the dark.
Spare yourself the disappointment, and a reporter the agony, of having to go through pointless emails. Be specific and share one or two things that the journalist needs to know. Or better yet, try establishing a personal connection with the reporter so you have an idea of the subjects they cover.
Repetition is an editor’s worst nightmare.
You may be putting your best work forward by sending an email with a newsworthy subject line. But if you’re pitching a story that’s been done a million times, you have to be more creative. Think about what really sets you apart. If you don’t know, spend more time on that question before you pitch.
Read my mind
Before sending a pitch, spend time looking at the pieces that publication publishes and how their content is formatted. Reporters really appreciate when you pitch something that will surprise and interest their audience and fills a need in their next issue or broadcast at the same time.
Now that you have a sense of what you need to do to get press from an editor, next are some tips from PR gurus who work with clients morning, noon and night.
Get the media to bite
If you do some research, you’ll find most publicists cover different areas, so make sure the ones you choose have experience pitching your kind of company to the right contacts. You don’t want a publicist representing your lipstick line who only works with home and gardening editors and reporters.
If you choose to pitch to journalists on your own, Gwen Wunderlich has some advice. Gwen’s spent more than 20 years raising awareness for some of the biggest brands in the fashion, beauty, luxury, lifestyle and celebrity industries. The CEO and cofounder of Wunderlich Kaplan Communications, Gwen’s an expert at crafting messages that gain the attention of the media, investors and retailers.
If you’re not working with a PR firm, Gwen says, “Stop with the long, drawn-out stories. When pitching via email or phone, make it a fast, hard sell and straight to the point. Never lie, never falsify but sensationalism sells. So the question is, how are you giving a real wow factor to your story/brand or message?”
If you’re working with a publicist, Gwen advises to sign on the dotted line only when you’re sure you have the money to pay the firm’s or publicist’s retainer for six months to a year. “Sometimes press hits overnight and sometimes it takes a while,” she says. She adds you must know why you’re hiring a person or agency to help you: “Press is to build brand awareness -- not to generate sales. Don’t expect your PR person to drive sales for you. This isn’t their job. Make sure you give your publicist the tools they need to succeed. Whether this means books, clothes or beauty products to send to editors, many times the media needs to see the products before they review them. So send it. Make sure you allow for that in your PR budget. Also, get back to your publicist in a timely manner. Don’t make them lose a story because of a tardy reply. Treat them with kindness and grace, and appreciate their wins. Don’t you want them to be pumped up about you? Authentic excitement wins every single time,” she says.