Building a relationship with journalists is an important aspect of being a public relations practitioner; pitching stories about the company or client that you represent is even more important. This leads to the question: “how do I craft a pitch letter or press release that will interest a reporter?”
How to write a successful press release and pitch email
Email is your best friend
According to a 2015 study by Cision over 83 percent of reporters prefer to be pitched over email. To a reporter an enticing headline and lead are the bread and butter to any successful article. The headline draws the reader in and peaks their interest. Similar to a headline, the subject of an email needs to be just as enticing to the reporter. A public relations practitioner must strive to make the subject line interesting and relevant to a reporter.
Reporters receive dozens of emails a day and the first thing they see when they check their inbox is the subject of an email; if it doesn’t stand out, why would they be incentivized to open it? It isn’t a reporter’s job to check every email in their inbox, as they work on 24/7 deadlines where immediacy takes precedence over reading through numerous pitches and deciding which ones to pursue.
This leads to the next item on the list: if a reporter does take interest in your email, what’s the next thing they read that will determine whether they will cover your story idea?
Make the press release personal
The worst thing that any public relations practitioner can do is carelessly blanket the news world with an article idea. In Regina Luttrell’s book Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect she mentions that personalization helps when pitching to bloggers. This is equally true when pitching to reporters. Luttrell wrote, “When pitching to bloggers, address them by name and demonstrate that you’ve read their blog by injecting a reference to it in your opening sentence,” (p. 56).
Think about it: when applying for a specialized job, do you send out a generalized resume and cover letter to dozens of companies in the hopes of landing an interview? Or do you craft your resume and cover letter to specifically cater to the qualifications of the job that you’re applying for? Pitch emails and press releases should always strive for the latter of these two options.
Public relations practitioners should demonstrate that they’ve read the content produced by the newspaper that a reporter works for. A reporter will be more inclined to read a press release if it’s personalized and is relevant to the newspaper in locality and relevance. Luttrell also wrote, “This illustrates that you are interested in what they are writing about and take part in their community because you know them, understand them, value their likes and dislikes, and have a keen appreciation for what types of articles their readers want to hear more about,” (p. 56).
Keep a press release short and to the point
Brevity is a public relations practitioner’s best friend when pitching stories to content producers, whether they’re a journalist or a blogger. Time is a precious commodity and most people aren’t going to be inclined to read a long pitch email or press release. A news brief is a good example of how a pitch email should be. In my previous post I elaborated on how to utilize the inverted pyramid when crafting a news brief or hard news. After creating an interesting headline the lead should contain the essential five W’s (who, what, where, why, when) and the one H (how), all in a concise 25 words or less.
PR practitioners have more wiggle room, so addressing the reporter by name and stating why they should be interested in the story that you’re pitching should all be in the first portion of the pitch. After the lead is the nut graf, or the exposition. The lead introduces the reader to what the article is about; the nut graf explains why the reader should care and provides more information. A PR practitioner should utilize a nut graf and introduce information from most important to least important. Finally, end the pitch letter by providing contact information for a follow up if the reporter is interested in the story through interviews, or sending press releases with photos.
Again, time is a precious commodity so brevity is important while maintaining the reader’s interest. A pitch email should be between 125-250 words, similar to a news brief or hard news story. If a PR practitioner sends out a press release, the release should be around 500 words, similar to an actual news story published in a newspaper. The Associated Press told its journalists to keep their stories between 300 and 500 words; as readers increasingly view articles through their phones many of them get turned off by longer articles. It also helps cut information that isn’t important and to keep the article concise and to the point.
What else can a PR practitioner provide?
In the 2015 study by Cision it was reported that 73 percent of journalists reported that photos are their favorite asset that PR practitioners can provide them. In the digital age many readers prefer graphics, videos and photos instead of only reading text; they also prefer listicles and attention-grabbing quotes, statistics, and numbers. Journalists want all of these features in their articles and a PR practitioner should strive to provide them with this media and information if they want to have a press release or story published. Just to summarize, PR practitioners should make their pitch:
- brief and concise
- relevant to the journalist and their newspaper
How do you think a pitch letter or press release should be sent to a public relations practitioner? Should social media be used to send pitch ideas instead of emails? What makes you click on emails when you receive them? Let me know in the comments section below along with your thoughts on the article!