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Trying to get free publicity for your business by pitching your story to journalists can be extremely tough and drive you nuts.

For any small business owner or a solo entrepreneur getting a journalist to write about you can feel like you’re trying to climb Mount Everest carrying a fridge on your back.

But it’s not impossible. And it can be worth the effort for that elusive free publicity.

Journalists receive dozens of emails every day from business owners and entrepreneurs pitching their story to them.

Sending a pitch to a journalist for many people is scary and makes them feel exposed to criticism or rejection.

To help, here are some inside tips from journalists themselves on what works and doesn’t work.

Reasons why journalists delete email pitches

Here are some of the reasons that journalists gave for deleting pitch emails – as revealed in a Buzzsumo post.

Pitches that are impossible to understand with too many buzzwords.

Anthony Ha, Techcrunch

A PR pitch is an elevator pitch. Make it lean and impactful.

Jason Abbruzzese, Mashable

Pitches that aren’t sent to me get binned and buzzwords are the real killer.

Paul Sawers TheNextWeb

How do you avoid  your pitch getting deleted

Caryn Marooney, the Head of Communications for Facebook, uses what she calls the RIBS test

Relevant

Do your research and only send your pitch to journalists who write about your industry, about your products, and who might be interested in the problem you are solving. Make the hook or story relevant to them.

Add a sentence in your email referencing a previous article, why you liked it or agreed or disagreed with it. Or show that you understand what subjects they normally cover.

Don’t spray and hope. Blasting out the same email to every journalist you can find is a waste of time.

Inevitable

It helps if you’re seen as being part of an irresistible movement.

Believable

Journalists want to uncover the next big thing and so the more you can convince them that you’re likely to succeed the better. A journalist doesn’t want to cover one of the 80% of new businesses that fail in the first 18 months. The more social proof of your success you can give them the better. That is why you often see news stories include the numbers of customers, the funding received, or whether they are part of a larger well known organisation like a startup incubator.

Simple

Journalists are busy, busy people with tight deadlines. Make it easy for them to quickly scan your email by keeping it simple with these rules:

  • Short
    Keep your email short and sweet with less than 100 to 200 words.
  • Avoid Buzzwords
    Don’t use buzzwords. Think of it like your explaining it to your partner or a friend at a bar.
  • Easy to read
    Make it as easy as possible for the journalist. You might only have one minute to get their attention before they are onto the next email and thinking about the next deadline.

Distil your message down into one sentence that you want the journalist to remember.

If you’re still unsure, Kira Newman is a journalist with TechCocktail and has some excellent tips for people looking to pitch to journalists.

Here is Kira’s checklist for pitching your story to journalists:

pitch your storyPR pitch checklist

  1. Identify and segment your list of journalists. Try to build a connection with the journalist first, reach out to them with your knowledge and expertise. Taylor Aldredge, from Grasshopper has some excellent tips on how to connect with journalists in this post
  2. Timing – give journalists some advance notice. Don’t leave it to the 12th hour. If working on a launch, try pitching up to a week before the launch
  3. Send the emails from your own email account
  4. Email subject line – aim to grab the journalist’s attention with an interesting article title and don’t capitalize every word
  5. Don’t copy and paste – personalize the email and make relevant
  6. Keep email short – aim for 100 to 200 words, if you must include a press release, link to it rather than pasting it into the email
  7. Tell a story – make the hook relevant to the journalist. Stories that grab readers and are to going to be shared are more likely to be covered

Not every product is “sexy” but everyone has a story.

Kira @KiraMNewman

  1. Use simple informal language
  2. Use bullet points
  3. Provide social proof. Demonstrate to the journalist your credibility by mentioning things like funding, the number of users or downloads, any associations with larger well known organisations, or if you’re a startup and you’ve been through an accelerator
  4. Avoid Buzzwords
  5. Provide contact details
  6. Respond quickly to any journalist that requests more information, screenshots, etc
  7. Follow up selectively – don’t take it personally if you don’t hear back from a journalist. You should only follow up when there is a high chance that the reporter didn’t actually read your email. Most times when you don’t receive a reply, the journalist has read it, but decided not to cover it. Please never pester the journalist if you don’t hear back.>

Follow this checklist and you should avoid the most common pitch mistakes. You might even hit the jackpot and get that sought after free publicity – you never know!

PR Coaching

If you’re still feel unsure and want a reporter’s perspective, try getting some 1-on-1 coaching on pitching to journalists. Help is available from Kira Newman who provides private PR coaching sessions to entrepreneurs and startups based on receiving over 10,000 pitches.

Kira’s coaching sessions cover the key elements of pitches, interviews with journalists, and brainstorming different stories to tell about your company. Plus Kira offers a money back guarantee.

What PR tips have been the most effective for you over the years?

Or if you’re a journalist, what tips do you have for everyone on making a successful pitch?

About the author

Geoff Austin

Geoff Austin

I talk and write a lot. Some of it about ecommerce, selling online, startups, SEO, digital marketing.

Currently, head of analytics for an automotive business in Sydney, facilitating a culture of data-driven decisions. Delivering data-based insights and intelligence.

Chauffeur to twin daughters and a pizza chef master.

One comment

  1. Robert Holmes

    Hey Geoff, really helpful summary and nice outlinks to Grasshopper. This is the last bastion for most of us – not the free PR but the relationship with media. We master content, we learn SEO, we formulate stories – but getting them read, getting them out there… that’s the job. Cheers. Rob

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