You don’t get it. You pick up the paper, and there’s an article on a business that you might have a passing interest in, and you think, “Why them? Why not me? My company is so much more interesting than this firm specializing in inventory management software.”
You could be right, but even so, your outreach to the paper over the years has consistently had the same result as those amorous emails to Elle Macpherson so many years ago. Zippo response.
Chances are, you could be making one (or more) of the following pitching mistakes.
1. Wrong publication
Make sure the outlet you want ink from actually covers your line of business or of firms within your geography. You may be beyond its geographic footprint or outside its editorial focus. When our clients tell us they want to be on the TODAY Show, in Time magazine or the L.A. Times, our first thought is typically to wonder if they are paying attention to the kinds of stories such outlets cover.
2. Wrong reporter
Even if you get the publication right, you might be communicating with the wrong reporter or editor, and while many journalists may forward your email to the right desk (assuming the right desk is even obvious), more times than not, they’ll read your subject line or first sentence and realize you’ve failed to do your homework and have succeeded only in clogging up their inbox. While there are expensive databases that can help you target reporters, you could narrow the field by doing some online research, or even better, by calling the outlet directly. But never blast the newsroom with your pitch. That’ll get you nowhere.
3. Where’s the news?
Many organizations have trouble seeing the forest from the proverbial trees, and as a result, they struggle to identify what exactly about their company is newsworthy. Here’s a tip: it’s not that you just celebrated your 20th anniversary or set a 3Q revenue record. You need to ask yourself what problems you are solving, and why you are doing it differently than others. Perhaps you are part of a growing trend or just one part of a bigger story. We asked a new client once what it was about them that made them different from their competitors, and they said, “We tell the truth.” Well, that very well may be true, but it’s not the kind of storyline that is likely to generate news. (Headline: Company Tells Truth; Quarterly Sales Up 4%.)
4. Too self-promotional
If all you want to do is brag about yourself, take out an ad. It’s the best and most direct way to turn the volume up on all your greatness, and the paper would love the revenue. But if you want the third-party validation that comes with earned media, you’ll need to frame your story in the context of news, and even in that context, you’ll want to tone down the superlatives and the sound of you patting yourself on your back. (And by the way, just because you did take out an ad, that won’t make reporters any more receptive to your pitch.)
5. Just too, too much
Sometimes, it’s not a matter of being too promotional, but just too much of everything. You throw the kitchen sink into the pitch, hoping that one thing or another will hit the right note with the reporter. By and large, however, reporters are not going to spend the time trying to discern newsworthy elements from your Moby Dick of a pitch, even if they’re writing a story on OCD. Your pitch needs a compelling email subject line and a to-the-point introduction that lays out succinctly the story that you think should be told.
6. Try English
Here’s a good idea: Try communicating in words that the average person would understand. Too many pitches rely on industry jargon, acronyms and obscure technical references that only folks in a particular industry could translate. Pretend as if you are pitching your grandmother in a way that seeks to pique her interest. That, of course, assumes Gramma is not a NASA engineer. (Speaking of inside jargon, Steve Martin makes the point with his plumber story, if you’ve never heard it.)
7. Bad timing
Even if your pitch is solid, you might run into some bad luck. The outlet may have just run a story on one of your competitors, and so it would not be inclined to cover the topic again, at least for a while. Your timing also could be off if you are sending out news that appears dated. If you launched a new product six months ago, the publication will rightly assume that others have already written about it, and even if they haven’t, you’ll want to come at the pitch from another angle. And speaking of bad timing, it’s best not to send pitches late in the day when reporters are on deadline.
8. Too vague
If you want to see how fast you can get your email deleted from a reporter’s inbox, try something along the lines of, “Hey, reporter, you need to write an article on my company.” Or, “What does it take to get some coverage from you guys?” Or the ever popular, “Have I got a story for you. Call me.” Don’t waste your time not getting to the point.
Remember when Jerry and George were pitching their idea for a show about nothing, and the NBC executive asked, “Why would anyone watch it?” Ask yourself a question along the same lines: Why would anyone care? Seek to showcase some unusual or unique aspect of your company. Take a step back to identify larger trends. Perhaps your pitch should concentrate on a broader industry where you are not the focus of the story but only a smaller piece. And, of course, it’s a good idea to tie your pitch to a local angle or an angle that would be of interest to the outlet.
Think of your pitch the same way you’d look at your resume. A resume filled with typos and grammatical errors will not make it very far, and neither will a pitch. Make sure it’s buttoned up, not just in presentation but factually as well. The best way to get your pitch taken seriously is to present it in the most professional way possible.