The Do’s and Don’ts of Pitching for Media Coverage and Publicity
The first time I pitched myself for a media opportunity, I had no idea what I was doing. I rambled on and on, and I’m not sure the recipient had any idea what I was asking to do for them.
I wasn’t a public relations or communications major (hello to all my fellow Political Science majors out there not doing anything with their degree!), so no one ever taught me how to pitch. And, in fact, I’ve met many PR and communications majors who still weren’t ever taught how to pitch — at least not how to pitch themselves.
After spending the last decade pitching myself — and landing contributing roles at Forbes and Fast Company, a weekly TV segment, hundreds of radio interviews, and even a job at ESPN — I’ve used the trial and error method (which I don’t recommend) to discover some great do’s and don’ts I want to share with you so that you can avoid falling on your face and looking like a fool. Not that I know what that feels like or anything! *hits delete on embarrassing emails in Sent folder*
Consume the outlet: The easiest outlets to pitch are the ones you already consume. Whether it’s a blog, magazine, podcast or TV show, it’s important to understand the outlet before you draft your pitch. Who is the demographic? What do they care about? What angles have already been covered for your topic?
The first time I pitched Woman’s Day, I pitched an idea about how to use Twitter for professional development. I knew they covered professional development topics, and I was excited when I did my research and discovered they’d never covered Twitter previously.
As it turns out, that was a bad sign. They’d never covered Twitter because their demographic was older than I realized (and much older than me, meaning I didn’t read the magazine) and hadn’t embraced that particular social media network. I would have been far better off pitching something on LinkedIn.
Sometimes your pitch is so off that you annoy the editor because you clearly haven’t done any research before pitching. You do not want to burn bridges, because people move to other outlets. It will come back to haunt you. So, do your research.
Propose a specific topic or idea
Credential yourself: Why are you the person who should be writing this piece? What about your background or experience qualifies you? It doesn’t have to be a degree or anything formal. Maybe you’re an expert on ADHD misdiagnosis because your own child was misdiagnosed. You don’t have to be the doctor who wrote the study to have valuable information to share — all you need is personal experience.
Clearly state the value: There is perhaps no more important puzzle piece when it comes to your pitch than clearly stating what the audience will walk away having gained. This is true whether you’re pitching a guest blog, a speech or any other kind of publicity opportunity. Don’t assume the reader will figure it out — spell it out for them. Virtually every pitch I write has a line near the end that begins, “Your audience will walk away knowing how to…” or “Your audience will walk away inspired to…”
Regardless of the medium you’re pitching, every gatekeeper’s #1 job is to provide value for their audience. So, make it clear how you’re going to do that if you’re allowed to get in front of that audience.
Make the ask: One of the tricks I was taught along the way is to “make the ask” — in other words, ask the reader of your pitch to take the next step. When I pitch someone for a guest blog, I will generally end with a line like this: “Please let me know if I can get started on a draft of this piece.”
When I was first given this advice, I honestly thought it was a little pointless. The reader knew I was pitching for a guest blog because I’d already said earlier in my pitch, “I’d like to write a guest blog entitled…”
However, I decided to test this advice out. And guess what? My acceptance rates noticeably increased! Sometimes people just need that nudge to respond to you with that next step.
Pitch something off-topic: There’s a fine line between pitching a unique angle and pitching something completely off-topic. You want to pitch something the outlet has never covered, but not something they would never cover. Make sense?
Here’s an example. If an outlet primarily covers online marketing, feel free to pitch a piece on an email marketing strategy you haven’t previously seen anyone else discuss on the site. However, don’t pitch a piece on a strategy that involves door-to-door marketing.
Spell the recipient’s name wrong: While it might seem minor, editors, producers and other gatekeepers can receive a voluminous amount of pitches. They’re looking for any reason to skim past your pitch and continue to clean out their inbox. Don’t get on their bad side by showing you couldn’t even take the time to get their name right.
Propose too many ideas at once: This is one I see quite frequently. You want them to say yes so badly that you throw everything (including the kitchen sink) at them. Pitch a max of two ideas at a time — I would focus on one idea and provide another as a backup, if you feel so compelled. Personally, I prefer to pitch one idea, get feedback and then come back with another idea once I have more information.
Write a novel: I’ll be the first to admit that my pitches are on the longer side. However, I’ve found a format that works for me (and for my clients). The key is to get to the point. You don’t need to map out every aspect of your proposed topic — hit the most compelling highlights. Use bullets to break up text. And, most importantly, don’t list every degree, award and accolade you’ve received. All they need to know is what part of your experience positions you to cover this topic.
Ignore instructions: If they submission guidelines say to send a draft, do it. If it asks you to fill out a form, do it. If they’ve gone to the trouble to include instructions, follow them. No one wants to work with someone who can’t follow simple instructions, making it an easy way to get weeded out.
Follow these simple do’s and don’ts and your well on your way to the publicity you and your business deserve!
Want to learn the easiest way to pitch yourself for media coverage? Check out my free guide!