The Anatomy of the Perfect Pitch

March 7th, 2012 | Shonali Burke | 73 Comments

making the perfect pitchThat’s a teaser, of course.

Because there is no such thing as the “perfect pitch.”

There are terrible pitches, there are so-so pitches, and there are very good pitches.

But to me, a perfect pitch would be one that secured every single story it was aiming for. And as far as I know, no one holds that record.

You can, however, write a very good pitch. I’d like to think that I’ve written (or spoken) my fair share of them, though I still didn’t get every single hit I wanted (or the client wanted). Oh well. That’s just how it goes.

But if you’re aiming for the “very good” pitch, read on. And while this is written in the context of media/blogger relations, I believe these elements apply to practically anything and anyone you’re pitching.

Seven elements of the almost-perfect pitch

Imagine you’re the publisher of the most popular, highly-trafficked, blog in the world, that focuses on ___ (this is your topic area). Now, seeing as how you’re the most popular blog in the world on ____, you get hundreds of emails a day pitching you stories.

Which are the ones you read? Assuming, of course, they’re not one of the 15 reasons your PR pitches suck?

1. The ones that have a succinct subject line.

Save the uber-creative headlines for your actual news releases (if you’re still using them). For me, what works, and what I’ve seen work, is to be to the point, and say exactly what you’re looking for/the email contains.

For example: “Pitch: _____ .”

See? No ambiguity there. Put in your client’s/campaign name or the gist of the pitch and then get to it.

2. The ones that are honest.

I can’t stand pitches from PR agencies/consultants (being the latter myself) that purport to be the client. I’ve seen many PR pros represent themselves as the client, which is silly, because if your client is So And So Non Profit, why would it have an [a] PR Agency Name email address?

For a profession that is still plagued with the “spin” moniker, it is just silly to do this. Be upfront. Say it’s your client (if it is), and say what the campaign is about. Don’t engage in a smoke and mirror show.

3. The ones that demonstrate research.

Any PR pro worth her salt will tell you they spend hours and hours and hours building their pitch lists. You might have access to a media (that includes bloggers these days) database, or you might only have access to search engines.

Whatever the tools, once you build your list, go through each and every outlet on it. Read it. See if they have written similar stories, or have a strong interest in the topic you’re working on.

If they do, then lead with a reference to that. For example, “As I was reading <name of blog post> on <subject>, it occurred to me that <client/campaign name> might interest you.” And explain a little more as to why, but not in more than a couple of sentences, if that.

If they don’t, but you still think they are a good fit, ask them straight out: “Would you be interested in <client/campaign> that <explain more>…?” Tie in how the campaign/story will be of interest to their target audience because remember, it’s all about them, not you/your client.

4. The ones that make the ask very clear.

If there is a specific call to action you hope will be included in the story, be clear about it; to this day, I’ve never had any media or bloggers call me out for doing so.

On the other hand, I don’t demand anything, so …

When I was pitching Oxfam America’s International Women’s Day campaign, for example (it’s tomorrow, by the way, have you gotten your eCards/eAwards ready?), I was clear about what we hoped for: for folks to send the eCards and/or give out the eAwards (and see, that’s twice in this bullet point… I’m driving the point home!).

What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll say no. But at least you’ve made the ask clear.

5. The ones that don’t have attachments.

‘Nuff said.

6. The ones that are spelled correctly.

Also ’nuff said.

7. The ones that begin and end politely.

Again… boy, this ’nuff said business is getting boring! Seriously, though, I never heard of politeness killing anyone. Kindness, maybe, but politeness? Nah.

In fact, regardless of whether I know the “pitchees” well or not, I always sign off by saying “thank you,” or “thank you in advance for your consideration,” or something like that.

Just when you think you’re done…

Your work is just beginning. Because please don’t think that simply because you wrote a great pitch, it will work. Often, it won’t, but we can get into that in a later post.

But at least it helps to open the door.

Image: Jason Alley via Flickr, CC 2.0

What about you? What do you think make up a great pitch, if you’ve either written or received them… or both? Have I left any elements out? Any success stories you’d care to share? I’d love to hear!

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Shonali Burke
Head honcho of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke is President & CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, she loves helping for- and non-profit clients, both small and large, turn corporate codswallop into community cool™. She also loves ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

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70 comments
shonali
shonali

@jess_aspring Was it helpful?

shonali
shonali

@nancyschwartz Thanks so much!

shonali
shonali

@patriceleroux @PublicityGuru Thanks much for sharing!

shonali
shonali

@MRGMichigan @HCPRpro3 @JoanCear Thank you for sharing!

shonali
shonali

@joshuapromero Thanks so much for sharing!

shonali
shonali

@joeldon Thanks for sharing!

ddesk
ddesk

Hey @shonali did you forget to mention @mynewsdesk?

annethewriter
annethewriter

Great advice!  It's reassuring to see that some things really haven't changed since I started in PR over 20 years ago. Clear, concise, upfront and honest always wins hands-down, even if you don't get the placement. You've established a positive relationship (and reinforced your reputation as a savvy PR professional) and next time around you may just have something that the blogger/reporter/editor will pick up.

Thanks Shonali!

Anne

shonali
shonali

@forthmetrics Thank so much for sharing!

Ken Mueller
Ken Mueller

Man, you ladies sure are digging a hole here....

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

All I can say is, Ken is a very smart man. Oh, and to your question about friends pitching. There has to be a division, like Erin suggests. We have to decline pitches sometimes from Spin Sucks, like when Ken sends us an idea. LOL. I let them down gently - explaining why it isn't a fit, and offering an alternative idea if I have one! As "pitchers" we can only try. Like you said in your post. We don't expect 100 percent success.

Shonali Burke Consulting
Shonali Burke Consulting

Very true. And you'd think that friends would understand... and also not send you terrible, off-topic (or slimy, Ken) pitches!

Erin Feldman
Erin Feldman

The friend/like question is a hard one. I like to tell people when they pitch me or ask me to edit their work that I'm no longer functioning as a "friend." I've been asked to play the part of curator and editor, and those two functions override the friend one. I try to be nicer when I have a relationship with the person, but I'm not entirely joking when I say my friends should fear the red pen.

Ken Mueller
Ken Mueller

that is an interesting point, but no, not trying to curry favor (mmmmm. curry). But it was a great pitch, mostly because of her wording, and that it was sent after I'd already agreed to participate. And for me, if a friend pitches me, for the most part I'll follow thru unless a) i don't think the content fits me or my beliefs, and b) the pitch is really slimy

Shonali Burke Consulting
Shonali Burke Consulting

Ken are you just trying to curry favor with Lisa? That raises another interesting point, though - maybe another post - if you like someone, would you turn down their pitch even if it was rubbish?

Shonali Burke Consulting
Shonali Burke Consulting

Exactly, Erin - in terms of being more likely to pay attention to it. I mean, that's really what we need with that first pitch, isn't it? And how cool that my guidelines helped you - awesome!

JGarant
JGarant

Agree with @HowieSPM ... this is a great framework @Shonali .  I also like @ginidietrich 's eighth tip - keep it concise and to the point. People (and that includes journalists and bloggers) are busy and don't have time to read through a thesis for the call to action. Also, (and this one seems so basic), address it to the right individual! I've had a few pitches/releases come across in my (brief) time not even addressed to me. Safe to say they went straight to the trash can.

 

Thanks for sharing Shonali - when will Part 2 be coming to follow on from 'Just when you think you're done...'?

 

Looking forward to it!

shonali
shonali

@jgarant Thanks, Jamie! Is it early on Friday for you?

_AlexisAbel
_AlexisAbel

@tressalynne @shonali Ooh... a must read!

shonali
shonali

@prsaorlando Thanks so much for sharing and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone next week!

shonali
shonali

@jasculcaterman Thanks so much for sharing.

shonali
shonali

@coledouglas7 @martinwaxman Thanks so much for sharing my post!

shonali
shonali

@pasmithjr I can't remember if I already thanked you (urk), but if not, thank you!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

And please, don't make them long. If I have to read something that goes on and on, well, I won't. Tell me what you need. If I need more information, I'll ask for it. Or include more information in a single link (like you did with Oxfam) instead of spelling it all out in the email. Don't make me work hard to write a blog post for you. Make it as easy as possible.

 

But, if you don't read my blog and just assume I'm going to write anything PR-related, that's the fastest way to the trash can. 

BeckyGaylord
BeckyGaylord

@planetdamage Thanks for the RT and looking forward to working with you!

shonali
shonali

@beckygaylord Thank you! And @rachaelseda too!

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

Aww I love it, this is a great post to jog anyone's memory before they dive into pitching anyone or anything! Like you said, keeping it clear and getting to the point is important. We are all busy, we don't want to wait until the bottom of an email to figure out what the "ask" is. Doing your research and being able to tie in something about the person your pitching is important too, it makes the person realize that they aren't being sent a mass email, someone actually did some leg work before contacting them. I think I'm just reiterating what you already said now sooooo....shall I just say, excellent post my dear! 

Jess_AsPRing
Jess_AsPRing

@shonali VERY helpful, succinct and straightforward. Great tips.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

 @annethewriter Exactly. And smart pros also go out of their way to help reporters/editors/bloggers even if they're NOT pitching a client/their organization... for example, if they hear they are looking for a source, even if they're not the right source, why not point them to someone who might be?

Latest blog post: Gobhi Curry

Shonali
Shonali moderator

 @JGarant I was thinking about Part 2! I'm not quite sure what angle to take, though... this post focused on the email pitch, so I was thinking of all the different mediums one can use to pitch. Still thinking about it, though...

And OMG, YES to addressing it to the right person, and to not make it generic either. I mean, how does "Dear Blogger" make you feel, eh?  @HowieSPM  @ginidietrich 

Latest blog post: Gobhi Curry

JGarant
JGarant

@shonali very welcome Shonali, & thanks for sharing Future Hipsters! Yep, it's Friday AM here. How's your week going?

tressalynne
tressalynne

@_AlexisAbel Most definitely! Best part is @shonali does it quick & concise :)

Shonali
Shonali moderator

 @ginidietrich Amen. Make it easy. That's something pretty much everyone should be able to understand, right? 

Shonali
Shonali moderator

 @rachaelseda You can say anything you want... because it's you!

I can't STAND the mass emails. The media database firms have taken a lot of punches because people use them like confetti, but it's not their fault - it's their users' fault.

shonali
shonali

@jess_aspring Thank you!

ddesk
ddesk

@shonali Hm....couldn't see that. Just curious.

annethewriter
annethewriter

 @Shonali Absolutely! If you know your industry you can be a very valuable source and it doesn't go unnoticed if you do it selflessly once in a while.

PRoverCoffee
PRoverCoffee

 @Shonali Don't you think the media databases are so 20th century? Yes, they are trying to keep up to speed with the changes in technology and communication habits but at the end of the day they are tied to an antiquated model of hoarding data and charging a premium for access. Information on the who, how, what, when of pitching reporters will eventually be liberated for all to use. The playing field is leveling slowly but surely...

shonali
shonali

@Jess_AsPRing My pleasure!

Jess_AsPRing
Jess_AsPRing

@shonali Oh great! I'm going to take a look right now! Thanks for everything!

shonali
shonali

@jess_aspring I would LOVE to have you guest post for me, go for it! See the guidelines on WUL & send something in!

Jess_AsPRing
Jess_AsPRing

@shonali If you're ever open to a newbie guest posting about entry level, or you could do a guest post for me, it would be AMAZING

Shonali
Shonali moderator

 @CourtV  You're totally right. I think a lot of pros almost freeze with terror when they think of pitching the media/bloggers - I've been through that myself. Relaxing - not to the point of being rude, of course - can be really helpful! 

CourtV
CourtV

Thanks for the @traackr mention, @Shonali ! Also have to say this is a great post - I'm really enjoying the discussions going on. In addition to all the points mentioned on here, I also find it helpful personally to just remember media contacts are people and if you treat them as such, they'll usually do the same in return. I know it sounds silly, but sometimes I feel like pitching puts you in a different mindset and interactions can be much more dry and unpleasant on both ends. 

Shonali
Shonali moderator

 @PRoverCoffee What's wrong with the 20th century? I was born in it... :p

Joking aside, I completely see what you're saying. Yes, if one is depending on old-fashioned paper media directories, I think that's a problem, because they are pretty much out of date as soon as they're printed. I was referring to online databases, such as @vocus , @cision  and so on. I do find them very useful still, and while they do charge for access, if I have to build a list, I always use one of those databases in addition to my own research and other services such as @traackr  as well as others. My approach is that I'd rather start with a really big list, and then narrow it down to be as targeted as possible (which also takes time, as you know). But I don't want to feel that I've left someone out, so I'd rather start wide & go narrow.

Latest blog post: Gobhi Curry

Trackbacks

  1. [...] subject line that doesn’t sound sales-y and gets to the point is best here. One article, The Anatomy of the Perfect Pitch, even goes as far as saying that the best subject line is as as simple as “Pitch: [...]

  2. [...] tip: I can’t stress this enough. Even if you have done a ton of research, you should write a really good pitch that is personalized to the recipient. Do not send blanket pitches. Do not send press releases. Do [...]

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