Forget all the guides to crafting a good pitch -- you'll learn more from seeing a makeover!
The picture above is of a real PR pitch drafted by my newest client, TypeEngine
This was marketing manager Debbie Lopes' first attempt at pitching Michael (not his real name), an experienced journalist who writes about micropublishing.
Between the two of us, the pitch was polished on Google Docs, but I wanted to show the Before version with my marks. The After that follows had a happy ending: Debbie submitted such a dazzling email that Michael responded.
But first, let's break down the note and see what works and what doesn't.
The subject line must make the recipient absolutely itch to open your email
'Introducing TypeEngine' is accurate but in an inbox that's probably inundated by hundreds of pitches, it doesn't quite stand out.
Some ways to get your note noticed: Use the journalist's name. Ask a question (the brain is hard-wired to answer stuff with a question mark). Make the first few words compelling as these are the ones that show up in the preview.
Don't use Free!, Open Now or use ALL CAPS TO TELL THEM TO OPEN IT. Sounding like a ShamWow infomercial will quickly get you deleted, or spam filters will get your email sent to the junk folder.
There are lots of resources on the art and science of subject lines, such as Marketing Sherpa
A pitch should be personal, not a total cut-and-paste job
You're not expected to write a completely original pitch for each journalist, but it's extremely poor form to send a generic one.
At the very least read the writer's work, which is the reason you're contacting him or her in the first place. Refer to his or her beat, past articles and industry news that are relevant and interesting.
In this case, Debbie mentioned Michael's article. Two thumbs up.
If you're thinking of peppering a canned note with the journalist's name, be careful with mail merge.
It has happened that there were just quotation marks where a journalist's name should be because the First Name field wasn't filled properly. Or horror of horrors, someone else's name was there. Be maniacal when cleaning your database.
Avoid saying 'I' in the first paragraph
A pitch is about the recipient, not about you.
Refrain from using 'I', at least in the first paragraph. If you can do it for the entire pitch, even better.
'Even if I'm just expressing my opinion?' you may be asking. Yes, even if it expresses your opinion. In fact, reserve your opinion unless it makes complete sense in the pitch. Usually it isn't relevant.
The golden rule is: Put 'you' each time you're tempted to say 'I'. Rework the sentence if necessary.
Don't faff about -- get on with it
This is another common error: Overdoing the context to why you're pitching. The journalist knows this is a pitch. You know it's a pitch. Get on with it!
Take a sentence like 'I thought I'd let you know'.
If I'm the journalist you're pitching to, a) I don't care about your thoughts unless they are useful to me and b) I don't really need a linear, highly detailed account of your thought process that led to this email. It's boring.
Don't incorporate marketing straplines into your pitch
This is usually an unconscious habit. In Debbie's original note, she included TypeEngine's strapline -- it has to be repeated in communications for the line to be synonymous with the product.
There is one exception: Pitching.
Go through your copy and get another pair of eyes to look it over with/for you, preferably someone who's an objective observer. Is there anything that could be misconstrued as puffery?
Words like 'innovative', 'thought leader' or 'game changing' should ideally not come from your own lips. It's more effective when other people attest to your awesomeness.
Break up paragraphs to make them shorter
Consider how your email will look if viewed in a mobile device, say a smart phone.
Will it look like this overwhelming block of text? Will the reader get a sore thumb from scrolling continuously as you get to the point?
Breaking up paragraphs entices the eye to search for the next sentence. It also gives it breathing room before it jumps to the next line.
Think of it as white space needed for a work of art to be seen in all its glory. You wouldn't hang it in a cluttered room, would you?
And here's a challenge: Try and keep your pitch to one
screen. Respect your recipient's time in shoveling out his inbox everyday by communicating a clear objective and call to action without endless scrolling.
This doesn't mean being cryptic. It means stripping away all delaying tactics because let's face it: Pitching is intimidating. So we dance around the subject and get the recipient irritated.Remember to link to useful and relevant information
When you mention your company for the first time, link it to your corporate website so the journalist can do a quick scan. If you're referring to an industry event or development, link to a relevant news story that talks about it. And so on.
Don't link unless it's necessary. And don't just put an entire list of links in the body of your pitch, preceded by what you think is a provocative lead-up to it, e.g. Michael, have you seen this? Michael doesn't have the time to piece together your treasure map.
So how does a good pitch look like? Here's Debbie's final copy:Subject line: Michael, do you think micropublishing can democratize publishing?
Just read your article “Is Micropublishing the Final Nail in the Coffin for Print?” Your discussion with Ian Mackintosh about anyone becoming a publisher is particularly relevant given the platforms and resources available today. Which brings me to the next question:
Has TypeEngine come across your screen? If not, and you haven’t deleted this note yet, here’s a quick description:
TypeEngine creates magazine apps that are designed from the ground up for Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Publishers own their apps, release magazines under their own names and get subscription fees paid directly to them from Apple. TypeEngine will also submit apps for Apple’s approval on behalf of publishers, removing an important barrier to entry for independent publishers.
We have signed up 13 launch partners that were announced last week as TypeEngine beta testers. Publishers are located in the US, Thailand, Australia and Brazil. Their magazines will be launched when TypeEngine rolls out in Q2.
The Smyth Group, which is creating TypeEngine, is based out of Seattle, Washington. If you would be interested in talking to the founders, Jamie Smyth and Daniel Genser, I can arrange a meeting between you. Alternatively I can also provide more information.
Thanks Debbie Lopes
Was the pitch good enough? Michael responded with this note below:Hi Debbie, great pitch, by the way. For a journalist, familiarity
(even just a little bit of it) with his work, or his publication,
breeds just the opposite of contempt.
I guess a couple of questions first, and I guess my first question is,
what's the input? If it's not HTML5, then probably there's a lot of
additional work at the publisher's end to get content into the app.
Then I guess there's the question of how it interacts with CMSes (or
K4 -- at which point in the production process does the tablet content
typically get spun off?)
Which is exactly the response Debbie wanted. Hopefully this case study inspires or helps you make better and more effective pitches.