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Companies can solve different tasks through media publications: increasing recognition, attracting new users, finding partners or investors, strengthening their founder’s personal brand and so on. But writing a story is only half the job: You should pitch news or columns to journalists so that they want to publish them. According to one study, journalists respond to 3.3% of pitches they receive. So, how can an entrepreneur make an editorial board interested? Here are a few tips:
Put yourself in their shoes
Treat journalists like regular people. I encountered situations where companies or agencies expected editors to respond to emails on the same day or asked correspondents for editorial plans. Some even ended their pitches by saying, “If you don’t answer me within 24 hours, I’ll send the topic to another media outlet.” Establishing benevolent relations with editorial staff with such an approach is impossible.
It is important to understand that journalists receive dozens, sometimes hundreds of requests daily. According to Fractl research, 46.5% of journalists receive at least 11 pitches per day, and 28.6% receive more than 26 pitches per day. The Financial Times, for example, gets 300-400 columns a week, so it is physically impossible for their editors to respond to every letter individually. That said, they don’t need to write about you while you aim to appear in the newspaper as an expert.
Try to imagine yourself in the shoes of the person you are writing to. If you are an editor of a magazine you are interested in, which of the hundreds of letters are you likely to open? It is also helpful to read articles on topics relevant to you and analyze why they were published. What attracted the editor’s attention? What can your company do to enthuse them? Why would they accept the article you are preparing, and why might they reject it? Thinking this way will help you choose both a topic and a way to pitch it.
Usually, newspapers themselves prompt writers about what might interest them. Entrepreneur, The New York Times, Business Insider and many other prominent business websites have guides for writers. So, I advise looking for instructions before researching topics and preparing your column.
5 Ways to Get a Journalist to Respond to Your Pitch
Think of your PR as a Rubik’s cube
A Rubik’s cube has many sides of different colors — just like your business. If your side of the cube looks red to you, it might be green to your investors, blue to your customers, yellow to your employees and so on.
For example: If your product is a marketplace, your partners will be interested in what features you have to promote their goods, how profitable and secure the transactions are and whether you can outsource fulfillment and delivery. On the other side are users: They will pay attention to the breadth of choice, how sellers are checked for counterfeit goods and when the support service is available. And potential investors will be willing to know about product-market fit, market volume, competition, financial performance and your team’s experience. So, if you want to publish an article in a media outlet, first think about who should read it and which side of the Rubik’s cube you will show them.
You can also apply this principle to communicating with different editorial boards. Some editors will be interested in your product from a technological point of view, and others will be interested in how your business has scaled, how you hired a team or your marketing promotion strategies. Before pitching to an editor, look closely at materials that have already appeared on the media website. The topic you propose should fall within the sphere of interest of the media outlet, but it should not be too hackneyed.
Here is an example from my experience: A client of my agency prepared a study on cybersecurity. We wanted to promote it in the UAE, a market of particular interest to the company, but we focused on the Middle East when preparing the news publication. As a result, local media outlets weren’t interested in the news because it covered too much of the region. We had to rewrite the article focusing on the Emirates for it to be picked up.
Follow the format of the media outlet
If you send your article without a headline, a lead or subsections, even visually the text will look informal. Instead, it’s worth examining how articles look on the website beforehand and adding the appropriate design to your column or piece of news. In this case, the editor will at least see that you understand the format of a newspaper and will be more likely to read the material.
Sometimes editors ask for articles without formatting, but even then, it is crucial to divide them into paragraphs rather than sending them as a single text. Equally important is how the letter is written and laid out. You should consider differences in mentality, be mindful of weekends and holidays, and of course, be polite. In the headline, I recommend stating the subject at once so that the journalist can catch a glimpse of the letter while looking through their inbox. Sometimes journalists advise writers when and how to pitch their topics. Below are tips from StartupToEnterprise founder, Linda Ashok, as an example:
“I prefer pitches via email. I do not respond if I’m not going to cover the story you pitch me. If emailing, my ideal email length is 2-3 sentences and I would prefer not to receive follow-up emails. I always check newswires for new story ideas. 1. Name (please do not misrepresent yourself) 2. Company 3. 2. Line Pitch 4. Wait for Response.”
The 5 Foolproof Steps to Pitching Your Story to the Media
Remember that there will be no second chance to leave the first impression
Often clients insist on sending the letter quickly, even if it is not yet perfected. It’s better to spend a little more time but finish the material, especially if it’s your first time pitching a topic to a media outlet. After all, if you leave a wrong impression of yourself, it will be harder for you to interest an editor next time. Some correspondents block entire domains after receiving irrelevant letters from agencies. Sometimes they can do this after two unsuccessful pitches.
Other times, companies do an automated mailing to dozens of media outlets. As a result, instead of personalized messages, journalists receive emails with “Hi, Name” or “Hi, First Name” in the title. Occasionally, you can see all recipients’ email addresses in such newsletters because the company or agency forgot to hide them. There’s a good chance that the sender will be blocked immediately after such an email.
Another common mistake is not considering the relevance of your material. For example, correspondents of business news websites regularly receive pitches tied to the end of the year in September and even in August.
And the surest way to get blocked is to lie to a reporter once. Sometimes entrepreneurs try to embellish their accomplishments and their business’s financial performance by calling GMV revenue or expected revenue — actual revenue. As with investors, this will lead to harmful consequences — in all likelihood, media staff will no longer consider your news and columns.
You may think that the media outlet is not that relevant and that one case like this solves nothing. But remember, journalists often change jobs and share stories of lousy pitching with colleagues and in the public space. When a niche journalist becomes a correspondent at The Washington Post, you won’t be able to write to them anymore because you let them down once.
Believe in your idea
Finally, always send a letter with a positive vibe and the belief that you have a worthwhile product and useful experience. Clients often tell me that they have nothing to write about. Still, any entrepreneur goes through an exciting journey — finding their niche, creating an MVP, learning how to manage a team and delegate, promoting the product and adapting it according to customer feedback, raising funding rounds and scaling into new regions. Your personal experience and unique ideas will interest journalists if you talk about them in detail and honestly.
The Secrets to Getting Journalists to Notice Your Pitch
Are you having trouble getting effective media coverage? If so, put yourself in their shoes, think about what the publication’s interests are, follow the outlets’ format as best as you can, try to leave a great first impression, and believe in your idea. Utilizing these tips will put you on your way to making journalists friends of your brand.
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