Pitching journalists: 5 things your competitors aren’t doing

Pitch email writer's block

I got to see a lot of pitches when I was working full-time as a tech journalist. Every morning, my inbox would be filled with a new batch of people wanting my attention — everyone from major PR companies to sole entrepreneurs launching their first product (and I’m not the only one!).

More often than not, the pitch emails would be absolutely terrible. It wasn’t just the novices that were making mistakes — even major marketing companies would churn out terrible press releases. I often wished I could reach through the computer, grab them by the shoulders, and yell, “YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!”

Instead, all I could do was hit the Archive button. And archive I did.

But all this incompetence is great news for you: with just a little bit of work, your pitch emails will be better than 95 percent of the competition.

If you want to drastically increase the effectiveness of your press emails, here are five things you should be doing.

1. Having a purpose

Before you send an email to a journalist, stop and ask yourself: “Why am I sending this e-mail at this point in time?”

If you don’t have a good answer to this question, do not send the email.

The mere fact that your product exists is not enough to make it appealing to journalists. An article needs to be about something — that’s what makes it different from a press release. If you want to have an article written about your product, you need to figure out your angle.

Sometimes figuring out your purpose is easy, like when you’re releasing a new product. The reason why you’re emailing journalists at this point in time is because your product is about to be released.

If your product is already on the market, it can be a little more difficult to figure out your purpose. Major app updates are a great time to contact journalists, of course. But also pay attention to popular trends and see if your product relates to any timely events.

Just remember: the fact that you exist isn’t news. Figure out your pitch email’s purpose, and you’ll get a much higher response rate.

2. Giving value to the receiver

It’s important to give some sort of value to a journalist if you want the highest possible chance of being written about. Often, this can be early access to the product, an exclusive interview, or some unique bit of information that will allow their story to be better than the competition.

Having an exclusive scoop on an upcoming app or service can be invaluable to journalists. Often, their story will be just one of many, and having some exclusive bit of information will result in a better article and thus more attention.

Pick your favorite publications and offer them some sort of exclusive information that no one else has.

3. Setting specific availability and an embargo date

If you don’t know when your app or product is going to launch, you shouldn’t be talking to journalists yet. With rare occasion, there’s nothing more useless than the phrase “launching sometime next summer.” It doesn’t give journalists any hard and fast information, and doesn’t give your potential users any tangible date to put in their calendars.

Additionally, you should set a news embargo date, which is where you ask publications not to divulge details about your app or product until a certain date and time. Publications like embargo dates because they know that another website won’t be able to break the news first.

An embargo date will also turn your launch into an event, thus greatly increasing your number of new users. A user might sign up if they see one article about your app or service, but they’ll definitely sign up if they see articles on all their favorite blogs and mentions flooding their Twitter streams.

4. Adding a personal touch

Think of a pitch email like you would a cover letter. You don’t want to just mechanically hit all the important talking points — you also want to have some personality. If I got a pitch that was obviously forwarded to a hundred other people, I was immediately a lot less interested in the product. It’s just so impersonal.

It may sound obvious, but you have to remember that journalists are human beings. Read some of their articles and share your own thoughts with them on Twitter. Find some shared interests and complement their work. It might sound cheesy, but it goes a long way.

If the journalist is writing about products like what you’ve built, there’s a good chance you have a lot in common. Treat them like a human, and you’ll have a much higher response rate.

5. Telling your story

Just like when you’re pitching to investors, your product’s story is almost as important as the product itself. Your pitch email shouldn’t just be about your product and its benefits — share your inspiration for creating the product and how it came into being.

It may feel awkward to talking about yourself when you want the focus to be on your product, but sharing your story is an important part of making a lasting impression. As Chip and Dan Heath share in their book Made to Stick, facts are important, but stories get remembered. Telling the story behind your product will makes you instantly relatable and will greatly increase your email’s response rate.

Ready to improve your pitch emails?

Grab an excerpt from my upcoming book Turning Emails Into Press: Getting and Keeping Journalists’ Attention and get five real email case studies as a bonus.

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