The Perfect Pitch

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Public relations pitches are a popular subject for journalists in the industry, often because of how poorly they can turn out. The Internet is rife with examples of good pitches (Best Pitch I Ever Got) and horrible ones (Bad Pitch Blog), and the difference between the two can be difficult to define. 

We often hear about the importance of writing an eloquent and thoughtful pitch when working in PR, but what are the key elements that go into making your outreach effective? To find out, we surveyed a number of agencies from O’Dwyer’s annual rankings of top PR firms, asking key personnel to briefly answer the question: “What is the most crucial element of a PR pitch?” 

Twenty-five top practitioners answered our call. Respondents returned again and again to the themes of timing, relevance and personalization as the hallmarks that set apart great pitches from merely good ones.

What will make yours the perfect pitch? How can you ensure that your e-mail won’t be lost in the shuffle or end up on Bad Pitch Blog as an example of what not to do? Read on for tips from our 25 respondents: 

  1. Laura Anderson, Vice President, ICR
  2. Max Borges, President, Max Borges Agency
  3. Caroline Brown, PR Specialist, Nebo Agency
  4. Dianne Carilli, Manager, Client Services, CooperKatz & Company Inc.
  5. Tina Cassidy, Executive Vice President and Chief Content Officer, InkHouse
  6. Lianna Catino, Account Manager, Merritt Group
  7. David Cumpston, Director, Landis Communications Inc. (LCI)
  8. Denise DiMeglio, Vice President, Gregory FCA
  9. Mari Escamilla, Director of Media Relations, Marketing Maven Public Relations Inc.
  10. Kimberley Fritts, CEO, Podesta Group
  11. Katie Hocker, Account Manager, Merritt Group
  12. Tyler Kizner, Senior Account Executive, Racepoint Global
  13. Jessica Klenk, Director, Merritt Group
  14. Colleen McCarthy, Senior Account Executive, Racepoint Global
  15. Julia McGavran, Account Supervisor, Merritt Group
  16. Susan Murphy, Vice President, Coyne PR
  17. Amanda Nadile, Senior Account Executive, Racepoint Global
  18. Mike Nourie, Senior Account Executive, Racepoint Global
  19. Tyler Perry, Partner and General Manager, Bateman Group
  20. John Quinn, Executive Vice President, rbb Communications
  21. Tanya Scalisi, Account Director, J Public Relations
  22. Bill Smith, Assistant Vice President, Makovsky
  23. Cortney Stapleton, Partner, Bliss Integrated Communication
  24. Jessica Tiller, Executive Vice President, Weiss PR
  25. Charles Upchurch, Senior Counselor, French | West | Vaughan

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Laura Anderson
Vice President
ICR

It may seem obvious, but a pitch must reflect the work of the reporter. Journalists deserve the respect and consideration of having their coverage well reviewed, and if you think they won’t remember a general, mass e-mailed pitch, you’ll be sorely mistaken.

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Max Borges
President
Max Borges Agency

The key is having a deep understanding of the reporter’s readers. Only then can you provide the reporter with a storyline that will resonate.

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Caroline Brown
PR Specialist
Nebo Agency

Above all else, a pitch needs to be personalized; mail merging is lazy. If you really want a response, dig deeper to tailor it to that reporter and make sure it’s relevant to them.

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Dianne Carilli
Manager, Client Services
CooperKatz & Company Inc.

The most crucial element of a PR pitch is making sure it is relevant, interesting and useful to the reporter receiving it. To successfully pitch a story, you have to research the correct reporters and send a personalized pitch that is short, to the point and clearly explains why the topic will matter to their readers.

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Tina Cassidy
Executive Vice President and Chief Content Officer
InkHouse

Always ask yourself, are these questions:
  • New?
  • Relevant?
  • Useful?
  • Interesting?
  • Impactful?
  • Novel?
  • Controversial?
  • Counterintuitive?
  • Surprising?
The pitch only needs to be one of these things to be good. [Also ask:]
  • Is it a trend—the rule of three?
  • Is it a localized angle on a national story or vice versa?
  • Is it a fresh angle on a hardy perennial (seasonal)?
  • Does it have a strong point of view?
  • Is it tied to breaking news?
And, of course, are you sending it to the right person? Never blindly send a pitch without researching the targets.

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Lianna Catino
Account Manager
Merritt Group

Customizing your pitch based on individual reporter interests will always yield the best results. Also, being able to clearly explain why your announcement is relevant within the larger industry context is key.

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David Cumpston
Director
Landis Communications Inc. (LCI)

To me, the most crucial element is to explain up front why you’re pitching the reporter that you’re pitching (meaning, why do you think they or their readers will care), and why do you think this is a story now. To put it simply, one should always ask: “Why this reporter, and why now?”

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Denise DiMeglio
Vice President
Gregory FCA

Timing. Your pitch must answer the question “why now?” That is, why should the reporter care about, explore or write about this topic today. And “because your client wants to talk about this story, sell more product, generate leads, etc. now” is not a sufficient answer. The story or topic you’re pitching must somehow tie into broader news or trends affecting the industry today. On the other side of that, be aware of current events or news that could conflict with the reporter’s ability to tell your story at the desired time, and plan accordingly.

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Mari Escamilla
Director of Media Relations
Marketing Maven Public Relations Inc.

One of the most critical components of the pitch is the hook. Always pitch media in a concise manner that incorporates your client and uses a timely hook to get optimum media exposure.

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Kimberley Fritts
CEO
Podesta Group

More important than having a slick, polished pitch is having a great story. So first and foremost, it’s understanding what’s news. But further, making sure you understand the outlet you are pitching and their audience—and ensuring your pitch is a fit for both. It’s about connecting the right story to the right storyteller.

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Katie Hocker
Account Manager
Merritt Group

The most crucial element of a PR pitch is the “why now?” Why is what you are talking about relevant in relation to the entire media landscape and trends?

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Tyler Kizner
Senior Account Executive
Racepoint Global

Keep your pitch short and informative. Only include relevant information, and don’t waste too much time explaining the story.

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Jessica Klenk
Director
Merritt Group

Any successful pitch must have the five key elements: a timely hook, a unique perspective, an expert resource, why the story matters and a call to action. But the secret weapon is the person sending it—their voice and their personality. The first thing reporters delete is a canned, generic pitch, so take the time to be authentic, personalize your note and make sure it sounds like it came from an actual human.

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Colleen McCarthy
Senior Account Executive
Racepoint Global

Don’t forget to customize. Every pitch should be customized to the specific contact you are pitching. Calling back to previous articles and interests and tying them into your call to action will help you stand out.

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Julia McGavran
Account Supervisor
Merritt Group

I’d say the most crucial part of a pitch is remembering the person on the other end is human too and to speak to them as such. It’s easy to become robotic and just copy and paste e-mails, but actually speaking to them like a human can really help break down the barriers.

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Susan Murphy
Vice President
Coyne PR

The best advice I can give for a PR pitch is to keep it short and to the point. No one, especially an editor or producer, has the time to read through a lengthy pitch. The subject line should spell out exactly what you are pitching. You need to catch their attention so that they open your e-mail in the first place. From there, you want to make sure your point is clear and concise in the first sentence or two. You can always include a press release or fact sheet with more info, but if they open your e-mail and see lots and lots of paragraphs, they’ll delete it before they even read it.

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Amanda Nadile
Senior Account Executive
Racepoint Global

Include an incentive subject line. Subject lines should be short and sweet, and the incentive should be clearly stated in order to increase open rates. Position the good stuff above the fold. Similar to not burying the lead, your call to action should always be in the first couple of sentences. The rest of the e-mail pitch can serve as background or additional context.

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Mike Nourie
Senior Account Executive
Racepoint Global

Don’t bury the lead. It’s important to make sure the theme of the story is very clear and is the first thing that the journalist reads when they open your e-mail—the product stuff can come later.

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Tyler Perry
Partner and General Manager
Bateman Group

  1. Have a clear but enticing headline. That is what is going to get reporters to open your e-mail. Be clear on what you are offering and convey some sort of a hook that makes them want to read more.
  2. Make sure it is well researched. The best pitches are ones that a reporter reads and has to take. Know what they write about, who they write about, what section they write for, the elements of their stories (human interest lead, an element of conflict, data to support), and make sure what you are pitching aligns with that.
  3. Make it short; journalists are not going to read a long pitch. If it takes you that long to explain what you are pitching, then you don’t have the right pitch. There is a good chance that they are reading it on a mobile device, so keep that in mind. You should keep it to two or three sentences and some bullets.

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John Quinn
Executive Vice President
rbb Communications

Make sure you’re telling a story and not just pushing a series of key message points or brand attributes. Those things are important, but give them context in a good story and then you’ve got a powerful pitch.

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Tanya Scalisi
Account Director
J Public Relations

The most crucial element of a PR pitch is demonstrating an understanding of the outlet and writer that you are pitching. Writers and editors are getting pitched by PR people every day. One way to make your pitch stand out is to show that you have done your research and are being very deliberate in sending a story idea their way. Read past articles by the writer and reference them in your pitch, so they know you are not blasting out information to anyone in the journalism industry. If they write for many publications, mention which outlet or specific column you see the story idea in. One of the most common pet peeves of writers I’ve worked with is that PR people pitch them ideas that aren’t relevant to their role—it will go a long way to do your research and personalize your note!

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Bill Smith
Assistant Vice President
Makovsky

It needs to be short and directly target the reporter’s beat. I asked a few journos a similar question two years back.

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Cortney Stapleton
Partner
Bliss Integrated Communication

I suppose if one had to boil it down, when you are pitching a journalist, it is important to remember it’s about the story and how your client fits in. Sometimes companies are the news, but more often they are adding commentary to the news. Journalists are excellent storytellers, so help make their job easier by understanding fully what your client wants to say and then make it interesting, to the point and relevant to the audience the journalist is writing for.

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Jessica Tiller
Executive Vice President
Weiss PR

There are several important aspects of a pitch, but I’d say most important is that it has to be appropriate for that particular reporter, editor or producer. You could have an amazing story and perfect pitch, but if it gets sent to the wrong person, it may just get deleted—quickly. So, it is always key to do your homework and figure out your best target media and reporters before blindly pitching someone who is going to throw it in the trash.

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Charles Upchurch
Senior Counselor
French | West | Vaughan

A PR pitch should communicate the prospect of value to both the media you are pitching as well as to their audience. Even if a press release is included, the pitch introducing the release should be brief, tightly written, unambiguous and clearly state the benefit, impact or utility of the news. The other aspect of this process is picking up the phone, calling your top media prospects and personally offering the story. If you can make a compelling pitch in 20 seconds, you’ll find journalists willing to listen.

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