I bet you’re wondering how you can pitch journalists to ensure your startup gets in the headlines.
Readers ask me this all the time.
And every time, I tell them the same thing:
Rethink your approach to PR.
Look, I didn’t become a public relations guru overnight. It took me years to hone my skills as an entrepreneur.
But I guarantee:
If you work hard at adopting the methods in this easy-to-follow guide, then you’ll see the results you need to get noticed!
But first, let’s talk about what doesn’t work:
I’ve seen countless marketers obsess over subject lines and salutations.
Ok, yes, those are crucial, too.
But for truly outstanding PR results you have to think about your entire content-to-pitch process.
This means looking beyond the pitch and taking SEO and virality into account during content ideation.
And I’m going to show you exactly how to do that in this definitive guide.
I will demistify the PR process and simplify it so that you can get the results you need.
And most importantly:
Instead of focusing on the pitch alone, I’m going to show you how to create content first.
And, then, figuring out how to pitch to journalists will be a breeze…
A New Approach
Traditionally, PR comes into the picture after the content has been created. Your content team pitches an idea. The marketing team approves it. And once the content is wrapped up, you call in the public relations experts to get it in the press.
But hang on.
What’s wrong with this approach?
For one, even though the PR team is supposed to be the one pitching the idea, they aren’t involved in the ideation process. They’re simply handed a finished piece of content and expected to get it published.
If you know the lean startup methodology, you can see why this doesn’t work.
First, you create a “product” (your content), and then shop it around to “customers” (press).
Did the customers actually want the product? Who knows. That’s an afterthought.
Now, here’s how to fix that:
The right way to approach PR is to reverse the entire process.
Instead of creating content and spreading it around, consider what the press wants and create your content accordingly.
And when you’re pitching a story, make sure to offer something of value before you ask for something in return.
This “backwards-first” approach is far more effective, since the stakeholders can be involved in the content creation.
Don’t launch a finished product into an untested market.
First, consider the results you want and what the press desires.
Then, create content that will deliver.
You should also consider SEO and virality in the content creation process.
You’ll do far better by creating something that will naturally attract links rather than spam others with link requests.
Ok, so now it’s time to show you exactly how to pitch journalists with a simple, step-by-step method that goes from brainstorming content ideas to pitching the press like a pro.
- A New Approach
- I. Your Goals
- II. What They Want
- III. Find Inspiration
- III. Analyze Capabilities
- Tips for Content Ideation
- Factor in SEO
- Part II – Creation
- Part III – Content Promotion
- I. Build a Brand
- II. Picking Prospects
- Targeting tips
- III. Email Addresses
- IV. Before the pitch
- V. A Stellar Pitch
- The subject line
- Email body copy
- Over to You
What’s the first step in pitching to journalists?
You guessed it: Content ideation.
This process is strategic in nature. You don’t simply look at what your competitors are doing and copy them.
Instead, develop unique ideas based on what you want from your content (shares, backlinks) and what your target publications need.
So first things first…
I. Your Goals
The first step in the ideation process is to figure out what you actually want from your content – links, shares, press mentions, new sign-ups?
This’ll impact your content and where you distribute it.
In most cases, your content goals will fit into one of these four categories:
- Relevant backlinks: In this case, you want backlinks from relevant websites. For example, you’re an SEO company who wants links from marketing blogs, not entertainment websites. Usually, these links trickle in slowly over time as others discover you and link to your content. Resource pages and tools work particularly well for such cases.
- Shares: Get as many shares and traffic as you can. To do this, create content with viral potential and distribute it on high-traffic, high-engagement blogs (think HuffPo). Instead of a slow trickle of backlinks, you might pick up a burst of backlinks quickly as other people discover your viral content. Visual, story-focused content works well for getting shares.
- Press mentions: Pick up press mentions from marquee publications and mainstream media like CNN or the New York Times. The traffic from these mentions might not be as good or as engaged as a high quality, targeted blog, but it does wonders for your brand’s perception. Founder stories, unique insight and data-backed studies do well for this.
- New users: If you want to get new people to visit your site and sign up for your service, you’ll want to deliver them something exceptionally valuable, with a promise of delivering more after they sign-up. Distribution should focus on getting published in places where your target audience currently hangs out. Thought pieces, how-to’s, and studies are useful in this situation.
Before you jump to the next section, take time to clearly define what you want from your content marketing.
Don’t just say, for example, “traffic.” Instead, write out specific goals, for example:
Get backlinks, shares, press mentions, or new clients.
II. What They Want
Great PR happens when you can create content that meets your own goals and gives journalists what they want.
Fortunately, there’s an entire study about what journalists want. I covered it in an earlier JRO post that you can catch here.
But here’s a quick rundown of what journalists want…
1. To collaborate on content
A majority of journalists in the study said that they would rather collaborate with content creators than get a finished asset.
The takeaway is clear:
Before you send a finished piece, ask for feedback and collaboration from your target journalists. Do this for at least your top three target publications–usually big names like HuffPo or TechCrunch.
2. Exclusive research
Exclusivity is a powerful lure for attracting journalists. I’ll cover this more below, but essentially, you want to give a few of your top targets exclusive first rights to your data/research if you have any.
Other content that works well?
A story that evokes emotional triggers can be a goal mine for getting publicity. For example, if you’ve created software that helps people save time, create content that inspires the audience to think about what they could do with added free time. And showing them specific examples can trigger positive emotions.
They also love…
3. Visual content
Blame it on our shrinking attention spans, but more and more journalists want to see visual assets in pitches.
Unsurprisingly, press releases and interactive content like quizzes aren’t a big hit. Widgets and badges are a big no-no.
This means that if you have a content idea, try to reframe it in the form of a visual asset.
Factor these points in when you’re brainstorming, and you’ll be a hit among journalists.
III. Find Inspiration
To figure out how to pitch journalists, you have to create compelling content.
There are three ways to go about this:
1. Borrow ideas from your competitors
Analyzing your competitors is an easy way to figure out what’s successful in your niche.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, you can see what’s already popular and recreate something similar but still unique to your brand.
My favorite tool to do this is SEMRush. SEMRush will show you what keywords a competitor is ranking for, and help you figure out the most popular content on that domain, in terms of search traffic.
To use this, enter your competitor’s domain into SEMRush. Then click on ‘Entire Menu’ in the left pane and select Organic Research > Pages.
This will show you the most successful content on the site in terms of traffic and keyword rankings:
In the above case, we see that Quicksprout’s in-depth guides do exceptionally well when it comes to ranking and traffic.
These guides don’t have viral potential, but they do get a slow trickle of backlinks from others.
If you’re in a similar niche, you can use this data to brainstorm SEO-oriented content ideas.
2. Popular press
If you want shares, mentions in publications, or traffic from your content marketing efforts, you’ll do well to see what your target publications are writing about, and then create something similar.
I like to segregate my target publication list into two tiers, so I can focus more on bigger sites:
- Top-tier: These are usually sites people would immediately recognize if they heard their names, like New York Times, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed. If you’re targeting a particular industry, these would be big industry brands, like Hubspot for inbound marketing or TechCrunch for startups.
- Mid-tier: These are authoritative sites that don’t have the same name recognition.For example, New York Post and Diply (for general news/entertainment) are mid-tier publications that borrow some cues from top-tier publications, but often have their own audience.
Low-tier publications typically follow whatever bigger sites are writing about, so I don’t factor them into my brainstorming.
The reason I look at both mid-tier and top-tier publications is because I want to get an idea of the “range” of content these sites will publish. Big name sites like New York Times are hard to get into, but the barrier to entry isn’t as high as, say, LifeHack.org.
This gives me a more holistic view of what publishers want and what I can create.
Sometimes, bigger sites will also republish content from smaller publications. This makes mid-tier publications the Trojan Horse, per se, of promotion.
To strategize how to pitch journalists, I like to see what my target publications are writing about.
For this, I use Buzzsumo.
Buzzsumo shows you the most shared content on any domain within a specified timeframe.
All you have to do is enter your target publication’s name in the search box and select your timeframe in the left pane.
You can also enter keywords along with the domain name to limit your search to specific topics.
For example, searching for “techcrunch.com big data” shows the best-performing articles on TechCrunch on big data.
The results clearly show that most top performing articles are opinion pieces. If you wanted to get placement on TechCrunch for this topic, you might want to create a thought piece as well.
Do this for all your target publications to build up a list of ideas.
Generally, the following content-types work great:
- Visual assets and stories
- Exclusive studies and surveys
- Data-backed stories and analysis
3. How to get backlinks
If your goal is to get backlinks (always a nice goal to have), you can also discover ideas by checking what people are already linking to.
My favorite tool to do this is Ahrefs Content Explorer.
Ahref works like Buzzsumo, except it also takes into account the total number of links.
You can use it to find the most linked-to content for a specific keyword.
For example, when you search for “content marketing” and sort results by number of referring domains, you see this:
If you ignore the Politico link in between (no idea why it’s there), you’ll notice that two of the most linked-to content pieces are essentially lists of statistics.
This isn’t exactly “exciting” or “innovative” as far as content formats go. Yet…
It attracts a lot of links, mostly from others using these pages as references.
Analyzing popular content like this is a great way to discover low-effort, high-reward formats.
Do this for all your target keywords (more on this below) to come up with content ideas that resonate among journalists.
III. Analyze Capabilities
The next step when figuring out how to pitch journalists is to analyze your own content creation capabilities.
If a particular content-type requires strong design skills but you don’t have any in-house designers, it makes little sense to pursue it.
You’ll want to gauge your capabilities on five counts:
- Design: Take stock of your existing design resources. Look at both in-house talent as well as outside resources such as freelancers and agencies. In both cases, check for availability. Sometimes, in-house designers are busy on higher priority projects. In case of outside resources, factor in the cost into your analysis as well.
- Copywriting: Again, figure out whether you have the writing talent (in-house or outside) to create something compelling enough to succeed.
- Development: If the target content requires development, do you have in-house developers to build it out? Hiring outside developers for short projects can be very expensive so factor this into your decision.
- Data mining: Some content-types (data analysis, studies, etc.) require scraping and analyzing large data sets. Unless you already have in-house experts, I wouldn’t recommend pursuing this.
- PR/Outreach: Do you have any existing connections at large publications? Have you worked with influencers in the past? Without prior connections, it can be difficult to get in with big publishers, even if you have stellar content. Factor this in when you decide what to create and where to distribute it.
The most successful content marketing teams usually have access to at least a designer and a content writer.
Tips for Content Ideation
If you follow the above, you would have a big list of content ideas from different sources. But how do you zero in and refine them?
As a start, follow these four tips to see how to pitch journalists:
1. Appeal to emotions
Nearly all content assets that go “viral” have one thing in common:
They appeal to your emotions.
In fact, Frac.tl did a study on this and discovered that successful content usually has three elements:
- It focuses on a positive emotion: You might think news focuses too much on negative stories, but Fractl study showed that viral content is overwhelmingly positive. From the innocence of the “Charlie bit my finger” video to the sheer joy of “Gangnam Style,” going viral is associated with positive emotions.
- It’s complex: Fractl found that the most successful content typically evokes multiple emotions. Joy might be mixed-in with surprise, laughter with a bit of pathos (aka the Charlie Chaplin formula). This makes the content more emotionally “alive” and complex.
- It surprises the reader: Surprise doesn’t have to mean a big “gasp” surprise – even learning something new or discovering a novel solution can be enough.
Thus, when you’re creating ideas, pick something that is positive, emotionally complex and, if possible, has an element of surprise.
For example, consider this story on BoredPanda about an adopted Pitbull who can’t “stop hugging her.”
It checks all the boxes:
- The story is positive – woman adopts Pitbull. Pitbull loves her. Everyone lives happily ever after.
- The story is complex – an abandoned dog makes you sad. Adopting the abandoned dog makes you happy. When the dog loves you back, the happiness turns into joy — a whole range of emotions!
- The story is surprising – Pitbulls have a bad reputation as aggressive dogs. So when you hear a story about a dog who can’t stop “hugging” his rescuer, you get a happy surprise.
2. Old is OK
People who are new to content marketing often think they have to invent something completely new and original to get attention.
The truth is that reinventing the wheel is neither necessary nor useful when learning how to pitch journalists. You can get very far by borrowing older ideas and reworking them into new narratives (which is why I asked you to analyze competitors first).
Consider this example: In June 2014, Buzzfeed published an article about an artist who asked people from 25 countries to Photoshop her according to their local beauty standards.
The story went viral.
Hundreds of publications picked it up.
The Buzzfeed link itself has over 3.3M views.
Fractl borrowed the same idea to examine body standards for women in different countries in a story titled “Perceptions of Perfection.”
That story was picked up by over 600 publications and earned over 900,000 shares.
The core idea remained the same — the focus and presentation changed.
Instead of trying to create something completely unique, pick something that is already working.
Then, find ways to make it your own.
Don’t get down on yourself if you’re pitching to journalists and getting rejection letters. Persistence will pay off. Stay open minded. And don’t be afraid to ask where you went wrong. Of course, don’t forget most journalists are swamped with work. So, if you don’t hear back, don’t take it personally.
3. Hidden Content
The Fractl story I mentioned earlier (“Perceptions of Perfection”) was actually for Superdrug.com. But you wouldn’t know that by just looking at the story alone.
The brand was woven in very subtly into the story. It was not the primary focus.
Remember this when you’re brainstorming content ideas:
You don’t have to focus on your industry.
And you certainly don’t have to focus on your brand, unless your brand is doing something remarkable, like Tesla or Airbnb.
You’ll find that de-emphasizing your brand will also remove a lot of resistance from editors and influencers.
And, if you venture beyond your industry, you’ll open up more opportunities for placement in related publications.
This is key for gaining traction when figuring out how to pitch journalists.
But, wait, there’s even more to know…
Factor in SEO
It doesn’t matter whether your goal is to get backlinks or press mentions, it’s always a good idea to factor in SEO when you’re brainstorming content ideas.
There are two aspects of this:
Competitor analysis and keyword research!
The dumbest mistake you can make in a content marketing campaign is to target keywords that are either too competitive, or won’t bring you the right kind of traffic.
One way to work around this is to use KOB analysis.
KOB – Keyword Opposition to Benefit – is a framework for determining which keywords to target.
As SiegeMedia points out, the formula is simple enough:
Here’s how you can use KOB analysis when figuring out how to pitch journalists:
- Search for a target keyword.
- Find the top ranking result for that keyword.
- Place the top result into SEMRush to see estimated cost of all traffic coming to that keyword.
- Divide this by the keyword difficulty score as per Moz Keyword Explorer.
Do this for all target keywords to get a KOB score. The higher the score, the more opportunity you have and the cost/effort is lower.
For example, let’s consider a keyword – “growth hacking.”
One of the top results for this keyword is Neil Patel’s excellent guide to growth hacking. Plugging this into SEMRush, we see that it has a traffic cost of $4,200.
As per Moz Keyword Explorer, this keyword has a difficulty score of 74 (the earlier metrics used to be in % – I’ll assume the same for this example).
The KOB for “growth hacking,” therefore, is (4200 / 74% = 5,675).
By itself, this score doesn’t tell you much. But…
When you do this for all your top keywords, you’ll start to see a pattern.
High value and high competition domains typically have the highest KOB, but they aren’t good candidates because of the ranking difficulty.
The same applies for keywords at the bottom end of the KOB spectrum.
Keywords with mid-range KOB scores, however, offer the right mix of value and difficulty. Target these keywords initially, make them profitable and ladder up to higher KOB scoring keywords.
Competitor analysis is crucial for any SEO-focused content marketing campaign.
If you’re familiar with SEO, you already know what to look for when analyzing competitors:
Domain authority, number of referring domains, domain age, content length, etc.
But there’s something else I want to highlight when figuring out how to pitch journalists: user satisfaction.
When you analyze SERPs, you’ll often find content ranking on the front page that is nowhere near as in-depth, well-designed or thorough as your own content.
Yet, it continues to rank at the top of the SERPs, even outranking better domains.
That’s right: User satisfaction!
Although there’s no official Google announcement about this, I believe content depth and quality doesn’t matter if it gives readers exactly what they want.
That is, if the content ranks well enough for a topic, you don’t have to go about creating content that’s ten times better.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in keywords that show rich answers. Think of a keyword like, “Who directed Back to the Future?” where Google will show the answer at the top of the SERPs.
A majority of searches for this keyword would only care about the director’s name. A small fraction might care about the backstory behind the movie and other cast & crew information.
Thus, a single-sentence page – “The director of Back to the Future is Robert Zemeckis” – would satisfy a majority of search requests.
Creating a page for this keyword that has 10 times more in-depth content about Robert Zemeckis doesn’t make sense, since searchers are already satisfied with the content available.
Keep this in mind when you analyze competitors and figure out how to pitch journalists. If you see a lot of simple pages ranking at the top of the SERPs, it indicates that the keyword doesn’t demand complex content.
Part II – Creation
Content creation is the easiest part of the marketing puzzle (or the hardest) depending on your experience with production.
I won’t cover this in much detail, since content creation is a niche skill in and of itself.
And it’s fairly straightforward conceptually.
However, there are a few tips I want to share:
The idea of content layering is simple: You layer multiple keywords into the same article to increase your chances of ranking.
For example, suppose you’re writing a guide to buying snowboards. Your primary keyword is “snowboard buying guide.” This is a late-stage keyword that people would likely use if they’re ready to buy.
While doing your keyword research, you notice that a lot of people also search for “snowboard sizing guide.” This is a middle-stage keyword that would fit in perfectly into a snowboard buying guide.
This is an example of content layering – targeting multiple relevant keywords by using them in the same article.
When you start creating your content, take a look at your keyword list. Ask yourself if you can use some of those keywords in your content asset.
With such layering, you can hit multiple keywords without creating multiple content assets.
2. Design and copy
Make sure that your design and copy offers the best user experience possible.
Readers shouldn’t want to bounce away after they land on your content.
Make them want to stick around.
Here are a few simple tips on how to do this:
- Use short sentences.
- Use 2-3 sentences at most per paragraph.
- Use copywriting tricks such as “bucket brigades” to hook readers.
- Add relevant images every 4-6 paragraphs.
- Use lists to retain reader interest.
If you follow all the advice above, you’ll have a content asset that you can proudly promote.
Another factor to keep in mind when publishing content is clickability.
This is a measure of how likely someone is to click on a page in SERPs or a social media feed. This is based on:
- The title: Clickworthy titles usually generate curiosity and use trigger words to attract clicks.
- The URL: A short, readable URL (yoursite.com/your-keyword) is better than a long one full of gibberish (yoursite.com/98sa9xl.html)
- Schema.org: If the URL has Schema.org details – review stars, opening/closing timings, etc. – it will likely be more clickable in SERPs.
- Cover image: An eye-catching cover image will help your content stand out in social media posts. Vibrant graphics, good photography, and human subjects work well. Avoid stock photos and ambiguous graphics.
4. Landing pages
Once you have all your content assets – the infographic, data sets, charts, graphs, etc. for data-focused stories – package them onto a separate landing page.
Give this landing page a clean, easy-to-follow URL. This will make it much easier to approach press when you’re figuring out how to pitch journalists.
As an example, consider this landing page for the “Perceptions of Perfection” campaign by Superdrug:
This is the page that you’ll send out to all your promotion targets, so make sure that its design meets your brand standards.
Once you have your content, you can start promoting it.
Part III – Content Promotion
This is where all your hard work pays off!
Content gets shared. And you can build traffic and backlinks.
A lot of marketers tend to ignore promotion but it’s easily the most important part of the puzzle.
You might have the best content in the world, but if it isn’t backed by regular promotion, it won’t be worth your while.
Below, I’ll walk you through a framework for promoting any content for maximum exposure when learning how to pitch journalists.
I. Build a Brand
Before you send out a single outreach email, ask yourself:
Is my site actually worth linking to?
If you look at any successful sites in terms of rankings or traffic, you’ll find they have a strong brand presence.
You can take one look and tell:
They’re professionally run with a dedicated team behind them.
But “brand” is a big word, and a complex one at that.
Let’s look at what makes a brand, and how to pitch journalists with your compelling brand.
What makes a brand?
Sites that rank well on Google tend to have one thing in common:
They all pass the “eye test.”
The “eye test” is difficult to quantify but you know it when you see it. Put simply, if you land on the site, you’ll think “this is a real business.”
This means that the site is:
- Well-designed, with a clear content hierarchy, logo, etc.
- Sufficiently busy with content and social activity
- Has an about page, contact information, and a team of people behind it.
As an example, let’s consider a frequently spammed keyword – “quick weight loss.”
The first result is from AuthorityNutrition.com. The site has thousands of pages of content, is well-designed, well-categorized, and has a strong social following. It also shows the author’s name so you know it’s a real person writing.
Here’s another result ranking on page 12 for the same keyword.
This one’s a spammy article on a hijacked domain name.
The main site has nothing to do with weight loss. You don’t know who wrote the article. And it’s all gibberish. It’s a word salad that makes zero sense.
A single look tells you it’s untrustworthy.
This, in essence, is the “eye test.”
Of course, passing this test isn’t enough.
You should also have the metrics to back up your credentials.
- A strong domain authority (or at least growing domain authority)
- Site age
- Social following on major networks
- A decent amount of relevant content
Building Your Brand
Building a brand is simple enough when you actually break it down:
- Use a relevant, brandable domain name. Don’t use long-tail, SEO optimized domain names like “QuickWeightLossRecipes.com.”
- If possible, purchase an older domain name.
- Use a high quality design with a strong logo.
- Create at least 10-20 pages of content.
- Show who is behind the site: Include an About page, emails, phone numbers, addresses.
- Build a social following.
- Collect backlinks.
Some of these will take longer than others, such as getting backlinks or building a social following.
But that’s okay – you don’t have to have a DA of 60 before you start content promotion.
But it’s absolutely crucial that you invest resources into your site.
Make the site trustworthy before starting a content promotion campaign.
If you don’t appear trustworthy, you will kill any chances of a successful PR campaign.
So get started now!
But, if you already meet this prerequisite, it’s time to target writers…
One of the most important, and often overlooked aspects, of SEO is avoiding duplicate content. A quick way to lose trust with journalists and readers is to plagiarize. You can look towards others for inspiration, but your content needs to be unique!
II. Picking Prospects
Self promotion starts with a list of prospective connections.
This list can be expansive or short. I try to keep this list proportionate to the amount of time invested in the content, and my content’s potential impact. (Remember our KOB analysis above?)
The kind of prospects you target will depend on the kind of content you’re promoting.
Anything with a general-purpose slant, like the “Perceptions of Perception” example above, will be right at home on any of the countless large news/entertainment blogs like Buzzfeed and HuffPo.
For specialized content, for example, a study on content marketing trends, you’ll want to target niche publications and industry influencers.
When you’re looking for targets, it’s a good idea to focus more on engagement than traffic.
It’s better to get a feature on a site with 1,000 readers who share your content than a site with 1M readers and no engagement. The latter will just move your vanity metrics. The former will help meet your actual marketing goals.
Here are some tactics to find high quality prospects:
1. Similar links
The easiest way to discover targets is to find similar content and review everyone who’s linked to it.
For example, if you’re doing a study on “content marketing trends,” you can Google those keywords, see the top results, and plug them into your favorite SEO tool.
Add relevant modifiers like “study,” “research,” and “data” to this keyword to narrow your results.
In the above case, searching for “content marketing trends study” shows this CMI research from 2016. Plugging this into Ahrefs and looking at the referring domains gives us more than 385 targets:
These would all be great targets. You don’t have to hit all of them — just the ones with substantial DA (Domain Authority).
Nuzzel is a fantastic resource for finding curated content on popular topics. Use it to discover influencers, top stories, and trending publications.
For example, this is Nuzzel’s curated feed for “wearable technology:”
If you connect it with your Twitter, the feed will be personalized based on what your friends/followers are reading.
I hate to give a shameless plug, but I feel JRO is relevant here.
Especially because JRO gives you a list of target writers, not just publishers.
To use JRO, just search for your target keyword. For example, “Bitcoin,” and you’ll get a list of writers along with all of their contact details.
This is as simple as it gets.
4. Other tactics
There are hundreds of ways to skin this cat.
Besides the previous eamples, you can also try these tactics:
- Search Reddit to find relevant subreddits. Then sort results by “top” to find links from popular sites that have covered similar topics.
- Search Google for your target keywords.
- Find a story similar to yours, then search for the complete URL on Twitter. You’ll find a lot of top accounts (from both media and influencers) who’ve shared similar content in the past.
- Use tools like RightRelevance to find trending stories in your industry. These would be great publications to target.
- Use AllTop to find top blogs in your niche.
- Use Alexa’s top sites directory to find top sites in your target category.
Not everyone who has shared similar stories in your niche will make a valuable target.
Follow these tips to narrow down your targeting and improve your outreach:
1. Top writers
Every website has its superstar writers who have an outsized traffic and following.
At the New York Times, for instance, Paul Krugman’s columns are usually shared more than other columnists.
In the old days of TechCrunch, Michael Arrington, M.G. Siegler, and Sarah Lacy (who now runs Pando.com) would get a bulk of the traffic.
When you’re sending a pitch to a publication, try to target these top writers first. Think of them as influencers among influencers.
Because of their large readership, they will get your story shared more than if you were to target any random writer.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to spot these top writers.
You can try searching for the site on Buzzsumo to find the top performing articles (and their writers), but that’s not always helpful. You’ll have to spend some time browsing the site like an actual user to spot popular authors.
2. Target micro-influencers
There’s the perennial quantity vs. quality dilemma content marketers face when choosing which influencers to contact. My personal rule is pretty clear:
- If your goal is visibility, target a few top influencers.
- If your goal is engagement, target a large number of micro-influencers.
Since more and more top influencers are demanding some monetary reward for sharing your content (especially on Instagram), it makes more sense to target micro-influencers.
Micro-influencers are essentially up and coming bloggers, writers, and social media personalities who have a small but dedicated following — under 10k followers on Instagram. They don’t have the reach of a Justin Bieber, but because their audience is heavily engaged, they often have an outsized impact on shares and engagement.
Again, there is no easy way to find these micro-influencers. You will have to immerse yourself in the field. Try to find people who frequently share top performing content that often gets picked up by bigger outlets.
If you’re targeting a specific industry, these micro-influencers are often people with proven expertise in a particular sub-field, for example, “link building.”
This will make it easier to find them. Such micro-influencers can amplify your content a great deal, making them perfect when figuring out how to pitch journalists.
3. Offer Exclusives
If you have a big story, you can increase your chances of getting published on marquee sites by offering them exclusive rights to your story.
This means that, for a limited period of time, the story would be exclusive to that publisher.
Top publishers appreciate this because it gives them first dibs on a juicy story. It also makes them feel special, which can help you get featured.
I like to reach out to four to five top targets like the New York Times and HuffPo and offer them all exclusives.
Usually, only one out of those four or five will bite. And I make sure that I tell them about the exclusive offer, as well as the time limit (usually 2 days).
If they don’t respond within the stipulated time, I move on to another publication. Move fast when learning how to pitch journalists.
Once a top publisher picks up your story, you can use it as “social proof” and piggyback it to get published on smaller outlets.
In a way, PR is a lot like sales. Timing is everything. Consider what journalists need, nurture your relationships with them, and when the timing is right, send a personalized pitch. And, just like if you land a whale of a client in sales, once you can get press in a major publication, other PR opportunities are sure to follow.
III. Email Addresses
Once you’ve made a list of targets, start finding their email addresses.
I’ve already covered this in the past, so I won’t go into detail again. Check out this article to start with.
In brief, you can use these tools to find email addresses:
Add them all to your spreadsheet, then move onto your pitch.
IV. Before the pitch
Before we start writing our pitch, we have to keep a few things in mind:
1. Target writers
The biggest mistake you can make when pitching a publication is to pitch your story to the editor instead of a specific writer.
To understand why, you have to first understand how media outlets work.
Editors either assign news stories to a particular writer, or a writer pitches a story idea to an editor, who then approves it.
As the Fractl survey referenced above shows, publications are increasingly ceding authority to writers. Instead of editors going to writers, writers pitch stories to editors.
At some publications, top writers even have the freedom to write whatever they want without prior approval from their editors.
So when you pitch the editor at a publication, you’re essentially creating work for him.
The editor will then have to find a suitable writer who might already have his hands full with existing ideas.
This creates a lag in the process which can hurt your chances of getting published when you’re trying to see how to pitch to journalists.
Save yourself the trouble and connect with the writer directly.
2. Avoid spam
Want in on a secret?
Many writers at top publishers have spam filters for words like “infographics.”
Basically, SEOs have abused infographics so much that many writers refuse to even look at them.
“Widgets,” “SEO,” and other heavily abused terms are also common spam triggers.
Avoid them at all costs.
And if you’re pitching an infographic, call it a “visual asset” instead. This is crucial when you’re learning how to pitch journalists.
3. Journalist’s beat
Any moderately large publication will have journalists who write about different topics, or in old newspaper jargon, they call these topics beats.
Their beats describe what the journalists write about.
For example, popular beats at larger newspapers include: Arts and Entertainment, Lifestyle, Business, City and/or County Government, Police/Crime, and Schools.
Most publications will list their writers/editors and their beat.
For example, on Recode.net, if you select “writers” in the top menu, you’ll see a list of writers. Clicking a writer’s name will show you what that writer covers.
Journalists will often include their beat on Twitter bios. Here’s Kurt Wagner’s Twitter from the above example:
Make sure their beats match your niche before you connect with them. This will greatly increase your chances of getting press.
4. Offer, don’t ask
This is the last, and most important aspect of pitching:
Give something of value before you ask for something in return.
This is such a simple concept:
Give before you take!
Yet it escapes so many marketers and startups.
Journalists get hundreds of emails every week asking for coverage. They get only a handful of emails actually giving them something valuable.
Before you send an email, ask yourself:
Would you be willing to say the exact same thing in your pitch if you met the journalist in person?
In most cases, the answer would be no. Real life relationships work on a give-and-take. Not take-take.
So, how can you give value to journalists before sending them your pitch?
But, briefly, a few tactics you can include when learning how to pitch journalists:
- Answer a relevant Quora question, and then ask them to participate because they are more of an expert than you. This works great for influencer outreach since you’re essentially appealing to their vanity. Plus, you’re giving them an opportunity to give back to the community.
- Find a relevant HARO request, and send it their way. Again, you’re showing that you’re thinking about them and giving them an opportunity to get press.
- Include them in a roundup of “experts.” By giving them the expert tag, again, you give them a chance to brand themselves and appeal to their vanity.
- Follow their advice about something they’ve shared publicly, for example, a new tactic to get higher email open rates.Then share the results.
More than specific tactics, rethink the entire PR approach from taking to giving and building relationships.
V. A Stellar Pitch
First, let’s define what a pitch is:
A pitch is essentially a short message describing a story.
It’s similar to an email request for a backlink, except it’s focused more on getting your story published in a target publication, as opposed to a link.
The hard part about writing a great pitch is that the competition for press is immense.
Journalists at major news outlets get over 100 emails a day, often with pitches similar to yours.
You’ll have to play all your cards right and have incredible content in order to grab their attention.
I’ll show you how to pitch journalists with inbox-smashing pitches below. These will make outreach much easier when you’re figuring out how to pitch journalists.
The subject line
The subject line is obviously critical for outreach success. As the Fractl survey showed, 85% of journalists decide whether to open an email or not based on the subject line.
Follow these tips to write better subject lines:
1. Keep it short
Long subject lines are truncated in mobile apps. Keep subject descriptions between 45 to 60 characters, unless you want to wind up in the trash folder.
2. Use numbers
For some reason, human beings are instantly attracted to numbers in subject lines and headlines.
In fact, one study by Conductor showed that we have a large bias towards titles with numbers in them.
This applies to subject lines as well.
If you have any data in your story, for exmaple, “78% of marketers prefer Android over iPhone,” mention it in the subject line.
3. The information gap/curiosity gap
The “curiosity gap” is a copywriting technique where you hook readers by giving them information without a resolution.
For example, consider this headline from Upworthy:
It tells you that someone did something with results that were stunning. You aren’t told whether the results were stunningly bad or stunningly good, just that they were stunning.
While this is an exaggerated example, and Upworthy is notorious for exploiting the information gap in headlines, you get the basic idea.
Use a similar curiosity gap in your subject lines.
Tell your reader a part of the story, but withhold the resolution until you’re writing the body copy.
4. Geographical triggers
If you’re targeting a local publication, mention something related to the location in your subject line.
For example, if your story is about a survey of homeowners, and one of your findings reveals that a majority of homeowners in Florida manage their own home repairs, mention this fact when you’re pitching a Florida-focused publication.
This will help your story stand out. Plus, it shows that you’ve actually done your research about that publication.
You can also try David Meerman Scott’s technique of newsjacking by weaving your product into a discussion about a current event in a compelling way.
Essentially, try to think of a blog headline when you’re writing subject lines.
This might yield results that seem like clickbait, but trust me, they work when you need to attract attention.
Email body copy
If you’ve gotten the journalist to open your email, you’ve won half the battle.
The email body is much easier to write than the subject line, since you have more room to explain yourself.
Follow these tips when writing the email body:
Personalization can be a slippery slope.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of too much personalization, which will impact your efficiency.
A personalized email should establish that you’re a real person and not a spammer.
Mostly, this means:
- Addressing the recipient by name
- Naming the publication correctly
- Adding a single line that proves you know something about the writer
For instance, if you checked the target’s Twitter feed and noticed that the writer just tweeted about a recent vacation to New Zealand, mention that in the first line.
This will help establish that you’re a real person. Yet, it’s easy enough that you can scale it to everyone on your target list.
2. Keep it short
I aim for a maximum of three to four paragraphs in my emails with two to three sentences per paragraph.
An easy structure to follow when figuring out how to pitch journalists is to break up the email like this:
- Who you are (1st paragraph)
- Why you’re emailing them (2nd paragraph)
- What are the main findings/gist of your story (3rd paragraph)
- How you arrived at above conclusions in the case of data analysis/surveys (4th paragraph – optional)
You only need to establish the bare essentials in the first email.
You can send them more details in future messages.
Your job in the initial pitch is to get them interested…
A short email works wonders for that!
It also makes your emails easier to scan.
Concise, clear writing is crucial when you’re writing emails to busy journalists.
3. Mirror their style
Mirror the target’s communication style in your email.
This isn’t necessary for every prospect on your list, but I recommend it for your top priority targets.
For example, you looked at the target’s Twitter feed and noticed that she writes with a lot of enthusiasm, using emojis and exclamations. Try to sound sufficiently enthusiastic when you’re pitching such a target.
On the other hand, if the target uses big words and academic language, be more formal with your pitch.
There’s a great tool for figuring out a target’s writing style – Crystal. Use it to quickly see what kind of personality a target has and how you can mirror it.
That’s pretty much it!
If you follow these three tips, you’ll get the press you need.
Over to You
We’ve covered a lot of ground. You’ve learned how to come up with content ideas and how to get that content noticed by influencers and journalists. I recommend using this article as a reference source. Read it once to get the basic gist of content marketing. Then, come back to it when you want to tackle a specific part of the process – ideation, creation or promotion.
And, if you liked this article, check these out: