Small businesses rely on publicity to build their reputation, boost their credibility and simply spread the word about what they’re doing.
There are different ways to get your company under a journalist’s nose (we covered responding to journalist requests in a different blog post) but here I'll cover pitching by email.
Mastering the art of pitching can be tricky. However, many of the mistakes made by business owners having their first stab at DIY PR are easily avoidable.
The first thing to know is that journalists are busy. Yeah, yeah, I hear you say, aren’t we all.
But no, seriously. Journalists are really, and I mean, really, busy. Hundreds of emails flood their inbox every single day in one long, unrelenting stream. And they have to juggle keeping on top of these messages while also writing multiple stories to tight deadlines and staying abreast of the ever-churning news agenda.
Your challenge when sending an email, therefore, is to try and stand out amongst the heaving mob – to grab the journalist’s attention and keep it.
The good news (for you) is that many of the emails journalists receive are utter rubbish: irrelevant to their niche or publication, rambling and poorly structured, missing key information or frustratingly vague.
So how do you make sure your email will cut through?
The key thing to do is put yourself in their shoes. What does a journalist want? Answer: They want a story.
This is the point at which many businesses slip up, falling into the trap of pitching themselves (or what is important to them) rather than a story that's of importance to their reader.
A good test to determine whether what you’re pitching is a story or not is whether you can condense it into a headline. If you can, great, you’ve got yourself a story. Don’t forget to include the headline in the email, as this helps show the journalist how your idea will fit their publication. Make their job easy for them!
But if you try to boil it down and all you’re left with is business doing its business, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board and get more specific.
Here are some further tips to bear in mind when you’re pitching:
Know the publication
If there’s a particular website, magazine, radio programme or TV show you want to feature in, make sure you’ve actually read/listened to/watched it. What kind of stories do they cover, and in what way? This will give you a good indication of what to pitch.
It will also help you avoid making embarrassing mistakes that will immediately turn journalists off. For example, telling The Independent you buy their paper all the time (the national title has been digital-only since 2016).
Pick your target
Your pitch is much more likely to get noticed if you send it directly to the right person. Think about what journalist would cover a story about your company – a business reporter, music journalist, or someone on the science desk?
Databases like ResponseSource and Gorkana hold up-to-date contact details for journalists and reporters from hundreds of different publications , though these are premium services. Or, you can track down the right person online using a bit of detective work: Twitter is a good place to start, followed by LinkedIn.
Kill the fluff
“Hi there, how are you doing? Hope you’ve been enjoying the fantastic weather out there this week – it’s been barbeque-in-the-garden galore in my household! Hope you don’t mind me reaching out, but I just wondered whether you might be interested at all in hearing more about my new business…”
Remember what we said about journalists being busy? They’re not your friend (yet) and they’re not going to waste time scrolling through a bunch of waffle to see if your email ever goes anywhere worthwhile.
Get to the point in the first sentence (and the subject field).
What else have you got?
Think hard about what else you can offer the journalist. Have you got a fantastic case study of a customer who’d be happy to be interviewed? Could you let the journalist try out your product or service themselves? Do you have some fascinating data?
Be sure to mention anything you can offer that will help bring the story to life – it’s likely to be of interest.