The Two Critical Elements of the Perfect Media Pitch

Last Updated Nov 1, 2010 8:50 PM EDT

One of the toughest things to master in media relations is the pitch.

That's the initial contact you have with a reporter (or, these days, blogger), that might open the door to your business getting featured.

A good pitch will get you at least an initial response; a bad pitch might turn the "pitchee" off to you and your startup forever... or, at least, for a while.

Here are the two most important elements of a perfect pitch:

Understand the medium.
Given that almost all media pitches are now first delivered via email, think of what the recipient will first see.

It's the subject line, and then the first paragraph of the email.

The subject line is really, REALLY important. Drop the "press release" or "breaking news" and accompanying exclamation points from your subject line. Make it targeted and short. Because if the media don't like what they see in the subject line, they're not even going to open the email, and all your efforts will be for naught.

The subject line of a pitch I recently received read something like: "The Shonali Burke Consulting Book." Can you imagine my face when I saw that?

What book?! Did I write something? What's going on?
Turns out, it was a pitch from a guy who ghostwrites books for a living. He opened his email with words to the effect "Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?" And he went on to tell me -- in 47 words, believe it or not -- that if I was ever looking for someone to ghostwrite a book for me, he was my man.

I was so amused that I filed it away for future reference (so carefully, apparently, that I can't even find it). And I was equally impressed that he managed to get his point across without cutting and pasting a news release into an email.

Why he thought I might want a ghostwriter -- given that writing is one of the things that I do -- is another question. But it was a good pitch, because it got me to pay attention to it.

Understand the media.
What the aforementioned Ghostwriter Pitcher did right was personalize the pitch to me. He didn't just put something like "YOUR NAME IN LIGHTS!" in the subject line. He found out the name of my company and bunged that in there.

But he didn't tell me why I'd want to hire a ghost writer when I am a writer myself (at least, I like to think so). That's where he failed.

For you, it's critical that you pay attention to not just the preferences of the reporter or blogger you're trying to reach, but that you pay attention to whom they are trying to reach. They're not going to write a story to make you happy, or even to make themselves happy. They're going to write a story that they think their readers (or viewers or listeners) will enjoy and react to.

So pay attention to not just the media outlet, but to the reporter you're trying to reach. What did she last write about? Does she have a history of focusing on certain stories or angles? Is she particularly active on a social network (in which case, you'd better be following her)?

Then, when you have a story that you think will interest her, tell her why it's up her alley right away. For example, "I read <STORY TITLE> on <SUBJECT>, and I thought you might be interested in <YOUR PITCH>.

She'll know right away that you haven't just sent this out to a million people, but that you've been following her reporting and understand why this story might help her expand her audience.

Don't tell her why your business is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It may indeed be, but it's not about you; it's about the media. (See Myth #3 in my earlier post about leaving PR to the PR pros... which, by the way, I still think you should do if you can).

Understanding these two critical elements of the perfect pitch will go a long way in helping you open doors to earned media visibility.

Image: Waldo Jaquith via Flickr, CC 2.0
Shonali Burke is Principal of Shonali Burke Consulting where she helps turn businesses' communication conundrums into community cool. She opines on PR and social media at Waxing UnLyrical and is considered one of 25 women that rock social media.