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PR pitching in a digital age

Digital news

I recently attended About Time’s ‘About The Future’ event on PR pitching to digital publications. During the event, About Time’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief Angelica Malin discussed her PR pitching preferences. This was followed by a presentation by Freelance Journalist Rebecca Reid and a panel discussion.


Here’s what Angelica suggests you do to make the most of your pitching.

PR is personal. Building individual relationships is more useful than with a publication as a whole, and more likely to get you remembered when a story comes up. You want to be the first point of call when a journalist is putting together a suitable story.

There are a few ways to help you build a strong relationship with journalists, but the most important is to build trust. You can do this by being reliable, sticking to your word, and being available when they call you for more information.


Introduction emails

Keep it short, light and friendly. Ideally it needs to be short enough to fit onto an iPhone screen without scrolling, suggests Angelica. Don’t waste space saying your name and job title – this information should be in your email signature. Get straight into the message.

Greet the journalist by name – and make sure you spell it correctly! Then follow by referencing an article they have written, especially one that relates to the story you want to pitch. Compliments go a long way, but make sure they are genuine. Don’t just compliment them on their most recent piece as this doesn’t look like you have done any research (which you do need to!).

Angelica mentions that it’s not an issue to use the same framework to send to multiple journalists, just make sure the greeting and first line containing your researched compliment is personalised.

Don’t bombard them with your client list and too much information. Provide one or two examples of how you can help them and save the other clients for future communication.

If you are trying to get your story into a particular regular slot then you should include the slot name or section in your email subject line. Journalists could be looking through their inbox when the slot deadline is approaching. It can also be beneficial to write in the house style to make it very easy to chop up and insert into the slot.


Setting up a meeting

Setting up a face to face meeting is the best way to develop a relationship with a journalist. Angelica suggests that “they will meet you, you just need to find a way.”

Use social media to see what a journalist is interested in and invite them to something they really want to do. Pick somewhere near their office so it is easy for them to get to – this means they are less likely to bail on you at the last minute.

Once you’ve chosen a location for the meeting, find out the best time for them, whether it’s before work, at lunchtime or after work. Provide a time limit for the meeting so you are both on the same page – 30 minutes works well. Be specific and you are more likely to get results. For example “Are you available Tuesday at 8am for 30 minutes to discuss how we can work together? Otherwise, would before work on Wednesday work better?”

If you provide options the journalist is more likely to choose from them or offer an alternative, rather than them replying saying they are very busy this week.

When requesting a meeting with a journalist, avoid using the word ‘meeting’. It’s much better to say ‘set up a time to discuss how we can work together’.


During a meeting

Once you’ve managed to secure a meeting with a journalist, use the time to find out as much as you can about the way they work and the topics they a looking to write about in the future. And to build rapport.

This is your chance to listen. Take notes and ask questions but only do about 30% of the talking. Try to get to know the journalist, not to spend the time pitching. But if you must pitch, stick to three stories maximum.

When the journalist asks questions about your clients, prove that your information is useful and credible by knowing the clients and their products inside out. This is obviously much easier for in-house PRs who already know their business.

Go to the meeting paper free rather than throwing client lists and too much information at the journalist. You can follow up with a short email after the meeting mentioning a couple of your clients and stories that might fit into their publication. Create a sense of urgency, by pitching a time-sensitive story that really interests them.


In addition to Angelica’s comments, Rebecca Reid a Freelance Journalist and Staff Writer at Telegraph & suggests:

It’s useful to find out how a journalist’s day works and when they prefer to be contacted. Great times to pitch are early in the morning (before 8am) and around 2pm. Young journalists (under 35) often can’t leave the office during the day so daytime events are hard to get to.

Many journalists do not want to be contacted by phone. If you have an urgent story, a previous relationship with the journalist or are responding to their request for more information, then a phone call is fine, otherwise it’s best to stick to email.

(In the panel later, Emma Kane, Founder and Chief Executive of PR agency Redleaf, mentioned that journalists in the financial and corporate sectors are happier with phone calls for the more complicated stories)

Play the long game – be as helpful and reliable as you can and the journalist will be more likely to come back to you when they have something suitable for you.

In terms of how freelancers differ from staff journalists, Rebecca explained that freelancers often have longer lead times, but once they have pitched a story to an outlet then you (or your client expert) MUST be available to follow through.

Freelancers tend to be an expert in a certain field so only pitch stories that fit into the publications and patches they write for. (Which goes for any journalist really!)

And it’s likely freelancers don’t live in London so it will be much harder for you to arrange a meeting with them in the city.


What are your top pitching tips? Share with us below.

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