WHY YOUR PITCH IS A BITCH (AND HOW TO FIX IT), A PUBLICIST SPILLS SECRETS
I love working with writers. I’ve built up many wonderful and fruitful relationships with journalists and bloggers over the years, and it’s always a joy for me to see their brilliant work in print, knowing I had something to do with that. It’s a huge amount of fun, and I learn so much from the good ones.
Great pitching is a real art, and one of the things that I do really well in my business. But there are many ways to get a pitch wrong, and not just wrong but for it be useless, time-wasting and downright obnoxious.
The good news is that I’m here to share a few simple rules that will stop you wondering why, as a journalist or blogger, you never get a comped tour, event invite, or in some cases, a reply from a publicist.
I sit on both sides of the pitching fence. Not only do I send pitches out on behalf of my clients, I also field them from writers for my clients. I’ve learned many lessons over the years and have honed my craft. Sometimes pitches fail because it’s a numbers game – I simply don’t have room for you – but if you target your pitch correctly and follow up politely, you can massively increase your odds of landing that coveted golden ticket.
So if you’ve ever wondered why your pitches are unsuccessful, why you’re constantly rejected, or worse, ignored, draw up a chair and listen very carefully.
Have you seen the headline on this post? Got your attention, didn’t it?
Straight up, I’ve hooked you because the first thing I always do when I pitch, is lead with an attention grabber, and ‘Pitch is a Bitch’ is just that. It’s sassy, describes the topic and entertaining. It was designed to make you read and it worked.
But let’s take a look at the bigger picture. When I send out a media query, what you need to know is that I’ve spent a long time writing it, and that it’s specific to my client’s demands. I will probably have upwards of 100 replies (sometimes as many as 300). Your email isn’t the only one sitting in my inbox, so don’t be whiny, don’t be demanding and don’t expect that I will be replying to you within five minutes of your email being sent.
Attentively read my well-crafted media alert, and soak up all the glorious details I’ve spent hours writing. If I’m calling out for food bloggers in California with high reach, and you’re a hairdresser in Atlanta, chances are, you are not the writer I am looking for. You are making me respond to an email I didn’t need to receive, which means I’m now doing more work than I have to. Already, I don’t like you.
You’ve read my query thoroughly and now you’ve got your sassy little hook, but here’s another top tip: get my client’s name right. You wouldn’t believe how many times someone wanting a $15,000 place on a prestigious press trip has spelled my client’s name wrong or written it in the wrong order.
Tell me who you are. We are in the communications business after all.
Why isn’t there a signature on your email?
Why is there no link to your website?
Who the heck are you?
This is so important because the way we do business now is irretrievably linked to your website, your social media presence and the reach you have online.
Your signature should pop, and your blog name and website need to be awesome. If your website is old and you are giving me something to download, I will totally respect it if you are a 60-year-old accomplished journalist that I have known for 20 years but you must be able to transfer your writing in a modern way.
Also, all my clients want to look at your website because these days, without a good website, you can’t pass go. Don’t send me clips to download, just set up a great website that shows me you are authentic, current and professional.
Look at what others in your field are doing. There are some great people out there doing fantastic work. Why are they getting all the good jobs? Take a look at their websites, you’ll be able to see why in an instance. They have recent posts, great photography and clear navigation. It’s not difficult but it does need attending to and you might need to spend some money to get it right.
Also, please don’t name your blog something that a teenage girl or adult site would use. SassyBabyDollMama.com isn’t going to fly with my client who wants to invite you to a gourmet food festival.
Be honest about who you are. I use Google Analytics to see how much traffic is being driven to your site, and I can also see from your website exactly what you do. I have to account for everyone I take on a press tour, which means if you’re lying to me, I’m lying to my client. So if you’re that hairdresser in Atlanta and you’re telling me that you’re also a food writer because you like the idea of weekend in central California touring wineries, why am I only seeing articles called ‘Awesome Christmas Bangs!’ and ‘Why Blondes Have More Fun!’?
And here’s another small but important point. Get rid of the hyphenates. Don’t tell me you’re a Hairdresser/Realtor/Travel Writer/Blogger/Soccer Coach. Ugh. I don’t care.
So now you have a fabulous blog name, a fancy website, an email signature that tells me who you are and how to get hold of you, and no hyphenates, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what you’re actually saying because believe me, there are many writers out there who can fill an email with a bunch of absolutely nothing that I need to know.
Be clear about what tour query you are responding to. This information is critical as I am not a mind reader and my plate is full.
Lead with what you can offer me, not what you want from me. I will really like you if can do this, because that way I will know in an instant if you and I are a good fit.
Don’t tell me this, as one blogger did recently: “I have several outfits that fit perfectly.”
Who are these mysterious outlets? How many readers do they have? What about social media?
I received this from another writer responding to the same media alert, “My readers are primarily females ages 25 to 35 and I have a 90k + social media reach.”
Great, now I have something I can work with.
Look up Vagabondish.com. This guy’s pitch was an artistic triumph and he had the website to back it up. When he reached out to me, his email shone like a beacon. He told me exactly what articles he would publish, when they would be published, how many photographs he would use and how he would promote the event across Facebook and Twitter. This guy’s pitch was so gorgeous and specific I wanted to marry him.
He was succinct and in five short paragraphs told me everything that made my heart sing. You don’t have to lay out your life story in that first email but it should be specific. I need to know what you will be doing, where and when your article will appear and your readership reach. So reel me in with what you can offer, and always think in terms of specifics.
The next thing you need to do is Keep Calm and Not Get Pissy. One writer emailed me recently on a Friday at 4.56pm. I’ll tell you straight, I’ve got a life so for future reference, this is not a good time to start demanding answers. I will answer Oprah’s emails at the weekend but not yours. However, I replied to this lady’s email with: “Can you tell me your deadline, is it okay if I respond to this on Monday?”
On Sunday evening (again, I have a family and a life) I received another email from her saying. “Don’t bother, I found everything I need from other sources.” That was confusing. Who? I replied, “Who are your other sources?” I got no response. Lady, you and I cannot be friends.
Certainly don’t email me your pitch and then two days later send this follow up email as one girl did, with just a “?” as her reply. I will never reply to that woman. In fact, I may block her because a question mark is the email equivalent of squaring up for a fight. It doesn’t take long to type, “Hey, I know you’re super busy but did you get my query last week..?” and I don’t need that kind of attitude.
With that in mind, remember that we have to work together and one reason your pitch may not be successful is that you’re a giant pain in the ass!
If I’m offering you a place on a top food festival I’m promoting, and you write to tell me that you’re a coeliac vegan with a nut allergy who doesn’t eat flour or purple foods, that’s not my concern. Find another food festival. I get so many queries and emails, I need to work with people who make the process easier, not harder. You are not Beyonce, you are not entitled to diva demands and I do not need the extra work or the stress.
(Also, while we’re here, if you’re the crazy who turns up unannounced at an event, demands a ticket for your partner, shows up late, forgets to print out your tickets, steals stuff from hotel rooms or promotes your other crap on my time, I will never invite you to anything else again).
When it comes to pitching, you must be timely. Sending me an email the day before a press tour that has taken myself and a team of 20 people six months to coordinate, is not going to work for anyone. I can’t, and won’t, drop everything to accommodate you. Again, read the small print.
Another reason you may not be invited to join is that I don’t have the budget. There is never as much money being thrown around as you think, and every buck is accounted for. Sometimes it’s just not personal, it’s practical. Maybe I don’t have any more to spend or maybe you’re not the best bang for my buck. That doesn’t mean I don’t think you’re worth the expense, it just means that there’s someone else out there who can offer a better return on my client’s investment.
If I have limited space, I’m going to go with the guy who can reach 200k readers and not your 15k. But maybe next time, for a smaller event that fits your niche market, we can work together. Also, bear in mind that if you are the 15k guy, we may offer the luxury suite or first class seat to the 200k guy. Don’t take it personally. That’s just the way the world turns, and we can still do business together in the future, so keep the channels of communication open.
Sometimes though, the stars just haven’t aligned. You’re my perfect writer, who pitched well in advance, gave me all the right specifics and have been nothing but delightful. I love you but it’s just not the right fit. Move on, there will be other events.
But if you do land that press trip, don’t forget to follow up afterwards. Say thank you. An email is nice, a phone call is nicer but a hand-written note is memorable and you will go to the top of my list of writers I like. So when you pitch again, you’ll have a greater chance of being invited. Manners go a long way in this business.
With that in mind, thank you for reading and I hope that from now on, your pitching will be bitchin’!