By Paula Kiley
The public relations and journalism industries are competitive and aggressive. Throw a pandemic on top of that, and the job prospects look bleak. What’s a young professional to do?
Freelancing is not only a way to open a door to a full-time copywriting job, but a great way to build a robust work portfolio you can carry throughout your career. A 2019 Freelancing in America study conducted by Edelman Intelligence found that there are 57 million Americans in the freelance economy, up from 53 million in 2014. But the door into freelancing is heavy and oftentimes hard to get past, especially as a young professional entering the industry. Knowing how to write a well-written pitch is a key skillset to get into the room where it happens.
What does it mean to pitch a story? The anatomy of a pitch.
For freelance journalists, producing an engaging pitch is crucial and the path to getting assignments at media outlets. In public relations, media pitches are often the core of a press strategy. Shorter and more informational than press releases, media pitches suggest a story idea that a journalist could write. Whether you’re in journalism or public relations, a successful pitch has the following elements:
Follow these tips and you’ll be writing pitches that won’t end up in editors’ trash bins.
1. Do your research, check the clips.
The easiest mistake to make when pitching a story is not doing your proper research beforehand. When pitching a story, you want to sound like you have a solid understanding of the publication you’re pitching to and the content they produce. There’s nothing more embarrassing than pitching a story that was just published yesterday.
Before reaching out to a media outlet, study their website from front to back. Here are some questions you want to have answered at the end of your query:
2. Write your pitch concisely, but be clear about your story and structure. There’s an important distinction to make about an idea and a story. Most stories that end up in the pitch graveyard are merely ideas.
What does that mean?
Telling an editor that you want to write about Kobe Bryant is an idea. Now, if you tell an editor that you want to write about how Kobe Bryant’s passing has inspired several artists to paint murals across Los Angeles, you have a story on your hands. Your pitch should be concise, but it shouldn’t leave an editor wondering what your completed story will look like.
Another component of a full and complete story pitch is your methodology. Who will you be talking to? Is this a Q&A or a vignette piece? NPR’s Northeast bureau chief Andrea de Leon says that a pet peeve of hers is a pitch that begins something like, “I’d like to find out if…” If you’re pitching a story with the intention to write it, describing your methodology shows an editor that you have done extensive research for your story and have a plan of action.
If you’re pitching a story for your client, 1-2 sentences describing methodology tells an editor that you’re serious about the pitch and that the story has potential. They can’t turn it down if you’ve already done most of the heavy lifting.
3. Link to writing samples and contact information
The end of your pitch should link back to writing samples or clips. This demonstrates your experience and gives the editor a clear idea of your writing skill. After all, a good story means nothing if it isn’t written well.
If you’re pitching a story without the intention to write it, attaching useful links for the editor to get more information will only further elevate your pitch. If you’re pitching a walk-a-thon your client is hosting, it wouldn’t hurt to link back to stories about previous years’ walk-a-thons or even a blog post on your own website.
But most importantly, sign off your pitch with contact information. Make it easy for an editor to reach out to you for further questions. Signing off with a phone number and LinkedIn profile is the cherry on top to a successful pitch.
We’ve all been there. You just sent a top-tier pitch and you’re buzzing with excitement for your amazing story. But one day goes by, then three, then a week. How could they ignore it?
It’s important to note that editors don’t spend the entire day approving and rejecting pitches. It’s not uncommon for an editor to have 200 new emails by lunchtime. Give the editor some time to sift through their emails and prioritize your pitch accordingly. Meanwhile, spend some time crafting the perfect follow-up email.
One week is a good span of time to wait before giving your pitch a little nudge. Like your original pitch, your follow-up should be concise. Get in and out. Remind the editor what your story was and add some interesting information you may have left out from the original pitch. Perhaps attach another useful link or bring up another source. Bottom line, a follow-up is just as crucial as the pitch itself. Don’t skip this step.
Writing pitches can be scary, but it shouldn’t stop you from putting yourself and your ideas out there. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to keep going. Like anything in life, you’ll get better at writing effective pitches with practice and repetition.
Want to get more practice pitching ideas?
Pitch your blog ideas to PRSSA. Email your pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
Looking to get published on our blog?
Email your topics (or drafts) to email@example.com to get started. The publishing deadline for Fall 2020 is November 10.
DRAFTS must be submitted before this deadline.
Drafts submitted after the deadline will NOT be published.