How to Pitch Media Using the Rules of Baseball
To me, nothing screams spring more than the start of baseball season. Despite the Major League Baseball owner-initiated lock out causing a minor delay, today is Opening Day! There are many correlations between America’s favorite pastime and pitching a story to a journalist. Before you take to the mound, check out the following keys to the game so you can become an ace.
HIT THE STRIKE ZONE WITH PR HEADLINES
As they say, “the numbers don’t lie.” Did you know the average human attention span is only eight seconds, and statistics also show approximately 85 percent of journalists decide to open an email based on the subject line alone? Moreover, 80 percent of email recipients quickly scan for “standout phrases” and “sound bites” that leap out at the eye. Lastly, reporters at national media outlets receive, on average, somewhere between 80-300 emails per day.
So, how will you ensure your pitch hits the strike zone? Here are some headline strategies to preserve a shutout:
- Make it personal. Know more about who’s up to bat (reporter or producer you’re trying to engage), other than a name and a title. Look at their byline, read their work and provide feedback. You should share a common interest or you’re pitching to the wrong batter.
- Show value. Always disclose that your pitch includes assets, such as a news release, video, images, an interview opportunity with a subject matter expert or thought leadership, etc.
- Make a follow-up pitch obvious. Reporters are remarkably busy on assignment and not intentionally avoiding your email. Unexpected breaking news can be the curveball that throws them off. They don’t mind a follow-up pitch – just be clear in your headline. They will appreciate your rubber arm (persistence), but don’t waste their time with a wild pitch.
- Don’t balk. Reporters don’t appreciate the runaround. If you’re making a claim – prove it. Also, don’t schmooze with the reporter, unless you have an existing relationship – don’t waste their time. Keep your curveballs in your arsenal.
- Go into extra innings. Remember, the point of the pitch is to get the reporter to engage in dialogue – you can continue the conversation and provide the back story after throwing the gas. Be intentional while building the relationship.
BRING THE HEAT WITH THE RIGHT KEY MESSAGES
While most reporters and producers still prefer emails, some don’t mind the occasional phone pitch. Brush up on their preferences and tailor each pitch to the individual and publication. Focus on delivering meatballs (key message development) – the right words can provide impact and inspire action. Utilize competitive positioning and brevity, and clarify the benefit with simplicity. What makes your story pitch news? Why should they care to write about it? Interject descriptors, such as “first,” “only,” and “best,” to illicit a swing. The main points should answer the basic questions: Who? What? When? Where? and How?
STOP THROWING WILD PITCHES
Some simple tips to increase the velocity of your fastball include revising your pitch to exclude nonsensical junk – the shorter the better. Boilerplates are unnecessary, at this point, but have a place at the end of a news release or via a hyperlink to a webpage. Also, ask a colleague to review for additional perspective, make sure to analyze the scouting report to identify the right contacts and be persistent – don’t give up.
Below are six additional guidelines that guarantee you own the strike zone:
- Pay attention to the news cycle – timing is everything. Watch for trends and be strategic with your outreach.
- Has the story been told or is it too similar? Don’t be boring. It’s all about the story – is it unique or interesting? Spend time on framing your pitch.
- Don’t be the “rambler” without a story hook. Research shows most reporters read the first couple of sentences of the pitch before hitting delete.
- Is the content of interest to the reporter? Don’t be irrelevant. Clean up your contact lists – beats change, and turnover occurs.
- You must have a good and legitimate reasons to use an embargo. Don’t use one just to get attention – it’s unprofessional, and you will lose credibility.
- Don’t “spray and pray.” The obviously automated mass pitch is a pet peeve of journalists. It’s 2022, for Pete’s (Rose) sake!
Aiming for a perfect game? Both subject lines and pitches should lead with the news and cite available assets. Personalize your pitch, get straight to the point and lead with a single news hook. Make it clear that you will make it incredibly easy for the reporter to cover the story. They appreciate this and will reach back out!
What other PR pitching methods and/or tips do you have?
To see examples of how we’ve supported our clients with media relations strategy and outreach, view our case studies.