Pitch Please!

By Ryan Lilly

The art of the pitch – it can be delicate and precise like threading a needle, to something much more direct and forceful, like demolishing a wall with a sledge hammer. Regardless of your style, if you are going to get into PR, you should enjoy breaking down the walls and building relationships with the media. As PR Snoop Dogg (Snoop Lion does not exist to me) would put it –


I am by no means a vet, but as the months and years roll on it seems as though I am seeing increasing hesitancy from younger PR pros to hit send, or even, dare I say it, pick up the phone. I don’t want to be too sweeping here or condemning, there are definitely those younger folks who are hungry for media interaction, and also ready for it – kudos to you!

Disclaimer aside, for those considering joining the PR ranks or those just getting started, the pitch is where it’s at. In my experience, there is not much in the course of an average day that is more rewarding or exciting then breaking through to a top tier publication or journalist, and getting them to see things your / your client’s way. It is like a dance of give and take, and whether or not it seems like it at the time, as the PR pro you are always leading.

I like to think that I have a pretty good track record with the media, and while I don’t believe in a set equation for landing a story, there are definitely some pitch tactics that I have come to love and those I have grown to hate. Homework is perhaps the most important. Get to know the journalist, reference a recent article, and maybe even check them out on social media. Who knows what you may have in common that could serve as an ice breaker. It sounds corny and maybe even creepy, but see where they are geographically – what’s been big in the news there recently, maybe sports or weather – all it takes is one reply or one answered phone and your door is open.

Once you have done your homework, you can and must be confident when you pitch – confidence is paramount. Insecurity rings out over the phone, it bleeds from your words in an email and it diminishes your credibility, making you harder to listen to. A journalist or editor from, oh say Bloomberg for example, will sniff out an ill-informed, insecure PR pro in an instant, and shut them down just as quickly. This can be very unpleasant – but it is important not to be shaken, to learn from it and move on to the next target.

It is also very important to always remember that journalists are people – TALK TO THEM LIKE PEOPLE. Though they hold the keys to something you want, you are both just people who go home at the end of the day and do the same things that all people do. It is important to both give respect, but also earn and demand it back. All this said, conversation can’t and shouldn’t always be about shop, niceties like – “have a good weekend!” or “I hope you have been well since we last spoke!” – go surprisingly far.

As Bill Gates so eloquently put it back in 1996, “content is king.” While many debate this stance in a world filled with more and more screens, and constantly increasing stimuli, I still think the sentiment rings true for a PR pitch. With that said, leave the marketing speak at the door! How do you expect to cut through an inbox with hundreds of other pitches when you sound like a pre-programmed Teddy Ruxpin spewing marketing rhetoric? Don’t copy and paste from that white paper or case study because it is easy and you need to send out 25 pitches today, just don’t do it – they’ll know – and your pitch will join many others just like it in the trash. Focus on your subject line; it is your first line of attack and often your only chance of getting through. Up-level your story and make it instantly interesting and attention grabbing; do this in seven words or less and you will cut through the noise, more often than not.

Finally, “no” or “not now” are not always as cut and dry as they may seem. If you feel that you have a story that is just too good of a fit to simply let die at the hands of an editor who might not have even read or listened to your whole pitch, then don’t be afraid to push back. Do so very carefully and at your own risk, but often it is safe to say, “I appreciate your feedback, what about this angle,” or, “are you sure that you considered this piece of the story, it just really seems like a good fit.” It is scary and a bit risky, but believe me sometimes a well-informed argument works, and you come out the other side with a great story and a new level of respect from the journalist. At the very least you will not likely be forgotten anytime soon.

These are just some little tips and tricks that I have learned over the course of thousands of pitches, hundreds of pieces of secured coverage and quite a few denials – you can take them or leave them. Perhaps what is most important it to develop your own set of guidelines, keep track of what works and what doesn’t, and build your repertoire of best pitching practices. Tips and tactics aside, you have to be in it to win it, so pitch please!