Yes, Virginia, Your E-Mail Pitches Do Still Make a Difference

Global MarketI’ve written before about my belief that the near constant bashing of media relations has to stop, and how yes, despite how much I love social media and how much I believe in the true good of what it is doing in the PR and marketing business, there still is a time, place and relevancy to traditional PR tactics, such as developing strong relationships. Today, I’m going to give kudos to another one those of traditional tactics that the “gurus” love to bash, but if done right, can still have a major impact in our business: the e-mail pitch.

Like it or love it, it’s still common practice within public relations for PR folks to send out what they think are highly targeted, well-written and witty pitches to reporters—via e-mail—that immediately grab their attention and have them sit up and say, “YES! I have to write this story!” OK, so it may not exactly go this way all the time, but hey, this PR pro can always have a little hope, can’t he?

But the sad fact is that some of these pitches are terribly written - way off base in terms of what the reporter/blogger writes about and/or that publication’s readership and are just haphazardly written by either lazy or overburdened PR pros. That’s not bashing our profession; it’s just a fact based on numerous anecdotal evidence.

Despite all of the recent bashing about pitching, I was pleasantly surprised over the weekend when I turned to the back page of the Jan. 23-24 edition of the Wall Street Journal “Weekend Journal” section to find a piece entitled “Vexed Messaging” by Terry Teachout about cell phone use during plays and operas (great read, by the way. Definitely worth the time, so check it out HERE) that directly mentioned an e-mail from a publicist working for a company that has developed a text-messaging service called “Turn Your Cell Phone On!” that was mentioned in the article.

Seeing your company’s/client’s product and/or experts mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article is kudos enough to the hard work you have put in as a PR pro, but to have the author of the article mention your e-mail directly that caught his or her attention, and knowing the fact that your subject line is what grabbed your attention? Oh man, talk about a great day at the office!

So what can we learn from this one shining example? Well, for starters, as the headline of this post implies, yes, e-mail pitches do still have their place. Just not the bland, crappy ones that are hawking XYZ product that nobody gives a damn about, or are over-hyping something we all know not to be true. It all goes back to the good old basics: Give reporters angles and ideas to develop compelling and dynamic stories that people want to read, hear or see. And don’t be afraid to take a few risks in your pitches. Have a punchy subject line. Go right out there with all the facts, (Let’s stop this crap of “I can only tell you this much until you agree to write the piece. That’s nonsense in today’s economy.), and above all else, don’t waste people’s time and please, be nice.

People like stories. We’re born to hear great stories. Give those reporters/bloggers an inner look at what could develop into a great story, and your e-mail pitch may very well be on its way to getting your company/client into a terrific piece. Hell, your e-mail may even make in there as well. Now, that would be a sweet day at the office! And don’t forget that statistical evidence backs up the fact that e-mail pitches do still work: According to a 2009 PRWeek/PR Newswire media survey, 80 percent of journalists prefer to receive pitches by e-mail.

So, what has been your best WOW! moment with your media outreach? What were your secrets to getting beyond just the initial response of, “Hey, this looks cool, but not right now,” but instead, a placement that really made a difference? Share below!

Good Read: Shel Holtz has a fantastic post HERE from April 2009 in an open letter to Robert Scoble (himself, an ardent basher of e-mail pitching) about the fact that e-mail pitches are still the preferred method of outreach by reporters, bloggers, etc.

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  • http://www.jackmonson.com/ JackMonson

    Great post Keith! You're absolutely right that e-mail pitches do still work when used appropriately. There's a vast difference between emailing/blasting/spamming the same press release to 500 journalists whose work you could not possibly have read and engaging a journalist for whom your pitch is relevant via one-on-one email.

    @jackmonson

  • http://twitter.com/RebeccaDenison Rebecca Denison

    I love that you use the example of the WSJ article! And I think you're definitely right, things like e-mail pitches are just tools to be used by PR folks. If you suck, your e-mail pitches will, too, but then again so will most everything you produce.

    Sometimes too much blame is put on the medium or tool when really all that is needed is a little extra care or research.

    Love it, Keith!

  • keithtrivitt

    Jack – Exactly. It's really like anything else in life: If you want to get it done right, you need to put in the time, effort and hard work. And to me, an e-mail blast to 1,000 reporters – most of whom you have never read their work – is not doing it right. It's not hard work. And more often than not, it will not get you quality results that both you – and your clients/company – want.

    Rebecca – Love that line: “If you suck, your e-mail pitches will, too, but then again so will most everything you produce.” So unbelievably true. Everything we do in this business is a byproduct of the effort we put into it. And being such an outward-facing business, if you don't take the time to do it right, and if you just “suck” at it, then it's going to show.

  • Laney

    Keith,

    100% agree with you. With all the jargon I use e-mails are almost always my first-line pitching tactic. I like to get into a back and forth before I pick up the phone. Mostly because reporters can answer e-mails at their leisure but the phone ringing is a bit more of nuisance.

  • http://twitter.com/AmandaOleson Amanda Oleson

    Keith,

    Great post! I completely agree- even though media relations practices are often harshly critiqued, (rightfully so in many cases) a good e-mail pitch can be incredibly effective- for your client and in terms of time management for yourself and the reporter. I spent the last few years doing media relations, and while a lot of the approaches to pitching and the media are changing rapidly- traditional tactics do still hold weight. I found a lot of success with e-mail pitching, and found that many reporters do actually still prefer it. I also noticed that reporters tended to come to me for additional sources for stories we were working on if they knew I would reply QUICKLY by e-mail to their requests.

  • megmroberts

    I've always been a supporter of using both e-mail and the phone to contact journalists. In my current position at a digital PR agency, I tend to only pitch bloggers and online journalists – meaning e-mail is almost always my only method of outreach. I forget that there is such controversy surrounding e-mail pitches in the traditional PR realm, so I appreciate this article for bringing it back to my attention AND providing a sound example of how e-mail pitching can work.

    Take care, Keith!

  • keithtrivitt

    Laney – Same thing with me. I really enjoy the back-and-forth that goes on between me – the PR guy – and the reporter about certain story angles, client work or other random things. And I agree with you about not wanting to be a total nuisance. Though, at times, we do have to get on the phone and track people down. It's all a balance, really. Thanks for the insight!

  • http://twitter.com/eddiemart Erica M. Martinez

    You've seriously made my day with this post. Email pitching is the aspect of my job that causes me the most stress – am I giving them a good angle, are there any grammar/spelling/punctuation mistakes that I missed after reading this a million times, is my email going to get deleted without even being read? AHHHHHH, so many things to consider. But after reading your post, I feel re-energized about giving the people on my media list something to write about (insert Bonnie Raitt song here).

    I never send a mass pitch, customization is so important to speaking to individuals and even though I may get a pitch-ulcer, I'm going to continue making sure everything in my email is perfect.

    Thanks for the great post!

  • keithtrivitt

    Thanks for all of the great comments, folks! I promise I'll answer back to all of you when I get the chance later today!

  • johnribbler

    Recent bashing? Journalists have bashed pitching since day 1, but they are really complaining about the 85% of PR people who can't match a story to the writer/publication. If you know how to do that and don't let your clients tell you what to pitch, no one will ever complain, and your e-mails will always be opened.

  • keithtrivitt

    Amanda – Great point about reporters coming back to you quickly via e-mail with additional information/story requests if they know you're always going to be there for them when they quickly need you. And that's something that I think we can really augment both social media (say, Twitter) and e-mail, to quick allow reporters to reach back out to us via Twitter (or maybe Facebook chat), asking for a quick follow up about something, and then we can send them more detailed info via e-mail. It's all about being there for reporters/bloggers/anyone really when they need you and figuring out what works best – for them – for outreach efforts.

  • keithtrivitt

    Thanks for the interesting insight from the digital side of PR, Meg. That's a really good point that when we are dealing with bloggers and online reporters, most – if not all – of them prefer/require you to reach out to them via e-mail or some other non-phone form of communications. So in that regard, I really think someone like you, who works in the online/blogging space of PR all the time, would have some great insight into best practices of e-mail pitches.

  • keithtrivitt

    Erica – Happy to help, and glad to hear that the post had a nice, positive impact on your day! E-mail pitching shouldn't be stressful, but I certainly understand that it can be sometimes. I've been there before, too, stressing out over whether the angle I have provided, or what I wrote was concise enough to not be a bore, but detailed enough to get the point across and attract someone's attention. It's a bit of an art or science, but like you, I felt very excited when reading the WSJ article, as it was so great to see that a reporter actually took the time and care to mention a PR pro's hard work in an obviously stellar e-mail pitch.

  • keithtrivitt

    John – Good point re: bashing of pitching has always been going on. I guess I was referring more to the uptick in constant discussion of this bashing from seemingly every part of the industry (reporters, bloggers, ad folks, marketing folks, PRs, etc.) since social media really took hold in the last year or so in the business.

    But you're definitely right: Take the time to focus on what a reporter/blogger may want to write about, and think about what their readers/listeners/viewers may want, and you should be golden. Thanks for the insight!

  • http://twitter.com/AllenShadow Allen Shadow

    You're so right. Actually had two successful email pitches to the metro editor at the New York Times over the past three years. One turned into ink, second was researched by Times staff but didn't make it in the end. Nevertheless, my relationship the that editor is solid. Why? Because he know I know his beat and good story when I see one. I always tell newbies the field is all based on the second word in PR: relationships, and that will never change.

  • http://www.bradmarley.com/ Brad

    There must be something in the PR blog water because I'm reading about the importance of traditional PR tactics in a lot of blogs. Even I wrote about it.

    Anybody who shuns the benefits of a pitch e-mail is destined to fail. Not only does it give us a reason to follow up with the reporter — “Hi, do you have a second? Great. I just wanted to follow up my e-mail from last week…” — but it can save the reporter a lot of work if it's something in his sweet spot. That will lead the reporter to believe you know what you're doing and are a valuable resource.

    It's a win win. (Win.)

    And, if you write it well enough to capture the reporter's attention, sometimes they will respond via e-mail. I don't know about you, but I get excited when I see an e-mail from a reporter sitting in my inbox. Nine times out of 10 it means you're doing something right.

  • keithtrivitt

    Brad – I'm right there with you when it comes to seeing an e-mail in my inbox from a reporter or blogger, particularly if it's one that I have had my eye on for a while and have been vigilent with several unique angles that I felt would be worth their time.

    It's a great feeling, and yeah, it often means you're doing something right, or they're wanting some more info, and you're (hopefully) well on your way to a great relationship!

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