Kicking Off the Summer: What Barbecuing Can Teach Us About Pitch Letter Writing

Thinkstock Single Image SetMemorial Day is a time to remember our fallen heroes. What is a solemn occasion has also marked the unofficial start of summer. Yay! This means many of you (majority in the New York City area) are still cleaning off that grill from this weekend’s festivities.

Since moving to Austin about a year ago from New York City, I learned that barbecuing isn’t simply throwing meat on a grill. My barbecue knowledge increased when I landed Rudy’s “Country Store” and Bar-B-Q as a client. They’ve even trademarked the tagline, Real Texas Bar-B-Q®.  What I found out from their Bar-B-Q Insiders is that grilling isn’t really barbecuing.

So here’s my attempt to tie in real Texas barbecuing with pitch letter writing: 

Fire Up the Pit. The traditional Texas way of barbecuing means “smoking” the meat so getting the barbecue pits to its ideal temperature contributes to how the meat will taste when done. Similarly, the ideal temperature [and I’m not talking about the A/C in your office] of a story angle contributes to the overall impact of the pitch. What I mean here is the angle must fit the temp or mood of the times even if it’s one of those evergreen stories that you’re pitching. For example, don’t be pitching stories on the positive economic impact of the use of oil to reporters covering the BP disaster.

Use the Right Wood. Throw away the coal. In Texas, they use wood to barbecue. You can choose from several types like mesquite, cherry, hickory among many others, but for me the best pick is oak.  The wood is the foundation of barbecuing meat. The type of wood used makes a big difference on the tastiness of the meat when done. As with pitch letter writing, the foundation of your pitch is critical to how tasty it will be. The foundation would be your lead/opening sentence.  It dictates the rest of the pitch.

Respect the Meat. This is likely the most important aspect of the barbecuing process. You’ve got to make sure you’ve picked the right meat [my faves are rib eye and briskets (extra moist)] and that it’s seasoned just right.  The meat of the pitch is also the most important aspect of the pitch letter. This is the heart of the pitch so make sure you avoid hyperbole and data overload. Keep reporters wanting more by not giving away all the information you want to them to have. Let them have enough to stew over to make a decision on whether your pitch is palatable to them or not.

Take Your Time. Smoking meat requires a lot of patience to reach the absolute best level of deliciousness. At times, it takes more than 12 hours to smoke a brisket. Similar to the pitch letter, it is wise to give it a thorough once or twice over before pulling the trigger unless you want your pitch to appear on the Bad Pitch blog.  Even when pitching breaking news stories, make sure you’ve proofed your pitch letter at least once. Don’t rely on spell check. There are many words that spellchecker can’t find like when the letter “L” is accidentally not typed in the word, “Public.” It makes for an uncomfortable situation with your reader.

Taste Test. Before removing the meat from the fire pits, cut a little piece for someone else to taste and get their feedback. This is not critical, but it helps if there are ingredients that need to be added.  With the pitch letter, it would be prudent to have someone else review it before it goes to the reporter you’re targeting. Of course, not everyone has the time especially when under a deadline or pitching breaking news.

Serve Up The Meat. This is it. Once the meat is served to your guests, it’s pretty much out of your hands so be confident with what you’ve barbecued. Hopefully, if the meat didn’t turn out the way you wanted, you won’t get harsh responses. This is exactly like the pitch letter. Once it’s out, it’s out. There’s nothing more you can do, but if you followed the steps I’ve outlined, hopefully, you’ll get interest from the press. If not, at least you have some good barbecue left over.

Note: Thanks to Rudy’s Bar-B-Q Insiders’ Doug Vydrzal & Alan AJ for the basic tips on smoking Real Texas Bar-B-Q.

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