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Posted on 06.15.2016

Time to Ditch the Pitch Template

A few weeks ago, after several failed attempts to connect with a trade magazine editor, I spent a few minutes on the phone with another contact at the publication. She explained the editor isn’t particularly “open” to being pitched, and he gets a lot of pitches, so he routinely deletes emails from unfamiliar senders without even opening them.

Harsh. But understandable.

According to a recent analysis by Ragan’s, PR pros now outnumber journalists five-to-one, up from two-to-one about 15 years go. Couple that with the dynamics of today’s newsrooms — where page counts, staffs and salaries languish – and it’s not hard to see how reporters and editors might feel frustrated and less-than-friendly toward the onslaught of email pitches they receive.

One of the things you can and should do to break through the noise is make sure you’re customizing your pitches for each reporter you’re contacting.

By customization, I don’t mean just swapping out the reporter’s name in the salutation of a template pitch you’re blasting to 50 media outlets. Let’s face it, as soon as your reader gets past “Hi, Nancy,” she knows she’s essentially reading a form letter. And unless you’re somehow pitching the exact thing Nancy’s dying to write about, she’s likely to spend as much time considering your story as you spent typing her name.

Customization means truly considering how the story you’re offering fits the coverage of the media outlet and interests of the reporter you’re contacting – and then showing it in the pitch email.

Among the variables to consider are:

  • What is the reporter interested in? Do they have a particular beat, and does your pitch fall onto that beat?
  • Do you have a relationship with the reporter? Do you know them well enough to open the email with a personal greeting, or have you worked together on a past story that might be worth referencing?
  • Has the reporter covered a related topic in the recent or distant past? If so, how does your story connect to or build on that narrative?
  • Who is the publication’s audience? Is it local, regional or national? Business? A particular industry? General consumer?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t write a template pitch. Creating that first pitch draft is often a critical component of the process for identifying and developing the most salient points of your story. But if you really want to increase your odds of landing coverage, the template should only be your starting point. You should be tweaking it for almost every message – adding and deleting language, altering the angle, making the tone more or less formal, all depending on the recipient.

It takes time and effort, but when it works the payoff is worth it.

In fact, I’m proud to say I finally landed my story with the trade publication I was trying to reach. Though in this case, it took careful customization and the new insights I gained about the editor to finally make meaningful contact … with one of his colleagues.

Good luck out there.

Erin George is a Senior Account Supervisor at Lovell Communications. Connect with Erin at erin@lovell.com.

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