Tips especially for new-to-PR media pitchers

No offense to actual used-car dealers, but if you’re new to pitching news reporters, you may feel at times like a variation on that metaphor — like you’re urging something not-so-valuable on someone who is shopping … but not shopping for what you’re offering.

And worse, if you’re like 99 percent of the newcomers I’ve met in 16 years of coaching tech PR writers, the way you’re writing your pitch is really bad.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for all of you intelligent and capable people, newbies and pros alike, to help improve those email pitches.

Examples are included at the bottom of this post.

Dialog, not an essay

Be a person talking to a person, not an agency or company writing to a publication. Your email in this case should be almost like the transcript of an in-person conversation between two busy people who like and respect each other. It should not sound like an essay or a business letter from the 1950s.

Bad grammar is simply bad. It doesn’t connote conciseness or humility.

But “writing dialog” doesn’t mean leaving off the first-person-singular-nominative-case-personal pronoun of your opening sentences. It’s OK to use the word “I.” Leaving it out doesn’t sound like casual dialog, nor does it make you seem more humble — e.g., “Wanted to see if you’re interested …”

A pitching coach whom I greatly respect advises leaving off the personal pronoun, and the way he does it is fine. But I see too many rookies copying the omission in an odd way while also writing a superficial pitch — and the combo of both makes you look bad.

So I advise traditional syntax, at least to start. You can get rebelliously space-saving later on, after the substance of your pitches are stronger.

Readers with questions, clients as sources

First say something relevant to the reporter’s audience, and then follow up with your spokesperson as a resource for helping the reporter’s audience with questions about their own interests. Avoid mentioning your company’s mission, and if possible avoid mentioning your startup’s name at all until the bottom half of the pitch. If your company isn’t yet a household name, no one cares what it’s doing. You have to earn your way in.

Competitors? Yes!

It’s OK and even desirable to include names of competitors (and customers, if you have permission) because one company does not a market make.

Reporters write about issues in flux. If the movements of one company are influencing the movements of others, there are questions about the immediate future in there somewhere. Reporters care about questions and the immediate future.

Let your company and its competitors/customers be characters in a story that makes a useful point in the readers’ immediate future. The characters aren’t the story; they are elements in telling the story.

Don’t hide behind statistics. Look for context instead.

Usually, when someone gives you the advice to “find a statistic for the pitch,” they are really saying, “Find context. Put your information into perspective. Show its relevance to the reporter and—most importantly—the reporter’s audience.”

Statistics are helpful only when interpreted, surprising or about the audience’s own questions. Starting a sentence with, “According to [source],” is like hiding behind your mommy’s skirt when you were 3 or like trying to fake out a college professor on an essay you’ve thought little about.

You are smart. You can make a point. Your point doesn’t have to be someone else’s. If your point is backed up by a statistic, it’s fine to say so and you should name the source, but let it be backup, not a curtain behind which you try to hide.

That’s plenty for now. Below are three examples. The first is bad and the next two are better. All are fictional.

Fictional bad pitch

What makes this a bad pitch? It’s wordy  overly formal, full of statistics but not context, and isn’t relevant or responsive to the reporter’s audience. 

Hi [Reporter’s Name],

Hope this email finds you well.

Noticed that you wrote an article on Aug. 20 in the Bay Area Times titled “San Francisco Settles $2 Million Movie Scandal Lawsuit,” and wondered if you might like to interview Dante Williams, vice president of marketing, at Good Law Inc., the leading provider of mobile solutions for the legal services industry. Good Law has signed more than 100 firms for its breakthrough Find Legal Help Fast outreach platform, which assists users in the litigation, mediation, arbitration and advocacy industries, demonstrating momentum in the quickly changing landscape for digital legal services.

Good Law’s 600 percent revenue growth and its achievement in surpassing the 1-million-mark in apps downloaded nationwide as of April 14 are further evidence that Good Law’s innovative solutions are driving a revolution in the legal services industry.

According to Legal Weekly, many attorneys charge $300 an hour, compared to an average American family’s earnings of $22 an hour. Legal Weekly says many attorneys often ask for a $5,000 retainer.

Good Law’s mission is to aggregate and curate legal discussions to enhance the quality of the legal experience, improving client outcomes while helping law firms generate new revenue streams. Good Law accomplishes this feat through its acclaimed Find Legal Help Fast platform, which uses natural-language-analysis software and other technology to index lower-cost but recurring legal questions and offers authoritative assistance to a myriad of people at once.

Please let me know if you’d like to speak to Dante about the increasingly complex legal landscape and how Good Law’s solutions are improving customer experiences.

Best,

Jordan

Better version:

Notice how much easier this pitch is to read and how it starts with a problem faced by the reporter’s readers. The company name and founder is mentioned after what makes the pitch relevant to a wider audience. Note: no stats in the email. They are included at the bottom.

Hi [Reporter’s Name],

Even if a bookstore, library or online information warehouse has answers to legal questions, families still need to search – sometimes unproductively – for the right information and put it in perspective for own their situation and understand their own state’s legal wrinkles.

That’s a lot of work, right?

Unfortunately, many families go without legal counsel. Longtime services like [Famous Company] are still excellent, but now software and automation advances are finally coming to the legal industry.

I’d like to introduce you to my client, a startup called Good Law Inc., which uses technology to index lower-cost but recurring legal questions. Good Law offers authoritative assistance to many families at once, while creating a new revenue stream for law firms. Already 100 firms have signed up to participate.

I added useful statistics below my signature.

Meanwhile, shall we set up a time to talk?

Dante Williams, a Good Law executive, is an expert on what’s ahead for families who used to go without, and for the firms now embracing a new business model.

Dante is usually available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Which is better for you?

Best,

Jordan

***

Many attorneys charge $300 an hour, compared to an average American family’s earnings of $22 an hour. Many ask for a $5,000 retainer, which is 70 percent higher than an average family’s average monthly income of $3,500. (Source: Legal Inc. survey, June 2014)

The Good Law app, available on iOS and Android devices, has been downloaded more than 1 million times by families, small businesses and individuals who can now benefit from advice tailored for 37 states. Three more state-specific rollouts are scheduled for summer, with all 50 expected to be complete by mid-2015.

The Find Legal Help Fast platform builds client communities around issues such as small claims, family law, personal injury, landlord-tenant relations and other cases that – once aggregated – offer economies of scale that benefit both firms and clients.

Or:

This pitch connects to recent press in a relevant way. Notice the problem faced by the reporter’s audience (the need for low-cost legal help) is still in the first paragraph of the pitch! 

Hi [Reporter’s Name],

I’d like to introduce you to a startup founded by the guy who invented [xyz] and sold it to [Famous Company] in 2006 for $1.5 billion. Dante Williams is now helping low- to middle-income families get otherwise costly legal help through a new automated platform (patent pending).

Already, 100 firms have signed up to participate because the platform also provides them with a new revenue stream by aggregating lower-cost cases. The new company is called Good Law.

If you’re interested, please let me know what days are best for you. Meanwhile, I copied relevant  statistics below my signature.

If you need a “time element” to hang this on, I believe a verdict is due as early as next week in the [Famous Case], which involves a landlord dispute arising from the [Famous Company] squatter case. Click here to see Good Law advice that could have prevented this.

Dante can also help you pull out some of the larger issues raised by this case, if you or one of your colleagues needs that, as well as generally offer third-party commentary as issues arise in the future.

Best,

Jordan

***

Many attorneys charge $300 an hour, compared to an average American family’s earnings of $22 an hour. Many ask for a $5,000 retainer, which is 70 percent higher than an average family’s average monthly income of $3,500. (Source: Legal Inc. survey, June 2014)

The Good Law app, available on iOS and Android devices, has been downloaded more than 1 million times by families, small businesses and individuals who can now benefit from advice tailored for 37 states. Three more state-specific rollouts are scheduled for summer, with all 50 expected to be complete by mid-2015.

The Find Legal Help Fast platform builds client communities around issues such as small claims, family law, personal injury, landlord-tenant relations and other cases that – once aggregated – offer economies of scale that benefit both firms and clients.

***

If you liked this post, please share it with your team or on social media.

If you aren’t already getting our posts delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning, please sign up here.

Check out our full menu of posts here, so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. Almost all are practical tips you can immediately apply to your daily PR work.

***

WriteCulture creates, customizes and delivers workshops for technology PR teams on persuasive writing and strategic thinking. Contact us to explore the possibility of a training for your in-house or agency team.