It’s not every day that you have the opportunity to get the facts straight with a handful of HARO reporters and be enlightened on the art of successful (and not-so-successful) pitching. We had the privilege of hearing from three reporters who source stories from HARO, who write for such publications as the AOL “weird stories” and the Wall Street Journal. It quickly became clear that these writers had similar opinions on most topics, and that, as a result, there are some very basic rules that PR pros should follow when pitching to this group of professionals.
One insight we learned was about the time of day to make a pitch. The unanimous answer was that if a pitch is good, it really doesn’t matter what time of day it is made. Email was a clear winner over telephone in communicating a pitch because time is short and there is no need to hassle over salutations and “best times to call.” The consensus among the editors is that emails that featured quick bullets or links to a company’s website for additional research during free time are greatly appreciated. One journalist noted that people need not be shy with sending follow-up emails or even making follow-up phone calls, as original emails can and do get lost.
When reporters make HARO inquiries, they can receive anywhere from a couple of PR responses to a couple hundred, so making an email stand out with a great subject line is key. The best lines are “short and sweet,” relevant, and not clear attempts at appealing to the masses. Once you have a tailored and attention-grabbing subject line, get to the point of your pitch as soon as the first sentence, giving no more than three paragraphs of good content. Or, give a few bullet points with accurate data supporting a thesis. Be sure to answer why something is newsworthy: Are you suggesting a trend? Why write about this now? Sometimes it works to weave in a dramatic tone to your pitch, aiming for the heart or gut, as one person suggested: “Give the pitch you’d give to your friends while drinking a round of beer.” Lastly, attachments to email pitches are no longer advised; they create a second step that is unnecessary to reporters if the right information is in the body of the email as it already should be.
Somewhat surprisingly, given the explosion of social media sites, these editors said that Twitter and Facebook have not been used as mediums for pitching. Press releases have not been faring much better either, mainly serving as a sort of “facts sheet.” Traditional mail (“snail mail”) is definitely not worth anyone’s time or money, unless a reporter specifically requests something, which is extremely rare.
Some top mistakes PR people make when trying to pitch include making news about the client, rather than putting their client in the bigger-picture news. Also, people fail to realize the benefits of being aware of both a reporter’s readers and their covered beats. Furthermore, pitchers don’t invest time in checking to see if the stories they are pitching have already recently been published. And of course, making sure to correctly spell the reporter’s name you are contacting, the publication, and everything else you send out is nothing to overlook.
When asked about the best pitches the reporters had read in the past couple of years, all agreed that the pitches followed guidelines. Some particular pitches won them over using laugh-out-loud comedy, while others tugged at curiosity. Bottom line, whatever angle the pitcher took, they did it following commonly agreed-upon guidelines that made them memorable to the reporter, resulting in a story. While the content of a pitch can vary drastically, the way in which it is delivered can make all the difference.