Today I did something I've never done before—I led a campfire session at IMEX America! The location was tucked away in the far reaches of the hall so it was a small group, but I couldn't have asked for more interesting, and interested, participants. I'm a writer, not a speaker, so it was a big push for me, but I did it! And, more to the point, I think the people who came learned a few things. It was borderline surreal to have others taking notes while I was talking—talk about your role reversal—but it was a blast. Anyway, here's a summary of the ideas we shared on how to get people like me interested in running your pitch, be it for a product announcement or an article idea.
I know this is kind of long, so if you want the short form, do these two things almost no one does and you will get my attention:
1. Do some research so you can customize your pitch.
2. Remember that it's not about your product, service, or idea. It's not even about the editor, though some may think it is. It's all about the reader. How will what you're pitching make them more productive/profitable/happy?
But read on for these five tips that give a lot more detail if you have a few minutes!
Meetings industry editors are deluged daily with pitches from people and companies that want to share their news or ideas with potential customers and peers. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it gets maybe a nanosecond of a mouse hover before it gets deleted from the in-box. Some of it is clearly irrelevant, like the great deal on construction cranes one company recently sent me, or the new line of refrigeration units now available from a commercial restaurant supply company. But even when they get the industry right, the pitches all too often fall short for reasons that just a modicum of research would have made easy to avoid.
Whether it’s a press release or a non-promotional article, here are five things you can do to ensure that your pitch doesn’t get pitched.
1. Before you begin to write, glance through the magazine or website.
Note the types of articles they run, the topics that get the most play, and whether they’ve run similar items recently.
For product/services pitches: Do they cover new venue openings? If so, what kind? If you’re pitching a new restaurant but you don’t see any restaurant openings being written about, you’ll have to make it clear why yours is an exception worth running. Do they cover only major hotel renovation news, or is a soft-goods update newsy enough to get some ink? What aspects of a new hotel opening do they tend to write about? If the square footage of the meeting space is always mentioned in writeups, put that up top in your pitch. Do they cover new hires, and if so, at what level? If they have never run a new general manager hire notice before, chances are they aren’t going to run yours, either, unless you have a really compelling story behind it.
For article pitches: Are article topics broken out by category on their website? Take a skip through the category your idea would fall into to see what they’ve covered recently and note gaps where your expertise could come to the rescue. What types of expertise do most of their writers have? Do they use mostly freelance writers, staff writers, experts in the field, or a mix of all of the above? Note the style of writing they tend to run—is it academic? Newsy? First-person experiences? Case studies? Opinion pieces? Do they run 2,000-word, in-depth features or mainly shorter items?
2. Customize like you care
Nothing sets editors’ teeth on edge more than having an obvious form letter clog their in-boxes. If you can’t bother to spend the 10 seconds it takes to learn their name and that of their publication, why should they take 10 seconds to read your pitch? We get a lot of “Throw it at the wall to see what sticks” pitches for both products and articles, and very seldom does it make the cut.
For product/services pitches: Explain exactly why the information you’re pitching is relevant specifically to that publication’s audience. One thing that catches my attention is when the PR person remembers that I’ve run items they’ve pitched in the past, saying “Since you ran this item on this topic six months ago, I thought you might be interested in this new development.” Double bonus points if they include a link to the previous item.
For article pitches: Refer to other articles they’ve run on similar topics, and explain how what you’re pitching would build on those articles. For example, if you see they just ran a comprehensive article on, say Wi-Fi pricing, and that’s what you want to write about, say that you noticed their great writeup on the topic, and explain how your take will add new information, not retread what they just published. If your topic is not one that is currently on that publication’s radar screen, say in your pitch letter that you noticed that fact, and explain why that publication’s readership would need to know about, say, how the new overtime pay rules could affect planners specifically. We love it when you come up with ideas we hadn’t thought of yet!
3. Write a killer headline/subject line
As with any email marketing, if we never open your pitch, it has no chance. Keep it accurate, but don’t be afraid to have some fun with it. Job number one to grab our attention in the first place.
4. Just the facts, please
While I know it’s a public-relations person’s job to put in all those superlatives, it’s the editor’s job to take them back out. Save us all some time and just stick to the facts—pack in some data to back up the significance of what you’re pitching. And try to get to the point without a huge amount of introductory text: Think who, what, why, where, when, and how. Grab us in that first sentence and we’re yours for at least another paragraph or two. Most pitches can be contained to one page (500 words or so)—and should be. If you have more information that helps make your points, include a link to it. Don’t make us search your website! It’s helpful to include a short “About Us” paragraph at the end with key facts about your organization.
I have yet to meet an editor who doesn’t cringe at poor writing style, typos, missing vital information (including, believe it or not, the location of the hotel that’s opening—yes, that has happened), misspelled names, wrong dates, and other factual errors. Think of your pitch as your idea’s résumé—you wouldn’t pitch yourself for a job with a résumé that isn’t polished until it gleams. Give your idea the same level of attention if you want it to get our attention.
And please, don’t forget to include a name and contact information (phone and email) for someone we can follow up with.
5. Avoid the Non-News Press Release
For some reason, companies often send out press releases that announce, well, nothing much. They’re not so much news as reprints from their “About Us” page on their website. If it’s not timely, new, interesting, unusual, or in some way will have a big effect on those in the industry, it’s not really worth sending. Sorry.
A few more pet peeves:
• Huge attachments. We don’t know if that’s a high-resolution photo or the latest computer virus. Instead, send a link to a website where we can download a high-resolution photo. Oh, and please don’t make us go through a lengthy registration process before approving us to download that photo! If you want us to run it enough to pitch it to us, please pre-approve us.
• Sending the same press release to the same email address repeatedly within minutes.
• Followup calls that won’t take “no” for an answer. Why waste both our time if what you’re pitching just isn’t a good fit? And I beg of you, please don't read your entire press release into my voice mail. This happens more than you would think, and it's not endearing in the slightest.
• Quotes that don’t add much to the story. Don’t use the quotes to get information across so much as to provide insights and opinions about the news.
And a few pet praises:
• Snappy, fun, funky, different headlines that still make it obvious what the news or idea is
• Offers to arrange followup interviews with relevant people
• Copy that’s so well-written it’s difficult to rewrite!
• Finding interesting ways to package information that may not be news, but could be fun as a collection. One PR agency regularly sends us things like, “most Instagram-worthy hotel nooks” and “intriguing break ideas” strung together from multiple hotels they service.
• Don’t be afraid to be different. While most pitches follow the tried-and-true format—intro paragraph with the main gist, second paragraph with more detail, quote from bigwig, more ancillary info, quote from second bigwig, etc.—if your news or idea is about something unusual, feel free to get a little creative and make your pitch match your purpose.
Personalization, customization, and relationship building is as important for those trying to sell publications on their press releases and article ideas as it is for venue sales people trying to sell planners on their hotels, but they all too seldom put in the work to make that happen. The few who do stand out in a big way.