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Pitching the Press

Avoid the 5 Most Common Mistakes

All the manpower shortages today at newspapers and magazines have made it much easier - in some ways - to break into print. In other ways, it has gotten harder.

If you send an email with your credentials and a brief sample of a free, original article, tips list or other content you can provide, editors may just leap at the opportunity. That is, if they believe it will appeal to their audience and if the quality is very good. (They don't want to spend as much time editing your piece as it would take for them to write it themselves!)

Print publications with online outlets present even riper opportunities: They need new content throughout the day to satisfy the continuous demands of their audience.

On the other hand, if your aim is to get a reporter to write about you, the job just got tougher. Today's print media have sharply reduced their staffs in the past few years. Some have even cut back on the frequency of publishing. That means more competition for less time and attention.

Unfortunately, a lot of people (including some professionals) pitch themselves, their books, products or companies in ways that pretty much guarantee they'll get no response. Today's editors are busier than ever; they're looking for pitches that are clear and concise, and content that's clean, accurate and ready to use. Too often, that's not what they get.

What are some of the common mistakes people make when pitching to print editors? Take a look:

Pay no heed to deadlines: Newspapers are generally daily or weekly; magazines may publish weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually. Both plan their feature content ahead of time. For papers, that may be from a few days to two or three weeks ahead of publication. Magazines may be working on their May issue in February. Either way, working in advance is vital. If you're hoping to time your story idea or article to coincide with a season or special event, consider when you'd like to see it published and work backward from that date. It also helps to comb the publication's website for information on deadlines and policies regarding unsolicited material.

Don't read the publication: You can't tailor your pitch or article to suit the needs of the publication if you've never read it. Once you understand what sort of content it uses, in what format and in which sections, you can customize your piece. Say you, as the owner of a children's art gallery, want to provide back-to-school tips for helping inspire creativity. You can A) Send an article full of tips to the main editor listed on the website, or B) Read a few issues of the newspaper or magazine and find out if and when it publishes a parenting page or an arts page, and who the editor is. (You can also see if it uses a question-and-answer format, bulleted tips, or longer articles.) You'll also likely win the respect of the editor, who will give you bonus points for taking the time to do your homework.

Be oblivious to the news: If you don't know today's issues, trends and breaking news, how can you offer up something timely and current? Most publications look for a "news hook" - a way to give a piece context because it relates to something happening now. There have been lots of news features on the Mormon religion, for instance, since Mitt Romney began campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination. Romney being Mormon gives publications a reason to write about that religion. He's a great news hook. Does your business offer solutions for people to help beat the recession? Do you write romance novels, and can you tie that expertise into advice for brides-to-be like Jennifer Aniston? If it's in the news and you can speak to it, don't hesitate to get your pitch together and send it off today.

Be as verbose as possible: No editor wants to wade through page after page of narrative, waiting for you to get to the point. Sometimes a simple email with a few sentences describing your story angle and how it relates to a timely topic is enough. However you choose to present the information, do it in a way that respects your contact's time. Brief is best.

Hide the important information: If editors have to search for dates, your contact information, or local relevance, they'll likely give up - even if they're initially interested in your pitch. Think of the information you would need if you were considering writing a story or publishing what has been provided. The vital information should be present and clearly visible.

Even if you don't make these common mistakes, catching the interest of an editor can be difficult. Remember to paste your pitch into the body of your email - don't send it as an attachment, which may get it flagged as junk mail. Follow up with a polite phone call ("Just wanted to make sure you received my email regarding an article I can write for you"). And don't give up!

Persistently yours,

Marsha Friedman
The PR Insider

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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