PR Tips | Writing better pitches
Last week, I was in Napa Valley at the Wine Writers Symposium, an annual gathering of some of the nation’s top wine writers.
While there, I spoke to attendees about how to write better pitches and get their stories placed. I was paired with Alison Clare Steingold, a senior editor at C Magazine. Drawing on my experience at Keybridge Communications and as a wine writer, I also coached attendees on query writing in a series of one-on-one sessions.
The pitching process changes depending on your goals, of course. Op-Eds, for example, are almost always written before they’re pitched. With magazine articles, writers should pitch editors before they put pen to paper. These lessons also work for conventional PR – there’s no better way to get a reporter interested in your story than teeing it up for her.
Here are the takeaways:
1) You don’t pitch a topic; you pitch a story.
2) The query is not a description of the piece you’d like to write. It’s an advertisement for it. This is a critical distinction. You can place a bad piece with a great query, but you can’t place a great article with a bad query.
Think of the movies — the query is the preview. If the preview stinks, you’ll never see the movie. But you’ll see a terrible movie if it has a great preview.
3) Queries are designed with just one purpose – convincing the editor to solicit or accept an article. So they should be sexy, short, and can even exaggerate what your piece is about. Remember that your query isn’t going to be published. So there’s more freedom.
4) Don’t try to summarize the details of your story in the query. Instead, just focus on selling it. A good query is fewer than 10 sentences. It should focus on whatever the selling points are. Maybe it’s a timely news hook, maybe it’s a scoop, maybe a scandal.
An author’s odds improve dramatically with short queries. In the age of twitter, attention spans are short. Editors just don’t read long pitches, especially when they don’t recognize your name. So you’ll want to keep your pitch under 150 words, and actually aim for about 100-120.
5) Good queries are well written. Avoid jargon, particularly flowery language, anything that’s overly academic or esoteric, and long quotes.
6) Don’t be too formal! Pretend the editor is your friend. If you’re offering a piece about Hillary Clinton, don’t call her “former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.”
7) The query is the most important part of an article – because without the query, your piece never gets published! So spend time on it. If the editor’s eyes glaze over, the query has failed.