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5 Ways to Grab a Journalist’s Attention (and 5 Mistakes to Avoid)

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

Journalists are some of the busiest people on the planet, and when you choose to reach out to them with a cold pitch or idea, it’s an understatement to say you never have a second chance to make a first impression. So how do you ensure that you not only sell your idea well, but you also set the ground for a fruitful relationship that you can build from in the future?

There are a handful of helpful dos and don’ts that should always guide your communication.

1. You offer the journalist a story, not just an idea.

Journalists — whether they work in print, online, on the radio, podcasts, or TV — are on the hunt for good stories. If you’re going to send a pitch or an idea, make sure what you’re offering is more than just an idea. You need to understand “who” your story is about, “what” the reason is for telling it, and critically, “why now” is the time to tell it. So even if you think your brand-new startup is simply amazing (and it truly might be!), sending an email that only says, “Hi! I’m the CEO of a brand-new startup! Do you want to write about me?” does not offer a story. Don’t do that. First, figure out what is unique and compelling about your start-up, and why right now is the moment that your start-up’s story needs to be told.

2. You don’t ask the journalist permission to pitch. You simply pitch.

The average journalist gets hundreds of emails a day, which they have to wade through while fielding interviews, managing deadlines (which can be multiple, especially if they’re digital journalists), conducting research, proofing stories, writing captions, and handling a dozen more anonymous tasks. The last thing they want is for someone to create unnecessary extra work for them. So don’t send an email that asks something along the lines of “Hello, I have an idea, can I send it over to you?” Journalists are always on the lookout for good story ideas, and if you've gone to the trouble of tracking down their email address and sending correspondence, make sure you offer something — an idea for a story — in exchange for demanding some of their precious attention. Otherwise, whether you mean to or not, you’re simply wasting their time.

3. You pitch a person, not a publication.

The media world is full of shifts and short on retention, and journalists and editors alike move posts regularly. A beat reporter who was at your favorite tech publication one week might suddenly be freelance the next; a freelance writer who wrote about your company in your favorite newspaper last year might decide they want to pitch your newest idea to a totally different publication the next time you reach out. The best PR people understand this, track reporter moves, and come up with customized pitch angles to suit each reporter’s beat and the focus of each specific publication.

4. You get straight to the point.

Life is short. Your emails and phone calls should not be long.

If you’re writing, keep the note brief. If you’re picking up the phone, don’t start with five minutes of small talk. Say hello, be polite, and then get to the point. We're all busy, but journalists are probably busier than you. Show you respect their time by getting down to business quickly and succinctly. They’ll thank you for it.

5. You are polite, friendly, and most of all, human.

This is the most important “do” of all. When connecting with journalists, remember that they are professionals just like you. Treat them as such. And if your pitch is rejected or your email goes unanswered, make sure to remember that, just like you, journalists have deadlines and demands and are doing the best they can to juggle it all. Don’t ever use harassing language, don’t follow up every day, and don’t forget to say thank you if you receive positive coverage. In short, be nice. It’s the most powerful tool of all.

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