Most journalists receive hundreds of pitches and press releases each week – of which just a tiny percentage get coverage.
how can you make your stories stand out?
Here’s 23 questions you should ask yourself before you pitch a story idea to a journalist:
1. Is my email subject header short and to the point? (the ideal length is 28-39 characters)
2. Does my subject header evoke curiosity? (an element of surprise can be compelling e.g. What happens when teenage goths grow up?)
3. Is my subject header obscure? (Surprise is good, obscure e.g. ‘Gothic Slide’ isn’t)
4. Am I appealing to the emotions? (If you can invoke a common desire/experience within your headline, it will appeal to more people e.g. Why drying your laundry indoors could be bad for your health)
5. Is my intention clear? (Put ‘story idea’ at the beginning of your email subject header and journalists are far more likely to open it.)
To find out more, read: Headlines that make you go ‘YES!’ (and other secrets of clickable content)
6. Have I started with pleasantries? (Unless you happen to know the journalist ‘hope you had a great weekend’ or ‘hope you’re enjoying the weather’ can sound insincere).
7. Am I gushing? (While showing you’ve read their work can be a smart move i.e. ‘I’ve just read your piece on x,’ resist the temptation to gush i.e. ‘I’m an avid follower of your marvellous work…’ – it just sounds false).
8. Does my email get straight to the point? (i.e. ‘Would you be interest in a story on x?’ or ‘I’ve got a story idea that might work for you.’ If not, it should do).
9. Have I summarised the story in a single phrase or sentence? (If not, you should have).
10. Am I trying to act smart? (If so, don’t. This post on why using big words can make you look stupid explains why).
11. Are my paragraphs fewer than five lines long? (Your paragraphs should never be more than 5 or 6 lines. Anything longer will make your content seem overwhelming to read.)
12. Does my story idea have a hook? (i.e. a reason why the editor should run this story now/next week/next month)
13. Why would this particular journalist want to run this particular story in this particular publication/programme at this particular time? (If you can’t answer this, you may need to go back to the drawing board)
For more on PR writing, read 49 words you should avoid in your press releases.
Your overall pitch
14. Am I pitching to the right person? (Things change fast in the media, so it’s always worth a phone call to clarify. And beware of relying solely on journalist databases – they can be out of date).
15. Is my pitch longer than three or four paragraphs? (If so, cut it down. Busy journalists don’t have time to read 1000 word pitches).
16. Am I offering an exclusive? If so, have I said so?
17. Is it actually a story? (Would anyone actually care about your story? Would they want to tell their friends about it? If not, you may need to go back to the drawing board)
18. Would my story pass the BBC Homepage test? (more about this here)
19. Does my story have a villain? (If not, you might want to create one. More about this here)
20. Have I mentioned photography? (If you have photos or access to people who are willing to be photographed, journalists are far more likely to go for your story).
21. Have I offered relevant experts and case studies? (No need to describe them – unless they’re integral to the story – but knowing they are available will be attractive to journalists).
Your final paragraph
22. Have I given them a deadline for getting back to me? (This gives you a ‘let out’ if they don’t reply and you end up placing the story elsewhere).
23. Have I included all my contact details? (It’s amazing how many people leave them out).