How to Pitch Journalists and Get a Response: Practical Media Pitch Examples for Ecommerce Brands
There are five PR specialists for every one journalist.
Add in all the non-PR agents sending pitches — like entrepreneurs, marketers and ecommerce owners — and you can see why journalists are drowning in emails.
Most of these emails are basically the same:
“You should write about my company. It’s really cool. So what do you think?”
Unsurprisingly, response rates are abysmal.
And if you’re trying to boost your success with pitching writers by experimenting with creative subject lines or different times to reach out, I have bad news.
Those changes won’t make a difference.
Here’s what will:
Sending targeted, relevant content ideas to the right people at the right time.
And luckily, that’s doable for anyone… if you follow the right steps.
In this post, I’ll walk you through the six-step process that can get you featured in your target publications.
In other words, these steps will get you featured in those pubs that can generate a ton of visibility and brand awareness for your ecommerce business.
Let’s dive in.
What is a Media Pitch?
A media pitch is a short, concise email (historically a letter or phone call) to a journalist or influencer.
The pitch is similar to an elevator pitch in length, but the message of the pitch is altered from general to more specific to the journalist or influencer’s interests.
This means media pitches require personalized outreach and research before said outreach in order to understand what a journalist or influencer cares about, writes on and how you can help contribute to their beat.
Remember: great media pitches play on the idea of reciprocity. By covering your brand or including you in a story, the journalist is doing you a favor and helping to drive increased awareness for you (for free).
Reciprocity here indicates that you owe that journalist or influencer. In order to even the playing field here, it is best that your pitch or product help to advance the journalist or influencer’s own goals.
Those could be:
- Increasing page views and personal brand visibility through breaking news
- Contributing to the person’s expertise on a particular topic
- Earning the person accolades for their ability to find and source the best of the best stories, products and goods.
Those are just examples. Every person will differ.
The 6 Step Process to Getting Press Coverage
1. Identify your goal.
Before you pitch anything, figure out what you’re trying to accomplish.
There are four primary objectives for pitching journalists:
- Getting relevant backlinks. Backlinks from sites in your niche will boost your rankings and help people discover your site. Make sure they’re relevant; for example, if you sell baking supplies, you wouldn’t want backlinks from a professional sports site.
- Getting traffic. Having your content go viral will quickly increase brand awareness and drive a large quantity of visitors to your ecommerce store.
This consumer survey produced by Beer Cartel earned the brand an increase in online revenue of $65,000, a 34% gain on the previous year. Site traffic grew over 100%, from 62,000 unique website visits in 2016 to 128,000 in 2017. Beer Cartel’s mailing list grew over 130%, from 13,000 subscribers in 2016 to 30,000 in 2017.
- Being mentioned in the press. If you can get mentions from mainstay publications like the New York Times or CNBC, your brand perception will definitely improve. These aren’t the best sources of traffic, however.Major press from sites like MSNBC is great! However, they don’t backlink, which means tracking traffic back to your site from the effort is difficult. The feature is still worth it, though.
- Acquiring new customers. Content that makes your products sound desirable can significantly boost revenue — assuming it’s targeting the right audience.
Care.org’s product was featured on GOOP’s “Ridiculous, Yet Awesome” Gift Guide.
Exactly How Beer Cartel Pulled Press Virality Off
Want a 34% gain in sales just from a press campaign? That’s what Beer Cartel did –– and here’s how.
2. Survey the influencer landscape.
At this stage, you can start honing in on the publications and specific journalists you’ll reach out to.
This might seem premature, since you haven’t even figured out what you’ll be pitching them on.
But it’s much easier to create content for a specific niche, journalist and/or publication, rather than coming up with something and shopping it around.
The first method allows you to tailor your content to the end destination.
Do you think a journalist will be more interested in a story that’s perfect for their beat and builds on previous articles they’ve published, or a generic one on a subject they’ve never covered before?
Clearly the first.
There are several strategies for picking your targets.
Staying on top of all the names, contact information and details is difficult, especially once you start actually communicating with journalists and editors, so I recommend using CRM software (preferably free if you’re on a budget or just don’t want to spend cash you don’t have) to organize everything.
Not only can a CRM act as a virtual Rolodex, it’ll also keep every email, call and social media interaction in one place so you can see at a glance your previous communication with a reporter or publication.
I have two main tips no matter what type of CRM you are using:
How to Use a CRM to Earn Press:
- Create a company for every target publication on your list.
- Identify one or more writers for each publication and add them to the associated “Company” as a Contact.
- Create the following Deal Stages in your CRM: Emailed Contact, Gotten a Response, Agreement, Article
- Create a deal for every Contact you email and put them in the first column, “Emailed Contact”
Now, you can choose to use a CRM already built for ecommerce brands. Those include:
However, many brands choose to use a tool like Buzzstream separately (at only $99 a month for a group of 3 users).
Because Buzzstream combines the ability for you to source influencers and journalists (through their Discovery tool), organize them similarly to a CRM and then do batch, personalized emails and track open rates.
That means this software does at least half of the work for you. It will even send out a second email for you to those who didn’t open after a set period of time.
Check all of this out.
3. Survey the competitor landscape.
Now, it’s time to analyze what your competition is doing.
Doing this is a great way to find content opportunities in your niche — rather than starting from scratch. Instead, you can use their content as inspiration for your own.
Why does this matter with influencer outreach?
Because you want to send those influencers to something really cool you did –– why else would they care?
And to see what works in terms of what people think is really cool in your niche, seeing what your competition is already ranking for is a good place to start.
Just make sure that your own content pieces are tailored to your brand and objectives and are higher-quality than your competitors’.
SEMrush will show you the top organic keywords, pages and backlinks for any domain.
Simply enter the website name into the top search bar:
Next, check out the highest-volume searches your competition is ranking for under “Organic Research” and which websites link to them most frequently under “Backlinks.”
Not only can you get ideas for potentially high-ranking posts, you can also find publications and websites to go after.
After all, if they linked to a similar brand or piece of content, they’ll probably link to yours.
Next, see what your target publications are covering.
Buzzsumo, which shows you the most viral content on any domain within a specific time period, is a great tool for this.
- Go to Buzzsumo and enter the domain name in the search box (such as “nytimes.com.”)
- Then choose a timeframe in the left-hand menu.
- I recommend looking at the past year for publications that post on a weekly or monthly basis and the past six months for publications that post every day.
Three of the The Next Web’s top five posts from the past half year are about social media. With that in mind, you might pitch one of their journalists on a social media post.
You can also run a search by topic or keyword (“thenextweb.com electronics”) to see what’s performing well for your niche or industry, include multiple domains (“thenextweb.com OR lifehacker.org”), and find content by a specific person (“author:John Doe”).
Lastly, figure out which content is already getting a lot of backlinks for your target keyword.
Ahref’s Content Explorer Tool shows you the most linked-to pages for any term.
Let’s say you want to know what’s doing well for “skin-care routine.”
Search this term, then sort by number of referring domains.
You’ll see the top backlinked posts. Use these as inspiration for your own.
Because you already know a specific format or angle does well, you’ll avoid investing a lot of time and energy into creating something journalists won’t be interested in.
Of course, your content should have its own distinct twist. Perhaps it’s more timely, well-researched, data-backed, visual or comprehensive — something that puts it ahead of the existing content.
4. Come up with content ideas.
Now that you have a clear objective and target audience, it’s much easier to select the type of content you’ll create.
Different types work for different goals.
- Backlinks: Create high-value resource pages and tools people will want to bookmark and/or share with others.Mountain Crest Gardens’ succulent care page is beautiful, educational, helpful and also helps to sell their products: succulents! Take the time to educate the market as a whole, and the sales will come through backlinks and SEO.
- Shares: Create visual, engaging content that inspires an emotion in readers.Sustainability is a movement sweeping the globe –– and many brands use this to pull on an emotional connection. See above how Yala uses it to help sell their products (and better the world!).
- Press mentions: Run a survey, conduct a study or identify an interesting, unique aspect of your company or founder’s story.Turn a hard-learned lesson into a feature in Forbes like Dazadi did.
- New customers: Write a how-to guide that incorporates your product or create a list of products your audience would be interested in.
Depending on your audience, a how-to guide might not even need to be long. Scentos sells markers and colors –– so teaching their audience to harmonize colors via a color chart is a great tactic to help sell goods.
Incorporate your targets’ beats as well. Remember, it doesn’t matter how creative or compelling your content is when it’s not in the writer’s niche.
If I want a blog post on AdAge, I need something related to marketing or media. If I want a mention on The Knot, I need something related to weddings or relationships.
5. Pitching the press.
Here are a few examples of story-types to pitch and exactly how to pitch them.
Quick Overview of How to Pitch the Press:
Your pitch needs to be concise and compelling. That’s hard to do. So hard, in fact, that most folks fail in doing it, which is why getting press itself is so hard.
But there are a few short and sweet steps you can take to focus your pitch and ensure it is compelling to its reader.
- Prove you’ve done your research and reference their work or related stories to your pitch.
- Explain the reciprocity you bring to the table and tease exclusive research.
- Don’t sit silently on the sidelines –– answer their queries!
- Build a real connection that goes beyond a short term mention.
- Follow up. Seriously –– follow up!
1. Reference a related story.
This type of pitch references the journalist’s beat and/or previous work. Personalizing it to their subject matter expertise will draw them in and assure them this isn’t a mass email.
There are two types of subject lines I typically use for these.
The first is “Re: [Title of a recent article]”.
Simple, straightforward, yet still attention-grabbing. After all, it’s hard to resist someone talking about your own work. Even reporters and influencers have egos.
The second is:
I like the latter for sensational or provocative story ideas.
If you’re pitching a slightly more comfortable shoe, for instance, you probably wouldn’t go with this one… because few journalists will be compelled to click on “Walk for miles in our new loafer.”
But a replacement for all food? That’s intriguing.
Your first paragraph should mention their related work and what you liked about it. By making it completely unique to the recipient, you’ll encourage them to keep reading.
The second paragraph, on the other hand, only needs to be a little personalized. That makes the template super easy to scale.
If I was sending this email again, I’d add a unique email signature.
A customized one (which is easy to create with a signature generator) can help make your message stand out and add a lot of personality.
Downside of this pitch method
But reaching out to journalists right after they publish a story about that same story often won’t get you placed in that story in the future. They can’t cover the exact same thing twice, especially multiple times.
That said, this can get you on their radar.
2. Tease exclusive research.
Providing journalists with data or research no one else has access to is a great way to get press.
Most reporters are constantly looking for scoops, so if you can offer them information that’s relevant to their niche, they’re highly likely to publish it.
A successful subject line formula is:
“[Surprising, non-obvious, brand-new] + [data/research] + on [topic] - interested?”
Using a descriptor like “brand-new” or “juicy” and asking “interested?” compels the reader to open your email.
- As with the previous examples, personalizing the first paragraph appeals to the journalist’s self-esteem and will help you build rapport with them. It’s also a perfect lead-in to mention your own research.
- Citing the source of the data establishes credibility. If you don’t have a recognizable brand name like OkCupid, find an exciting angle (such as “A survey on millennial mental health from a MIT professor.”)
- Summarize the most unexpected or interesting details from your research.
- Ask if the journalist wants to use this data and provide a full overview in your email, so all they have to do is respond “Yes” and open the attachment.
Pitch to Press Like You’re Writing a Book
It’s a hard exercise, but a good one! Force yourself to write out the following sentences and fill in with your own answers:
- Lots of people have a problem: [fill in here, example: they can’t get red wine stains out of their jeans.]
- The usual way people try to solve their problem is: [fill in here, example: by using club soda to get rid of the stain.]
- The traditional way of solving this problem often doesn’t work because: [fill in here, example: if you don’t do it immediately, the stain will persist. And even if you do do it immediately, you will need to change your pants (what if you’re not home?)]
- This often leads to: [fill in here, example: a persistent stain or wet pants –– which doesn’t solve the problem at hand.]
This will help you to identify where your product can help to solve a common issue. It will also help you come up with a counterintuitive hook, which catches more press than anything else.
4. Answer their query.
It’s always worth following up with a journalist when they’ve asked a question about a relevant topic on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or a PR tool like Help A Reporter Out.
If your subject line refers back to their question, you’re in business.
- In the first sentence, tell them where you found their question and what it’s about. This immediately tells them why you’re writing.
- In the next section, describe your story and/or angle.
- Be concise; you don’t want to overload them with unnecessary details. And make sure you’re highlighting the most riveting facts. If you’re offering yourself as a source, explain why you’re so qualified (i.e. “I’ve helped more than 45 entrepreneurs get VC funding and have listened to 1,000+ pitches.”)
This is not a scalable message because it’s based on one recipient and one question. But it’s also dramatically likelier to generate press because, again, it’s based on one recipient and one question.
End by asking whether they’re interested. Once they respond, you can give them the rest of the story or arrange an interview.
If you haven’t signed up as a source for HARO yet, I highly recommend it. More than 55,000 journalists and bloggers use it to find experts and quotes for their stories.
5. Describe their impact on your life.
If you’re reaching out to an influencer (rather than a journalist), try this template.
Not only do they get a “case study” they can use on their website, blog, social media accounts, podcast, YouTube channel, you get the drift, you also make them happy that their insights or recommendations have been valuable.
When sending this to multiple influencers in one niche, refer to broadly applicable results (i.e. “your tips on getting press” rather than “your article on getting featured in Travel + Leisure”).
Re: Loved your article about [topic]
However, if you want better chances for a reply, then email one influencer with very specific results –– and mention those in your subject line.
Re: Following your exact suggestions landed me a NYT mention
You can customize this email with a few small changes:
- First, write how long you’ve been following them or reading their work.
- Rather than writing the exact title of the article — which makes you seem like you copied and pasted it -- put it into your own words. (For example, “The Top 8 Traits of Successful Writers” could be summarized as “your recent post about what makes a great writer.”)
- Share your results. (“I followed your instructions and managed to improve traffic by 26% in one month.”)
- Demanding they share your article will usually rub them the wrong way. A gentle ask, like “if you’re so inclined” or “if you think it’s valuable,” will be more effective.
6. Follow up.
It’s pretty rare to get a response on your first try. Journalists are extremely busy; plus, they receive an extraordinary volume of emails.
If you’ve sent an annoying, irrelevant, spammy message, following up will only get you blocked.
But if you’ve sent a helpful, tailored email, sending a gentle nudge a few days later can bump you to the top of your recipient’s inbox.
Often, they’ll tell you they meant to respond but forgot (or never saw your first email at all).
Make sure you are moving “deals” from the “Emailed Contact” to “Connected With Contact” so you can see in one glance who’s answered and who needs a nudge.
How To Write A Good Follow-up Email To A Journalist:
- Reply to your first email, rather than starting a brand-new thread. That way, the journalist or influencer can scroll down to see your previous message.
- Make the second email shorter than the first. You want it to be quick to skim — the longer it is, the less likely they are to make it to the end and thus respond.
- Don’t be aggressive. They’re under no obligation to work with you, so trying to guilt-trip them won’t get you anywhere.
Re: New data about online shopping habits - interested?
Hey! I wanted to follow up since I know things get lost sometimes.
We ran a study analyzing Amazon bestsellers from the past five years and found some really interesting trends, including:
- Women authors sell on average 4X as many books as male ones
- But there are more male authors than female ones in almost every category…
- Excluding horror and fantasy (!)
I think [publication’s] readers might find these results interesting. Happy to provide details if you’d like.
Using a CRM to log your emails will help you keep track of the last time you contacted the journalist.
Some platforms, like the HubSpot CRM, let you schedule reminders to follow up.
I typically schedule a follow-up for three days after the original email.
If I see the journalist has opened both emails but hasn’t responded (which is possible using an email tracking tool), then I’ll send a third and final email.
This message is the shortest yet.
If you’re looking for a story for [next week, the weekend, to fill a gap in your editorial calendar], this [study, post, interview with X person] might work well.
What do you think?
Total List of Tools & TL;DR
To recap, here’s the 6-step process you can use to successfully connect with journalists:
- Identify your objective: Backlinks, traffic, press mentions or customers.
- Figure out which publications and writers you’re targeting, and familiarize yourself with their beats and existing work.
- Figure out what your competition is doing!
- Create content tailored to the people you’ll be reaching out to.
- Send personalized, high-quality emails and track your results.
- Follow up with anyone who hasn’t responded.
And as far as the tools mentioned in this article, here ya go:
Now you have the tools you need to develop, create and pitch fantastic content. Follow this process, and your days of sending endless emails with no response will be over.
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