Get Your Pitch Noticed by a Major Publisher
Reprinted from Harvard Business Review Blog, with permission from the author
by Kelsey Libert | 8:00 AM October 14, 2014
Today, editorial voices are outnumbered by public relations professionals by almost 5:1 – something most publishers lament. The problem with this plague of pitches is that publishers have had enough, and they’re beginning to implement strict spam filters to keep public relations pitches out of their inboxes. In an effort to raise awareness, I conducted an exclusive survey with more than 500 leading digital publishers to find out what we can do to improve the noise-to-value ratio for people who desire press.
Writers at the NYtimes.com, TheGuardian.com, and CNN.com report that they receive more than 38,000 emails a year – three times that of the average worker. And 26,000 of those emails are sent from people trying to get press coverage. These writers also report that they “never” write a story based on something that was sent through a pitch. This epidemic is what I like to call the robot invasion, which came about when public relations specialists stopped caring about the writer behind the email, and in turn started writing templated pitches to spam publishers for press. This invasion stems from the explosion of content marketing, a content creation tactic that when paired with high-authority publishers can be used to improve Google rankings.
The Pew Research Center’s 2014 State of News Media report found that in 2013, 82% of Americans said they got news on a desktop or laptop, with 35% reporting that they received news in this way “frequently.” With the migration of readers from print to digital, the robot invasion was inevitable. As businesses searched for a method to reach their digital audience, web publishers became inundated with pitches.
But clearly, the robo-pitches are backfiring. So, how should you approach a major publisher? The first thing you need to understand is a writer’s capacity. On average, 45% of writers only publish one story per day. In fact, 60% of writers publish two or fewer stories per day, and 40% said they publish only one story per week. Meanwhile, 40% of these writers get pitched a minimum of 20 times per day, while 11% get 50 pitches per day and 8.4% get more than 100 pitches per day. That’s 100, 250, or 500 pitches a week for only five story spots. When you take into account that only 11% of these writers “often” write a story based on content that was sent through a pitch, 45% “sometimes” do, and 39% “rarely” do, you see the pile of email waste rising well above a person’s threshold to tolerate it.
Here’s the good news: our survey found that 70% of publishers are open to getting pitched a set of ideas that fit their beat, and they prefer collaboration over getting pitched a finished asset without prior contact.
What story angles are these writers interested in collaborating on? 39% of writers said the perfect piece of content possesses exclusive research, 27% said breaking news, and 15% said emotional stories. 19% filled in “other” and stated that content relevant to their audience was most important. Other popular terms included: interesting data, actionable advice, trending/timely angles, and high arousal emotions.
The next step is displaying your data in a format that most publishers are interested in and capable of hosting. The most requested content format was articles (19%), followed by infographics (13%), mixed-media pieces (12%), data visualizations (11%), images (11%), videos (11%), and interactive maps (11%). Those that fell under 5% each included press releases, interactive projects (iframes), quizzes, widgets, flipbooks, and badges.
Once you know the foundation of content that certain publishers are looking for, how do you get it to them effectively?
64% of writers surveyed think it is of some importance that you establish a personal connection before pitching, with 31% saying personal connections are “important” or “very important.” Once you’re done networking, 81% of writers want you to send your pitch via email, while only 5% of writers want to be contacted through the telephone.
In your pitch, it’s imperative that you avoid any grammar and/or spelling errors. 19% of respondents said it would be “completely likely” that they would delete a pitch based on a spelling/grammar errors, regardless of the content’s quality. If that is not enough to convince you, 33% said they would be “very likely” and 33% said they would be “slightly likely” to hit delete; in fact, only 15% of writers said they would continue reading your pitch if it had a grammar/spelling error in it.
Once you understand what will get you filtered out of a writer’s inbox, what methods are best for rising above the noise? 85% of writers surveyed said that they open an email based on its subject line, so it’s your best call-to-action. When given four options of subject-line-formats, 42% of writers wanted the subject line to be formatted as Content Title, Type (such as “The Selfie Phenomenon [Parallax]”) while 29% of writers requested a personalized subject line (“You Have a Beer Chime, We Have Cowbell – Exclusive Study”) and 19% wanted a stat-based subject line, such as (“Kylie Jenner posted 451 selfies to Instagram [Celebrity Selfie Study]”).
The last step is packaging your content in a neatly formatted, concise pitch that confirms you’re providing something that meets all of the guidelines outlined above. For email length, 45% of writers want your pitch to be short and to-the-point (<100 words), and 43% wanted a cursory explanation (<200 words). Only 12% of writers requested an in-depth explanation (>300 words), and most of these respondents came from smaller, niche sites. When sending your pitch, 69% of writers want to receive your pitch in the morning hours, 22% want to be pitched in the afternoon, and 9% want to be pitched in the evening.
Public relations professionals need to keep these factors in mind when trying to get a pitch noticed by a major publisher. The more you can tailor your pitch to an editor’s specific needs, the greater your chances of rising above the deafening noise.
More blog posts by Kelsey Libert
Kelsey Libert is a Marketing VP and partner at Frac.tl. She is a viral marketing and media relations speaker, and she contributes to HBR, Marketing Land, Buffer, and HubSpot. Connect with her via LinkedIn, Twitter, or Kelsey@frac.tl.