How to Make a Slippery Media Pitch Stick

Every PR professional knows what it is like to be under pressure to produce placements. E-mails and phone calls to your media contacts might be getting overlooked and you may not be securing the response for which you had hoped. Your job could be on the line, so reflect inward and consider if there is anything you can change about your strategy to improve the results.

These are five questions every PR pro can ask to determine the best next steps if a pitch is not sticking:

1. Can you see the subject as a headline?

You only have a few words at your disposal to capture the attention of your media contact, so visualize the subject of your e-mail as a catchy news headline. Remember that you are pitching a story, not selling a product. If your subject line sounds too promotional, it might become confused as spam and, therefore, get deleted.

Consider substituting over-used promotional words (like “innovative” or “revolutionary”) for words that will echo with the reporter. For example, instead of writing, “New tape dispenser will reduce your gift wrapping time!” consider being more direct and use, “Advice column—ease holiday gift wrapping.”

Also, keep in mind that there is limited space in most inboxes to show the full content of the subject, so being descriptive yet concise is the key. When the subject headline gets cut off, it could significantly change your messaging. For example, if you send out an e-mail titled, “Company will Eliminate 100 Environmentally Unfriendly Machines,” but the headline cuts off at “Company will Eliminate 100 …,” you might be in hot water.

2. Is this the kind of topic your target covers?

You might be pushing for placements in media outlets with large readership, but forcing a pitch angle on an unrelated publication won’t cut it. Before conducting outreach, read and become familiar with the way the outlet and journalist approach stories. Then, analyze your pitch and tweak it to be sure you’re addressing the media’s interest.

For example, if you are pitching a newly launched product, ask yourself if the media outlet would prefer to conduct a review, or discuss the impact it had on the industry instead. Give reporters what they’re looking for and they’ll do the same for you.

3. Are there other beat writers that might be more appropriate?

Once you have chosen the correct story for the appropriate outlet, be sure you are pitching to the right beat writer or editor. Not every reporter for The Wall Street Journal, for example, is covering fluctuations in the market. While it might seem obvious, it’s the golden rule to research what your target covers.

Also, think outside the box and consider which other reporters are willing to cover your story. You might have a client in the technology industry, but perhaps if you look closer you might see that the device is also a fit for fitness buffs, which will create more doors for you to knock on.

4. Do you want to read an article about what you’re pitching?

Take your PR hat off, put your reader hat on and ask yourself: Would this story make me stop on the page? If not, think about what piques your interest and consider connecting the story to current events to make it more timely. Think about what makes your story unique and what insights or perspectives it could add to the industry.

It might be considered taboo to talk about competitors within your pitch, but don’t be afraid to do so if it makes the story more interesting. Sometimes a story comparing factual data (e.g. calorie counts, prices, product specs, etc.) of similar products or services presents a less self-serving story, making it a more likely hit with the press. Just be sure you stack up well against the competition you are bringing into the fold.

5. Is your spokesperson telling the same story you pitched?

Your job isn’t done once you’ve had a successful breakthrough and you’ve secured an interview opportunity for your client. Now, it’s your responsibility to prep the spokesperson prior to the interview to ensure the messaging is on track and consistent. Try to provide sample questions so that he/she is aware of what the journalist wants to discuss and the potential angle of the story. And if your spokesperson is expected to discuss his/her perspective about a controversial topic, be sure he/she knows what stance to take.

The way PR practitioners communicate with the media is constantly changing with the emergence of new technologies, but the basic rules remain the same: Make it catchy, make it timely, make it relevant.


This article was written by Caroline Sherman, VP at PR agency Alpaytac. She can be reached at

  • John Rockley

    As a journalist I agree with most of what has been said, but it can be summed up in the simple question that every PR should ask themselves… “why should I care?” and keep repeating that through the writing and pitching process. It helps to focus copy and get’s rid of the vague language. It’s what I was taught to think when producing any form of Journalistic output. Put yourself in the position of the consumer and a ask “why should I care?”.