How to Pitch Successfully During the Content Marketing Revolution

By Michael Smart, principal, michael smart pr
Michael Smart, Principal, Michael Smart PR

Knowing I specialize in boosting pitching results, people sometimes ask me if I think content marketing is making pitching less relevant.

They’re wondering about this due to the growth of brand journalism, where companies create their content simply to attract eyeballs and raise awareness.

When CMOs go to conferences or watch Gary Vaynerchuk videos, they are being told: “Look at the industry publications and sites that your customers subscribe to, and then put those outlets out of business.”

So if brands are seeking to attract customers directly to their own material, why bother to jump through the hoops of refining your ability to pitch stories to anyone else?

It was a fair question in the early years of the content marketing revolution.

But those anticipating the demise of pitching are ignoring the future. They’re also unknowingly constraining their own potential by limiting their view of what pitching really is.

The Real Future of Brand Journalism

Here’s the deal: Yes, over the coming years, some brand journalism sites will achieve significant influence in their industries. But those editors are going to be clamoring for ideas and experts and content just like traditional media sites do now. And that’s where you come in.

The More Things Change, The More...

Actually, it’s already happening. I see coverage reports where PR pros are claiming placements on the OPEN Forumsmall-business site, which attracts more than 1 million unique visitors per month. Guess what—that’s entirely a “brand journalism” site that American Express runs. But if you get your executive or thought leader in front of an audience that’s important to you, who cares?

I just spoke with someone who left behind a 20-year career at one of the world’s top newspapers and now is the lead editor for the content machine of a famous company you’ve heard of. She has preserved the habits, routines and thought patterns that made her a great journalist.

And the PR pros who are going to be successful building content partnerships with her are going to have the same skills as those who were successful pitching her when she was at the newspaper.

Tim Ferris, the author, speaker and investor, started his podcast as a complement to his blog. It’s another way to keep himself in front of his audience and potential customers. Now, as you may know, his podcast is huge and attracts A-list guests. And Tim gives them authority over the final edits! It’s pure content marketing, both for the guest and for Tim.

If I represented an author with a book coming out on a topic that interests Tim, you can bet he would be my first influencer to pitch.

Pitching has never been limited to securing coverage from traditional media.

Today pitching is (and in the future it will be) about: 1) finding a third-party gatekeeper who has an audience you want to reach; and 2) explaining to the gatekeeper how the content you’re proposing matches the needs of that audience.

It doesn’t matter if that gatekeeper works for USA Today or American Express.

Wandering Eyes

There’s another reason that content marketing accentuates the need for skilled pitching pros. As the amount of content online skyrockets, consumers of it are more discriminating.

The brand journalism sites that survive will be those that successfully earn mentions and links from other sites with heft and eyeballs.

Have you noticed how much content seems the same? Every consumer website has a post for each topic that’s trending on Twitter. Every industry site has a bunch of posts about whatever the hot new rage is (see all the Snapchat coverage in the PR trades).

The days of creating content and merely “putting it out there” are over. Content-driven brands increasingly will need pitching pros like you to promote their stuff to other gatekeepers to get it shared and watched. A traditional media company that owns a website actually brought me in to train its journalists how to “pitch” their stories to journalists at other sites. If the “real media” need to do it, then the “brand” media need to as well.

How to Adapt Your Pitching Tactics

In short, here’s how you adapt:

Watch for the brand journalism sites that emerge in your industry. Study them and build relationships with their editors, just as you would with the staffers at a traditional media outlet. They’ll likely have different needs and operate under varying philosophies, but once you figure out those, you’ll see how your content and thought leaders can help them.

If you identify a niche that is narrow enough that you can create content for it that is different from anything else out there, then go for it. Or find a different channel; maybe there already are a ton of blogs about your topic, but there aren’t any podcasts. Or YouTube channels.

Once you’ve nailed the content, then start pitching it to others in the space, offering in return to share and link to theirs. You’ll build up a small cadre of content partners, and your interactions will be less pitching and more trading.

All the while, continue to laser-focus on 10 or so outlets respected among your key audiences. As we’ve noted in these pages before, pitching is addition by subtraction, less is more. Demonstrate to the influencers that you know their market and needs, and show them how your ideas meet their demands.

They’ll Google you and see your content being shared by all the other sites and find you a credible source. And the new and different ideas you share with them will get covered. And that exposes you to new followers who otherwise would never have heard of you.

Your role in that virtuous cycle is pitching. There are plenty of content creators around. The skill set that is rare and valuable resides within the pitching pro who can get content distributed and highlighted.

And that means the “content marketing revolution” is going to be very good for your career.

CONTACT: Michael Smart is the media pitching coach PR pros seek when they want to boost their success in media relations. He advises everyone from Fortune 10 brands to nonprofits and sole proprietors. Learn more at:


1. Content marketing does not signal an end to the importance of pitching, but media relations pros may need to adjust their targeting tactics.
2. Content marketing sites need top-quality ideas and stories just as more traditional media do, so pitching remains vital.
3. Pitchers will need skills similar to those they used to pitch traditional publications and sites.
4. Pitch 10 or so top influencers; research their needs and show them how your content meets their demands.