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The Skills You Need to be Great at Pitching (That You Probably Already Have)

Published on April 13, 2019, at 5:05 p.m.
by Emma Bannen.

At some point in your public relations career, you’ll need to be able to pitch to the media. PR professionals responsibility is to secure media placements on behalf of their clients. The key is a strong pitch.

Some aspiring PR professionals never gain pitching experience before beginning their career. How can you learn to skillfully pitch if you do not have a client to pitch for? Many skills common to budding PR professionals seamlessly translate to pitching stories to the media.

Photo via Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

Perhaps the most obviously necessary skill to successful pitching is writing. The most common method of disseminating a pitch to the media is email. To catch a reporter’s eye, a PR practitioner must write clearly, concisely and without error.

The quicker a pitch grabs a reporter’s attention, the more likely it is to earn a placement. Bri Roselius, media director at Capstone Agency, said, “Being able to have fun with your writing and being confident in your writing skills translate to being able to pitch.”

Since pitches are meant to communicate a message in as few words as possible, it is crucial these few words be particularly compelling. Getting your point across quickly is arguably the most important skill for pitching.

“People don’t want to read a long email, they want to read four sentences that tell them exactly what they need to know,” added Capstone Agency Media Director Nora Wahlbrink.

A good pitch must also be utterly error-free. Mistakes in your writing will cause you to lose credibility in the eyes of journalists. To improve your media pitching, Wahlbrink said, hone your AP style and grammar skills by writing as much as possible and seeking out feedback on your work.

Megan Perkins, a media relations specialist at Walker Sands Communications, emphasized the importance of “being a real person and putting your own personality” into writing pitches. Reporters respond better to personalized pitches, rather than those that could have easily been written to anyone.

In all functions of PR, you need to know your audience and know your client. This is no different from pitching. In order to write a personalized pitch (as mentioned above), you must be familiar with the reporter to whom you are pitching.

Ashby Brown, assistant media director at Capstone Agency, said that the big things to know about a reporter are who they are and what they do, including topics they’ve covered in the past.

Many areas of life require research on various topics. It’s more than likely that you’ve carried out research for essays or projects in class before.

These same skills come into play for pitching. Seeking out reporters, learning about them and what they write about, and examining how a story fits that reporter’s niche are steps of the pitching process that call for research.

Photo via Austin Distel on Unsplash

Wahlbrink said that skills like “knowing where to look for information and knowing how to find out what reporters you want to target” are great places to start when researching for a pitch.

A significant part of research is timing. As Perkins said, “Pay attention to your calendar and what a certain reporter might be doing at a certain time. Think about the reporter — when and how they want to receive something.”

One of the biggest lessons Brown has learned about pitching is that it doesn’t always work out. The majority of pitches will likely be turned down, and PR practitioners should not quit pitching after a rejection.

While you should not badger a specific reporter after they decline to write about an idea you pitched, persistence is key to receiving a response.

The continuing development of social media gives PR professionals another opportunity to pitch to reporters. Perkins said that if she cannot find the email for a reporter, she might direct message or tweet at them, mentioning the story idea and providing contact information for further discussion.

With this strategy, you must determine that the reporter you target on social media is a near perfect fit for your story idea, said Perkins. If not, the reporter may be annoyed you are contacting them with an irrelevant idea.

Roselius noted that pitching is about taking initiative. In order to be recognized by reporters, PR practitioners must be willing to step out of their comfort zones. Attempting to persuade a reporter is not always easy, but persistence can often elicit a response.

The goal of any media pitch is to earn media coverage. This begins with confidence. Without confidence in your abilities and your message, your pitch will likely fall flat with a reporter.

Your pitch must show a reporter why they should care about the topic. “If the reporter doesn’t care, nobody’s going to care,” said Brown.

The best way to increase confidence in your pitching skills is to practice. Both Brown and Perkins suggested practicing by writing pitches about anything you might think is newsworthy, even if you will not actually send them out.

Photo via Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Confidence in pitching can also come from other areas, such as public speaking. For Wahlbrink, being able to speak effectively in different contexts contributes to developing strong pitching skills.

If you put yourself out there, your confidence in your pitching ability will grow. Roselius reiterated that you will only grow as a writer if you push yourself to do so.

Many of the skills that you are already developing are essential for writing strong media pitches. Further honing your writing and research skills and cultivating persistence and confidence will translate effortlessly to developing your pitching ability.

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