Believe it or not, there were people doing outreach before the Internet. They’re called freelance reporters.
Pick up any guide written in the last 40 years about pitching a newspaper or magazine. Replace the word “reporter” with “guest blogger” throughout the text, and you’ll find not much has changed when it comes to approaching an entity about publishing your content.
Thankfully, the days of waiting for an editor to answer a phone call or respond to a letter sent via post (gasp!) are long gone. But, there are still plenty of things we can learn from the trailblazers of the content pitch. Whether you’re trying to get your content featured on a news site or just trying to write better pitches, read on for some old school tenets of journalism that apply to modern day outreach.
If you’re pitching a news site or other traditional publication, your content should have a newsworthy angle. But, what makes something newsworthy? It’s more than immediacy.
Here are a few characteristics of newsworthy stories:
- Timeliness. Obviously. But, this doesn’t just mean breaking news. Content that relates to a current event is also timely. For example, after running a story about an explosion caused by a gas leak, a publication might follow up with a feature story that examines the risks associated with different energy sources.
- Impact. The more people affected by the story, the more newsworthy it becomes. For example, a car accident blocking a major highway will probably get more coverage in a local newspaper than a more serious accident on a quiet country road.
- Proximity. Newsworthiness depends on how close the story happened to where the publication’s audience lives. Many times national stories are spun to have a local angle. For example, while the General Petraeus scandal was in national news for weeks, we saw a lot of coverage in Tampa specific to Jill Kelley’s involvement since she lives here.
- Exclusivity. News publications want to be the first to publish, and few things can grab an editor’s ear like access to exclusive information. Never-been-seen information or data, like unpublished research or a high-profile interview are both newsworthy.
Identify if your content is newsworthy based on the above traits, or if it can be spun to be so. Even an older piece of content can be revised to contain newsworthy elements or be more relevant to the publication’s audience. Evergreen content that relates to a current event can work, too.
Research the Target Publication
Don’t waste anyone’s time with pitching content that isn’t a good fit for the publication. Identify these 4 things to help determine whether or not to reach out.
- Who is their audience? Your content will need to be relevant to this specific audience.
- Do they accept freelancers/guest contributors? If you can’t figure this out within the about or contact section, some sites also publish “guest contributor” or something similar alongside a writer’s byline.
- Is your content right for this publication? Check if they have published similar content in the past. If not, could you skew your content to fit their style and niche?
- Who is the best person to contact? Find the editors or writers for the section most relevant to your content. In larger publications, there might be an editor who oversees all guest contributors.
Compose Your Pitch
The “inverted pyramid” refers to the way newspapers format articles by leading with the most important information first. This approach also works when writing a pitch. Not only will it make your pitch more interesting, but even without reading your entire email the recipient will know what it’s about.
A great pitch to a publication starts with a hook before launching into the pitch, explains the writer’s credentials, and then sums it all up. Try to keep each section one paragraph no more than several sentences long.
Lead with the “so what?” of your content. Why is your content relevant to this audience? How is it timely? Cite statistics, recent studies, or current headlines that back up your “so what.”
Are you filling a void left by their previously published content? Does your content expand on a story they’ve run in the past? Dive into what your content is about. You should be able to sum it up in a few sentences. If it’s not easy to explain, consider reworking your idea. Link to examples of similar stories they have run, and explain how your content will build upon this and/or fill a void.
Who are you? Why are you the best person to provide this content? Include a few links to your published work, but keep these as relevant to the publication as possible. If you don’t have a diverse portfolio of sites to share, consider writing a couple of sample articles for each niche you plan on pitching.
Remind them why this story is pertinent to their readers. Let them know their input is valuable to making the content even better and ask for their feedback. Be prepared to follow through with requests like tailoring the content more to their audience.
Craft Your Subject Line
Just for a minute, forget everything you’ve learned about writing clever email subject lines. Unlike a typical blogger, a large part of an editor’s may be fielding story pitches. In other words, they aren’t going to think it’s weird or uninteresting to see a straightforward subject line about a story idea (whereas this isn’t as “normal” for a blogger to see in their inbox).
- Story idea: [what your content is about]
- Story on [what your content is about]
- “Title of Your Content” – Query
And One Last Thing…
Not to stereotype, but any email that starts with editor@<publication name> is probably landing in the hands of a lifelong grammar Nazi. Thoroughly proofread your pitch email, then have someone else look over it for grammar and spelling mistakes.