It’s frustrating, right?
You want a top publication to write about your product.
You keep sending one email after another to journalists and top bloggers.But no one ever responds!
So, you keep scouring the net about how to write a kick-ass pitch email. You follow all the advice and write creative subject lines and brilliant copy.
But it still doesn’t work!
PR professionals outnumber journalists 5-1. And therefore, according to a Frac.tl study, journalists at top media outlets get as many as 71 email pitches a day.
However, according to the same study, most journalists write only one story a day!
So, don’t be surprised if you‘ve never received a reply.
The truth is, PR isn’t hard at all, as long you follow a specific process. And nope. You don’t need to hire an expensive PR firm.
This article will tell you all you need to land a mention in a major publication. Here is a quick summary:
Let's jump into a quick overview of how to write a PR release for a product:
Your PR goals might be one of the following:
* Getting More Customers
* Increasing Your Brand Awareness
* Improving Your SEO
OK now that you've checked out the overview and summary let's get into the meat and potatoes! Ready to find out how to write a PR release for a product? Let's roll!
First thing is first, we need to know why most PR releases do not work.
99% of media pitches don’t even get a response.
Because a surprisingly large percentage of pitch emails look like this:
Honestly, you can’t even call this an email.
The sender has just copied and pasted a general press release. He hasn’t even bothered to address the recipient.
Most emails like these end up getting blocked!
But let’s move on to an actual email.
Here’s what the majority of pitches look like. What do you think is wrong with it?
You've noticed that it’s not addressed to a particular person, right?
The PR guy has sent the same email to a dozen journalists, by picking up emails from a database.
But, that’s not the primary problem with this email.
Nor the fact that it’s too long.
Now look at this one:
X is organizing the _____ Event in June. I thought you might be interested in covering it.
For more information, please refer to our press release and media briefing guide.
This email is short, but that’s the only positive thing about it.
What do you think is wrong with this one?
It’s the same problem as the earlier email.
Both emails are all about the sender. Essentially, here’s what they say:
This is me.
This is what I do
Please write about me
There is zero regard for what the journalist might want to write about.
Here’s the way most people try doing PR…
The CEO wants a story published
The content team creates something
Someone from the marketing team sends that content to as many publications as possible.
When there’s no response, they keep trying to write clever copy and send even more emails.
In none of these steps has anyone asked the most important question:
What is the story the journalist is interested in?
If this is your approach to PR, you need to stop. This has little chance of getting you published.
Your story is super important to you. I get it.
But what chances does it have competing with a million other stories out there?
Here’s the only thing that will work:
Sending relevant content to the right journalist at the right time.
Clever email copy won’t get you published. The right content will.
Content that will add value to the journalist and the publication.
Don’t create a piece of content first and start pitching. Instead, understand what the press wants first and then create content accordingly.
According to a Frac.tl survey, 70% of journalists prefer to collaborate on a topic rather than receive a finished product. This allows them to shape the story to suit their readership.
I know what you're thinking!
I can’t even get them to reply to my email. Heck, how am I supposed to collaborate with them?
Actually, it’s way less intimidating than it sounds!
Anyone can do this, as long as they follow a specific process.
Let’s go over it, step by step.
Forget about pitching or content for a moment.
Instead, start with your goals. What are you trying to accomplish?
The type of content you create will depend on your goals. And without these goals as a guide, you'll end up targeting the wrong publications.
Here are the three most common goals for pitching to the press:
A press mention can be a game changer for your product.
A mention in a top publication can get you more sign-ups in a day than you had in the past year. Providing you target the right outlet.
If your goal is purely customer acquisition, don’t just target the biggest publications.
Focus on smaller publications in your specific niche with an engaged audience. A top blog like HuffPost might have a bigger audience, but it’s not targeted.
Check out this example:
This article about “10 Protein Powders that will help you lose weight” in Women’s Health is bound to get a lot of clicks-throughs and sales.
Large publications like NYT, MSNBC or and WSJ will probably not link back to your site.
That means no immediate sales via click-throughs or SEO benefits. However, these sites are great for increasing brand awareness, because of their huge reach.
Press Mentions can improve your SEO in two ways:
An article in a top-tier publication with 90+ DA which does link to you would be immensely beneficial. But even if it doesn’t link to you the story will probably get picked up in several smaller outlets which will give you a link - further boosting your SEO.
Moreover, having the right keywords next to your brand’s name or your name will help Google’s algorithm associate your brand name with those keywords or recognize your name as an authority on the topic respectively. Therefore, it will improve your ranking in general.
And don’t forget.
You should only target sites that are relevant to your industry.
If you are a SaaS startup, a backlink from an entertainment blog won’t contribute much to your site’s SEO.
The next step is to identify journalists to reach out to.
You might think you've been doing this already.
But actually, this step is quite different.
Now, you are looking for journalists before you begin creating any content.
Surveying the influencer landscape first will help you figure out what type of content will work best. It will allow you to tailor your content to each journalist’s preferences.
There are two stages in this process:
Identify journalists who cover your niche
List out the different topics and angles they are writing about within that niche. You will need this information for the ideation phase, which comes later.
But before we move forward, let’s look at a couple of mistakes you need to avoid.
Targeting the wrong beat
You know what can really irritate a journalist?
Receiving a pitch that’s not even related to their beat.
A ‘beat’ is a specific domain that a journalist looks after.
In large publications like the New York Times, a single editor or a small team would cover a beat like ‘Technology’. On industry-specific publications like TNW, each journalist takes care of more specific beats such as ‘Mobility’ or ‘Big Data’.
Journalists are inundated with pitches outside their beat. If you send something to the wrong person, don’t expect her to forward it to the person covering your niche.
They might even mark you as spam.
Targeting Publications or Editors
You want a story about your product in Entrepreneur, Mashable or TechCrunch.
But it’s a journalist, who writes for that publication who’s going to publish your story.
Which is why you need to target journalists - never publications.
So don’t make the mistake of targeting the publication, rather than a person.
For example, every publication has a form or an email address where they ask you to submit pitches. And many people make the mistake of doing that.
But trust me.
Email that address and it’s nearly guaranteed to not get noticed.
Others try writing directly to the editor. After all, if a top boss becomes interested in your company, you are sure to get featured, right?
Unless you have a ground-breaking inside scoop on Twitter getting acquired, it’s unlikely that an editor will be blown away your story. Nowadays writers usually choose their own stories. Editors rarely direct them to write specific articles.
Just mail the writer. It’s your best bet.
Step 1: Identify Journalists
Here are three ways to identify journalists.
A. Use JustReachOut
Using a tool like JustReachOut is one of the most accurate ways to identify journalists in your niche.
Head over to the tool and type in your topic in the search bar.
Let’s say you type in ‘employee retention.’ JustReachOut will generate a list of journalists across different major publications who have written about your topic in the past.
Quick Tip: You can also use JRO to send emails to each journalist.
B. Look at Competitor Mentions
Head over to your competitors’ websites and go to their media mentions page. Make a list of all the journalists who have written about them.
C. Look at the Staff Page
Most publications have a staff page with a list of all their journalists.
Here’s the staff page at TechCrunch.
Click on any journalist’s name and you will be taken to an author page displaying all their articles. Going through these posts will give you valuable insights about the kind of stories they like to write about.
Step 2: Identify angles that interest them
Checking out a journalist’s author page is just one way to understand their interests.
Don’t stop there.
Head over to an author’s Twitter profile. This is a great place to know about topics they are keen about.
Moreover, going through a writer’s articles is a great way of generating content ideas.
Keeping track of all these influencers through a spreadsheet is super-complicated.
Instead, use a CRM.
Not just to maintain a database of contacts. A CRM will also help keep track of all your interactions with journalists.
You could try Hubspot CRM because it’s free. Another great choice is Pipedrive which allows you to create a media outreach ‘pipeline’ and define different stages of the pipeline.
You can create stages to match with different phases of your pitching process in Pipedrive CRM such as Prospect, Contacted, Replied, Draft Sent, Approved, Published.
And if you are planning on interacting with journalists across social platforms like Twitter too, use a social CRM like Nimble that will automatically capture each interaction across all channels.
Your content is the most crucial part of this entire process.
Before you begin brainstorming, keep in mind that journalists prefer specific types of content. Rather than try to generate ideas out of thin air, think of tried and tested methods that work.
Give Them What They Want
According to the Frac.tl study, here’s what journalists said that they want.
We will take a look at these characteristics in a minute. But first, here’s another mistake you need to avoid.
Avoid this Mistake
You want your story to be about your product.
But unless a product is genuinely innovative, few journalists will want to write about it. Moreover, journalists are extremely cautious about appearing to endorse products.
But there’s a workaround.
Don’t make your product the center of your story. Rather, think of ways to mention your product in the context of original research, breaking news, etc.
That’s your way in.
Exclusive research is the biggest favorite.
If you can conduct original research, and if the findings are surprising, you have a potential winner on your hands.
There are two types of exclusive research that can click:
Surveys and Polls
I used this strategy to get published in several major publications when I was heading growth at Polar.
For example, we did a poll on people’s preferences about iOS6 vs iOS7. Here’s the story that got published in TechCrunch.
Localytics, a mobile app engagement platform, published a study about app user retention based on data from 37,000 apps.
Here’s their story in TechCrunch:
If you have a software product, this is something that you should definitely try. You might be sitting on data on usage or behavioral trends that plenty of journalists would be keen to write about.
27% of the respondents in the Frac.tl study said that they prefer ‘breaking news’.
You might not be able to pull that off, but you can get close – with newsjacking.
Newsjacking is about piggybacking on a piece of breaking news and tying it to your product.
Here’s how to do this:
Choose a major news story that most media outlets have already covered. If it’s big enough, readers will want to see follow up stories.
Tie that news story to your product or company – Can your product be a solution to the problem? Are any of your top executives experts in that particular area and have a valuable point to make? Does your company have any exclusive data that can add to the news story?
Create a piece of content accordingly and pitch the idea to relevant media outlets.
15% of the respondents in the study, said that they wanted pitches with an emotional story behind them.
Because articles that evoke an emotional response get way more social shares and traction than any other type of post.
And if you can get people interested in your story, they are also more likely to try out your product.
If your company has a noteworthy story behind it, try to make use of it.
Here’s an example of how a founder pitched a story about how he slept in a car during the time he was trying to raise capital.
Convince the journalist that your story will potentially generate tons of traffic.
How do you do that?
Check out this example.
In 2014, Buzzfeed ran a story about a woman’s face being photoshopped in 25 countries to show the differences in perception of beauty.
The article was shared over 118,000 times just in the past year and has been linked to from 79 domains.
In 2015, Buzzfeed ran another similar story.
This was about artists from 18 countries photoshopping another woman’s body, once again to highlight differences in global perceptions of beauty.
The article got over 700,000 views, 900,000 shares, and links from over 1,000 referring domains.
How do you know which of these will work?
By doing your research.
Like I said, don’t just try to generate random ideas. Instead, check out the kind of stories that a journalist has already published.
Use that as a basis for ideation.
In the same Frac.tl study, 64% of journalists said that it’s important to establish a personal connection with them before you pitch them.
Should this come as a surprise?
It’s the same as a warm email vs a cold email pitch. Someone who knows you is far more likely to buy from you. Similarly, journalists who know you will be far more likely to go through your pitch and take it into consideration.
But how do you build relationships?
Simple: Give before you take.
Before you ask a journalist for a story, ask how you can add value to them.
Here are a few ways to do that:
Journalists might get 100 pitches a day, but they hardly get a single one that compliments them about their work.
Write a simple email telling them what you like about a recent article that wrote. You are nearly guaranteed to get a response!
Here’s an example:
Just saw your article on net neutrality. Loved the point you made about the direction the lawsuits are expected to take.
Looking forward to your next article on this topic.
An expert roundup:
Include them in an expert roundup post. This accomplishes two things. First, you let them know that you value their opinion, which appeals to their vanity. Moreover, you give them exposure too.
Point out a typo:
If you are worried about this being too bold, don’t!
Journalists would appreciate it if you give them the opportunity to correct an error in a recent post.
Here’s my email to Sujan Patel:
Answer a Quora Question:
Answer a relevant quora question and ask them to contribute an answer too, since they are an expert on a particular topic. This too appeals to their vanity.
Comment on their Articles:
If a blog has a comments section, be sure to drop a comment with an intelligent viewpoint - something which adds value to the article.
Writers always go through them and they will remember you.
Interact on Twitter:
Engage with them on Twitter by liking and retweeting their tweets. Twitter is especially useful if the journalist’s blog doesn’t have a comments section. Reply to their tweets with a quick value-added-comment.
Not hard at all, right?
Start engaging with your target list of journalists weeks before you send your pitch and try to have at least 3 interactions during this time. All it takes is setting aside 30 minutes a day.
To make things simple, track all these interactions with a CRM.
Your pitch is a short message introducing your story.
Make sure you use only email for pitching - not the phone, on social media or through a form.
Because 81% of the journalists in the Frac.tl study said that they prefer email.
This pitch has to be powerful enough to stand out against 100 other emails in the journalist's inbox.
In this section, I will show you a few examples of real pitches that have landed placements in top outlets.
Let’s begin with the subject line.
The subject line is the most important part of your product pitch.
Because according to the Frac.tl study, 85% of journalists take a decision to open the email or not based on the subject line alone.
In fact, an email is like a pass for gaining access to a series of gates.
Each part of the email – the subject line, the opening line, the first paragraph and so on, is like a gate. At each of these points, your copy has to convince the reader to proceed to the next part.
But the subject line is the most important gate. Get through that and the biggest hurdle is behind you.
Here are four tips for writing subject lines journalists can’t help but open:
1. Use the Content’s Title
Journalists at large outlets get the maximum number of email pitches within their community. Therefore, they prefer to have a fair idea about the content just from the subject line. Here’s what a Fractl survey of 500 journalists revealed about subject line preferences.
Don’t try being smart here with link bait-type subject lines that rely solely on curiosity! Just be as clear as possible and go with the format: Content Title, Type.
For example, if your content is based on exclusive research, the subject line might be:
SUBJECT: 5 Findings from surveying 500 Silicon Valley founders[exclusive research]
However, as I mentioned before, you should apply this tactic only when cold-emailing the largest publications such as Washington Post. Don’t do this for smaller outlets like TNW, or while emailing influential bloggers.
Instead, try this format.
SUBJECT: Juicy data about racial bias in dating preferences – Interested?
The data is the magic word here. When you talk about an emotionally-charged topic like race and bring in data into it, it’s hard to resist.
The word –‘interested?’ adds even more punch to the subject.
But keep in mind.
As I ‘ve been saying, it’s all about the content! The subject line is juicy because there’s compelling content backing it up – the data.
2. Personalize the subject line
Personalizing the subject line is one of the best ways to stand out in an overflowing inbox.
This demonstrates to the journalist that you have done your homework. That you are not just another PR professional who has no clue about what sort of stories the journalist is interested in. That’s enough reason for them to take a look at your email.
Here are a few ways to personalize your subject line:
Mention an article the journalist has published recently.
Something the journalist has recently shared on Twitter or LinkedIn
The journalist’s location
A certain theme within his or her last few stories
3. Keep it short
Finally, remember that mobile email apps will truncate long subject lines. Make sure you limit yourself to 60 characters if you don’t want your email to get deleted.
4. Test your Subject Lines
Don’t expect to nail the subject line at one go.
Writing compelling subject lines is an art. You have to test the hell out of them.
Here are a few tips for doing that:
This is a bit like A/B testing, except that it’s at a much smaller scale.
Let’s say you want to pitch a story about net neutrality to a number of journalists who have already written about the topic. Sending 2-3 equally distributed variants.
Loved your article about net neutrality
Your article about net neutrality
The first one appeals to the journalist’s ego, while the next one appeals to their curiosity. “What about my article?” That question is a strong incentive to open.
Use Subject Line Testing Tools
Subjectline.com is a great tool for scoring your subject lines. You can also use headline analyzer tools from Coschedule, or The Advanced Marketing Institute. Although both these are for headlines and not subject lines, they still give you extremely useful feedback.
Try New Ones
Whenever you don’t receive a reply, try a new subject line in your follow up email. More about following up in a later section below.
How long should your email be?
In the Frac.tl study, 88% of journalists said that they wanted the pitch to be less than 200 words.
So keep your pitch brief.
The Read-Aloud Test
Want a simple way to make sure your email doesn’t suck?
Read it out loud. Most pitches would sound like this:
Would you even remotely say the same thing to a journalist if you were to meet them at a conference?
If reading it aloud makes you feel weird, don’t send the email.
Instead, let’s dissect a few email pitches and see how to send a few clear winners.
Example 1: Exclusive Research
The first email uses exclusive research as a carrot.
However, even if you do have an exciting story, it’s not going to stand a chance of getting published if your pitch email isn’t written well.
Therefore, before I show you an example of a good pitch email, let’s check out a bad one.
Bad Pitch Example 1:
Hi Carl, This is X, marketing manager at PQR, a top online dating company. Our company was founded in 2010 by P, Q, and R who are from MIT and Harvard. We use an advanced machine-learning based algorithm to match dating profiles. Our app gets more than 1 million installs per week.
We have recently done some research on dating preferences and have found indications of racial bias in online dating.
Would you like to write an article on ABC about this topic? I can send you the data if you like.
Looking forward to your response.
Good Pitch Example 1:
Now let’s look at how your pitch should actually be.
The first part of the email just refers to the journalist’s work.
Most people don’t make the effort do this. Even most of the ones who do, are not being truthful when they say they've been following his or her work.
1) In the second paragraph, the writer expresses a detailed opinion about the journalist’s article. This validates the claim that he has actually been following his work.
This type of opening certainly helps in building rapport, but there’s a bigger objective.
If you really have been following the journalist’s work, it indicates that you have a decent idea about the kind of topics that he or she likes to write about.
Meaning - your pitch would be relevant.
2) The next paragraph achieves three objectives:
It says that you have exclusive research to share – data that you have gathered yourself.
It also states that the data is implying racial bias. Race is an emotionally charged topic and as I mentioned before, anything which is emotionally driven is bound to generate a lot of shares and traffic.
It also establishes that the source of the data is very credible because it’s coming from a recognizable brand like OkCupid. Not only is this easier for the journalist to trust, but it’s also going to be familiar with readers – making it more likely to go viral.
However, even if your company is not an established brand, you can always ask known experts to comment on the data to add to your credibility.
3) The next part begins by sharing a few interesting highlights from the data. Then it shares a few possible story angles by asking questions about what the data might imply.
Why is this important?
Because journalists are super-busy. Don’t expect them to invest time figuring out story angles for you. Suggesting an interesting angle gives the journalist an additional reason to take your pitch into consideration.
4) The final part shares an attachment with more details. If the journalist wants more details, all they have to do is reply with ‘Yes’.
Example 2: Reference a related story
This sort of pitch refers to a recent article that the journalist has written and ties it to your story.
1) The writer begins by mentioning the writer’s article and what he liked about it. By suggesting a way to improve the article, he’s also giving feedback about his work, which most journalists appreciate.
2) Then, he introduces the product and mentions what’s unique about it. The email mentions the benefits of the product - affordable and convenient. Clearly specifying the benefits makes it easier for the journalist to visualize a story angle.
3) Then the email goes on to share specific numbers. And those numbers clearly indicate the comparative benefits of using the product vs. taking the conventional route.
4) Finally, it introduces a story angle which is of interest to the journalist – the life-hacking movement.
A final tip.
69% of journalists in the Frac.tl study said that they wanted to be pitched in the morning. So make sure you schedule your email in the early morning hours.
If you don’t get a response even after doing all the above, that’s ok.
The journalist might have forgotten to reply or missed your email altogether.
So, make sure you follow up. I typically wait for three days before sending a follow-up email.
A word of caution here.
Following up works only if you haven’t been sending irrelevant or spammy emails. That might get you blocked. But as long as you have followed the process I've outlined, you don’t have to worry.
A few tips to write a good follow up email:
Don’t send a completely new email. Just reply to your first one. That will allow the journalist to scroll down and refer to your earlier email.
Make it Shorter
Make the follow-up email shorter than the first one. A shorter email is much more likely to be read. If the journalist wants to know more, then they just have to scroll down to your first mail.
Here’s an example:
Re: New data about online shopping habits – interested?
Hey! I wanted to follow up since I know things get lost sometimes.
We ran a study analyzing Amazon bestsellers from the past five years and found some really interesting trends, including:
Women authors sell on average 4X as many books as male ones
But there are more male authors than female ones in almost every category…
Excluding horror and fantasy (!)
I think [publication’s] readers might find these results interesting. Happy to provide details if you’d like.
Don’t be pushy
It never works. Avoid writing something like this:
I have followed up on the article on X but I have not heard back from you yet. I would appreciate a response.
Journalists are not under any obligation to write about you and being pushy will only close the door permanently.
How do you know if journalists are actually seeing your emails?
CRMs like Hubspot or Nimble let you know if the recipient has opened an email when they have opened it, and the number of opens.
If a journalist is opening your emails, but not responding, then it’s probably not a good fit. It’s a bad idea to send more than two follow up emails. You don’t want to risk irritating the journalist.
If that’s the case, change your tack.
Pause your pitching and send a few more relationship building emails.
Do more research and reach out again with another angle.
Or reach out to more journalists.
Follow this process, and you will hear back from a journalist sooner, rather than later!
PR can seem difficult.
But it isn’t rocket science, and you don’t need to hire an expensive PR firm to get a story about your product published.
PR is essentially about two things:
Relevant and timely content
Building relationships with journalists.
Just follow the steps that I‘ve spoken about, and you are on the way to getting a story about your product published in Inc., Forbes or Techcrunch!