How one short media pitch spiked a client’s web traffic


I’ve been hearing from many of you who are having success reacting to journalists’ and bloggers’ previous work.

Here’s a case study to help you hone your approach.

Mercy Chikowore came to my pitching workshop in DC and paid special attention to the section on customizing pitches and keeping them “brutally brief.”

When she was introducing her bitcoin online retailer to the world, here’s what she sent to Business Insider writer:

Hi Dylan,

Just read your story on the bitcoin ATM – definitely impressive. We’re also so impressed with bitcoin that we opened an online megastore where bitcoin users can buy just about anything they want. If you don’t believe me, just click the link.

You can find more info about the store in the release below. We haven’t been on Letterman, but let us know if this is something that interests you.



Two hours later, this story ran on Business Insider. Mercy found out when a cofounder emailed her that traffic was spiking (he was so excited we can’t share his language here :). Page views went up more than tenfold. The BI story also got picked up by Yahoo Finance and the San Francisco Chronicle.

It started discussions on reddit that resulted in people reaching out for opportunities to invest in or work for the company.

In what’s perhaps a signal of how well Mercy did her job, one of the 141 reddit commenters asked “How did these guys get Business Insider to write an article about them!?”

Takeaways for us:

1. If non-traditional-media sites like Business Insider and reddit aren’t already on your radar as potentially influential ways to reach your audiences, they should be.

2. Mercy’s dogged research before her pitch not only identified someone who was clearly interested in bitcoin, but also gave her a way to make a personal connection to the fact he had been on Letterman.

3. Have the courage to let your careful customization stand on its own, and resist the urge to bog down your initial pitch with background.

We talk about pitches like this multiple times a month in the Inner Circle.

Congrats to Mercy, and to all of you who are getting responses and placements by pitching smarter.

When you’re discouraged because everyone else seems to be succeeding where you’re not, remember this


Three weeks ago I was delivering a pitching webinar that 6,900 people had registered for.

I fought back my nerves and skipped the typical intro, background, bio and stuff. Right at the top, I dove into sharing five successful pitch examples. My anxiety ebbed as I hit points I’d labored long hours to prepare.

And then out of the corner of my eye I saw the questions coming in over the chat box, poking holes in why the examples weren’t relevant to individual questioners. Not something that had ever happened to me before. Here’s an example:

“These somewhat obscure stories get great coverage because they’re creative, but can you discount the fact that you have GREAT existing relationships already?”

I suppose it’s natural to look for excuses for why we’re not succeeding when others are. But I didn’t want listeners to short-change themselves out of potential growth.

So I set aside my notes and encouraged them to, yes, be realistic about their circumstances, but look for reasons they CAN succeed, rather than for reasons they’ll fail before they even start.

And then I said something that became the most-tweeted quote from the webinar. And that’s funny because I not only didn’t have it in my notes, I’d never said it before or even thought it before that moment:

“Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s end.”

You and I see somebody else’s glistening placement in a sought-after media outlet. We don’t see the hours of planning, prep, and execution. And we certainly don’t see the frustration when things went wrong, when pitches got ignored, or when clients went AWOL. So when we consider our current progress (or lack of it) compared to others’ triumph, the gap can seem insurmountable.

Instead we should visualize our successful conclusions and seek out others’ successes we can aspire to emulate. Not only is this attitude more effective, life is much more fun lived this way.

So thanks to those initial questioners who knocked me off my talking points and helped us create some new thinking that day. And thanks to the other 300 or so who asked constructive questions , which I took a stab at answering here.

If you’re interested, the helpful Cision marketing team that hosted me has posted a replay of the webinar and a recap.

Streamline your news release approval process by following this simple tip


One of our common frustrations as PR people is getting client/boss approvals on writing projects.

You know – when you send the attachment or Google Doc link and what you get back has more red “track changes” than black original.

There are lots of political and personality dynamics at play, so what I’m about to share won’t automatically cure all your approval woes. But it will definitely help.

The key is to divide the approval process into TWO HALVES.

First half – BEFORE you start writing, email your approver(s) and tell them your intent to write a release, case study, whatever. Tell them you’d like their agreement on three things:

1. Business purpose of the document – the bottom-line business goals you aim to support by producing it. Bosses and clients LOVE this, and once they see that you’re prioritizing what’s most important to them, they are more likely to get on board.

2. Main message – the point you want to get across to readers/visitors that will lead them to the business goal.

3. News hook or content marketing “angle” – this is where your expertise as a communicator comes in. You propose the creative way to make your main message interesting or useful to your key audiences. You’ve essentially said to your approvers: “I know what you want. Now here’s where you give me license to achieve it.”

They will often appreciate your strategic approach and sign off right away. If they don’t, you’ve saved yourself lots of writing time by catching and accommodating their concerns early in the process. Then you write your doc, and you’re ready for . . .

The second half: You send the final copy with a preface that says, “Since we’ve already agreed on the primary purpose and approach, all that’s left is for you to check for any factual errors or vital legal/proprietary concerns. If I don’t hear back from you by (date), then I’ll know all is well and we’ll proceed.”

If you want to get really cagey, you cut and paste the release into the email, so the reviewers are less likely to use “track changes” or Google Doc’s comment feature to weigh in on every comma and synonym.

Divide your approval process in half and enjoy faster approvals and less unnecessary meddling.

To pitch or not to pitch the New York Times: Strategically choosing your media targets


I hear it all the time.

Not directly from the PR pros I serve. But indirectly – when those PR pros pass along their bosses’ or clients’ most consistent request:

“We need to be in the New York Times.” (The Journal is mentioned almost as much.)

So I wasn’t surprised last week when I was filling out this “Ask an Expert” Q&A that one of the questions was:

“Bottom line, how do I get my client in the New York Times?”

But I was really impressed with the insightful follow-up questions: “And do I even want to get them in the NYT? Is there a new outlet that’s more influential?

I didn’t have enough space to give my full answer, so here it is:

I’m not here to talk you out of aiming high. Shooting for almost-impossible targets (and a lot of failures in the attempt) is how I developed many of the techniques I teach today.

But because your bosses or clients are usually smart business people, they’ll understand strategic thinking.

And being strategic about choosing media targets goes like this:

“What outlets will likely achieve the most influence on our key audiences given the amount of resources we have for outreach?”

A few hours after writing this I’m going to interview a top agency exec with many mega-wins under his belt who can get budgets in the millions for his campaigns. In his case, depending on the client, the NYT is often a sound answer to that question.

Same with those wonderful times when you conjure a really compelling angle that you KNOW is newsworthy and shareworthy.

But for many of the issues and events we’re tasked to promote, even for the Fortune 500 clients I work with, the NYT or the WSJ does not present a good effort-to-reward ratio.

Usually there are trade pubs, niche web sites, or new online properties that are much more desperate for relevant content and still influential among key audiences.

For example, one of my clients, for whom the NY Times is typically the Holy Grail, landed coverage on a new niche web site she had only heard of within the previous year that was shared 9,900 times on Facebook alone.

Remember, don’t shrink from ambitious expectations – embrace them because they push you further than you can go on your own.

Just make sure that ambition is motivated by strategic thinking, not personal vanity or keeping up with the Joneses.

“NYT or not?” was just one of the insightful questions I puzzled over when drafting my responses. Some of the others were:

What is the single most important thing that public relations practitioners should do before they begin a media pitching project?

What do you predict will be the biggest evolution in media engagement in 2015 and how can PR pros adapt to the change?

With so many pitches coming in from so many potential sources, how does one differentiate themselves in 2015?

What is the most difficult, but worthwhile media engagement you’ve ever worked on?

You can check out more of my answers on the Ask An Expert column on the PRSA blog.

5 Ways to React to Journalists on Twitter Beyond a Compliment


Engaging journalists on Twitter is one of a few good PR tips for standing out from the masses clamoring for their attention. Once they recognize your name, it’s more likely they’ll open your email when you send them a story idea.

You can set up a Twitter list of key influencers to follow. Services like MuckRack make this easier with vetted search results and automated alerts. [Read more…]

New ways to help reporters out


We’ve known for a couple years now how useful it can be to do reporters’ legwork for them.

Journalists want to have multiple sources and proof points in their pieces. But they are being pulled in so many different directions they often don’t the time to gather them.

But you may not have realized the lengths that some successful PR pros are going to help out the reporters they are pitching.

For example:

One savvy pro I’ve trained tells me she regularly posts HARO queries seeking examples for a trend story she’s pitching. Of course her organization is prominently featured in the pitch, but she also gathers more proof points other non-related organizations. Then she vets them and passes them along to the top-tier reporter she’s working with.

Another pro taps into her network of hundreds of peers to identify hard-to-find sources for reporters she has relationships with, even for stories that have nothing to do with her clients. Social media and big email lists make this easy. As such, she has positioned herself as someone who can get good sources on the phone quickly, so who do you think her media contacts call when they’re covering an issue relevant to her clients?

Now, this is obviously a sensitive topic, particularly for the journalists involved. They’re not unethical or lazy – they are the final review on the sources and material we send them. But we need to be low-key about helping them out to this extent. That’s why I’m not sharing the specific details from the examples above. Once you establish this type of a mutually beneficial relationship, you want to keep it going and keep it quiet.

For the next story you pitch that you know will require some additional sources and proof points, find them yourself, then pass along.

Refreshingly candid top-tier reporter and her empowering word choice


This month at the PRSA International Conference I witnessed a refreshingly honest admission from a top-tier reporter who is obviously secure in herself as a successful journalist.

Hadley Malcolm, personal finance writer at USA Today, was asked whether she preferred to reach out to executives directly or go through a PR person.

The typical journalist response in these settings is talk about how annoying it is when PR people insert themselves as “middlemen” and force journalists to work through them and then insist on staying on the call and listening to the interview.

But Hadley said simply, “If the PR person is good and really helpful at wrangling schedules, then it’s better for me to contact the PR person who says, ‘Let me pin them down for you.’”

The key words there: If the PR person is good . . .

See how today’s time-starved journalist will want to work with you once you prove that you add value to their process? Don’t be distracted by all the posts online from journalists and bloggers awash in pitches who complain about too many PR people. Also, don’t be a stumbling block to reporters.

In another refreshingly honest statement, Hadley said, “The reality is we need you as much as you need us, in many cases.”

One way to position yourself as one of those “good PR people” is: promise that the fastest way to get anybody from your organization to comment is to go through you. Remind journalists that they can email you directly or call your cell, and then you can bypass secretaries and look at schedules and get the right spokesperson on the phone.

Another way is:  when your policy requires you to listen in on an interview, provide useful follow-up based on what you heard (when you didn’t interrupt and they forgot you were even there). Something that makes the journalist’s job easier and doesn’t promote your point of view. Do this once and they’ll welcome you sitting in on the call in the future.

Creative pop culture link wins big coverage


All the TV season premieres last week reminded me of an awesome pitch I saw over the summer.

You’ll learn from its creativity, customization, and brevity.

Matthew McWilliams was brainstorming ways to get the small university he represents some buzz. He thought about one of the history profs at his school who studies medieval Europe, the setting depicted in the hot HBO series “Game of Thrones.”

But he did better than defaulting to the old approach of merely issuing a media availability for the prof to comment on the series. Matthew worked with him to write an essay about the real historical basis for a much-hyped upcoming episode.

Then Matthew used pitches like the following one (to HuffPo) to get the essay in front of writers who cover the show. Note the personalization, conversational style, lack of background on his “client”, and focus on what’s in it for the writer:

[writer’s first name],

I read HuffPo’s Game of Thrones episode recaps each week. As you may know, this Sunday’s GoT duel promises to be one of the bloodiest and most intense television events of the year.  

What many viewers don’t know is that the fight has echoes upon echoes of actual history.  

Dr. Steven Isaac of Longwood University has researched these parallels, which are eerily similar to what viewers will see this weekend. I’ve summarized the highlights below:

[three bullets]

If you’re interested in more, here’s a link to the full essay.

 Let me know if you’re interested in using it—and please feel free to use pieces in articles you have planned.

Here’s the resulting HuffPo piece, and Matthew also scored with a direct pitch to The Atlantic.  It also hit the WSJ after a reporter was Googling after the episode aired and found Matthew’s online article about the essay.

I got to see this pitch in draft form when Matthew shared it with me on one of my private Q&A webinars. He took advantage of his membership in my Inner Circle program to get my take on it, and I helped him tune it up a bit (although the idea was all his and would have been successful without it).


Surprising approach to pitching the New York Times


This summer I presented at a conference where New York Times reporter Richard Perez Pena was kind enough to sit for a panel about how PR people should work with him.

One of the things he said was dumbfounding.

I had looked at his recent work – much of it was, frankly, the kind of coverage that PR people would NOT want. He was just doing his job, uncovering questionable behavior and highlighting negative outcomes from programs that were supposed to help people. So I singled out two stories that were more positive that could have been the result of PR pitches. And I asked him how he found out about them and what made him decide to cover them, out of all the hundreds of potentially worthy topics he could cover on any given day.

One was about a program for international students at Oregon State University. Richard explained all the important trends relating to international students and how OSU had one of the oldest and largest transitional programs for them. And then, he said, he needed another story to work on in Oregon if he was going to fly all the way there.

“And there’s this guy in Hong Kong who emails New York Times reporters incessantly,” Richard said. “He’s been emailing me for years. He emailed me and said, ‘Did you know they’re using art to teach climate change at [the University of] Oregon?”

And that was how he found his second story for the trip.

Incredulous, I asked more about this guy in Hong Kong and what he did to get his emails opened by NYT staffers.

Richard, who was being awesomely open and generous about this, started chuckling and explained how he would get frustrated with this guy periodically and stop opening his emails. One time the guy wrote advocating use of a new word for reading digitally, “dig-ing,” but was worried people would read it as “digging.”

“I don’t know why I opened that email [about the class at the U. of Oregon],” Richard said. “It depends on what I had for lunch, or how I felt about my editors . . .”

Now some people could hear that anecdote and get frustrated and feel like there is no rhyme or reason to pitching top-tier media. And I would understand that reaction.

But I draw the opposite conclusion – if a random, occasionally annoying guy in Hong Kong with no PR training or responsibilities can place a story in the New York Times, surely someone who carefully researchers and crafts a targeted pitch can do it!

Now, this anecdote also highlights the factors that need to align for success, even for a promising story idea. Richard likely wouldn’t have cared about this email if he hadn’t already planned the trip to Oregon. Sometimes you can use social media and/or clues from previous coverage to uncover such influencing factors. But you can’t know everything all the time, so you just do the best research and targeting you can and get that email out there. And if it doesn’t work that time, you try again.

Next time you’ve done your homework and think you have a good idea, but are still feeling apprehensive because of previous rejection, remember:

If a random guy in Hong Kong can do it, so can you!

4 ways to cut your email pitch in half


Time-starved journalists and bloggers are always demanding that we get to the point and send ever shorter emails. My recommended standard limit for a cold email pitch is 150 words.

Here are some simple, immediately applicable steps to cut your word count.

1. Delete your first sentence. If you’re like almost every PR pro who has attended my workshops, you feel compelled to begin most of your pitches with a set-up line of background to put your news in context. When you’ve targeted your pitch properly, it’s unnecessary. “With Facebook’s $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp, social media companies’ soaring valuations are distracting venture capitalists. Despite these conditions, low-tech DayGlo Tires just closed a $10 million round of fundraising . . .” See how you don’t need the first sentence?

2. Leave out proper names and formal titles in the first pitch. Unless the person has broad name recognition, the name can come later. “Devan Snead, associate research director for consumer technology, issued a report that found . . .” is wordy and overly long. Try this instead: “One of our analysts found .  .  .”

3. The following words are common and usually unnecessary – imagine them in a sentence and you’ll see what I mean: basically, essentially, actually, really, nice, past, future, located, currently, presently.

4. Cut another 25 percent. Once you’ve implemented those three steps to cut your pitch down, use the word count feature in Word to force yourself to cut another 25 percent. You might even need to omit distinct thoughts you’re trying to convey. This is great! It really forces you to put yourself in the journalist or blogger’s place and determine what’s most valuable. Give this a shot and then compare with your original version – most times you’ll realize that cutting the extra quarter of copy length costs you little in meaning.

I use these steps – and more from my writing workshop – to keep my weekly pitching tip emails under 400 words.