When pushed for a one-size-fits-all guideline for email pitch length, I usually say 150 words.
But in this post I’ll share some recent evidence to justify when your pitches can be effective even if they’re twice that length.
First, the justification for 150. That guideline came from looking at my successful pitches, asking other prolific media relations pros, and asking journalists. About 150 words kept coming up, which is about twice as long as what you’ve read to this point.
Now check this out. I went back and looked at the six winners of the 2014 “Best Pitches of the Year” contest that I held for members of my Inner Circle.
We had two overall winners and four honorable mentions. They landed the likes of the WSJ (three of them), USAT, TheAtlantic.com, and Ad Age. I was surprised to see that the average word count of these winners was 283!
Then I looked at the distribution and saw a pattern emerge:
Three of the winning pitches were 163, 177 and 180 words long.
The other three were 367, 378, and 435 words long.
What accounted for the difference in the two groups?
The shorter pitches were sharing an asset, while the longer pitches were introducing a self-contained new idea.
Sharing an asset
The shorter pitches were about: a study of breastfeeding habits, a list of the seven best forests to visit, and a survey of millennial spending habits.
You can see how a short pitch would be all that’s necessary to pique the target reporter’s interest and get them to look at the “asset” – the study, the list, or the survey results. Same principle would hold if you’re sharing a video or other piece of content.
Introducing a new idea
The three other pitches faced a tougher challenge. They took an abstract concept and shaped that into a newsworthy angle.
One was about a training program that helps NYC doormen identify elder abuse – but the program is a bit dated so the pitcher used some creativity to make it timely. Another was a bold suggestion for a positive profile of an ad agency that shared concrete examples of why the agency deserved that treatment. And the final one listed similarities between an episode of Game of Thrones and actual medieval history to make a point.
You can see why these would require longer treatment.
Now, here’s an important caveat. The longer pitches were expertly written. After all, they were the best of the year.
So now you have some evidence for a more nuanced approach to determining the best length of your pitches.
When your story idea is good enough and lacks an accompanying asset – you can “go big.” Just make sure you do it well.
This article was originally published on April 16, 2015
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