Say you’re a reporter rushing back to the newsroom after a conversation with a source gave you an attention-grabbing story idea. Speed-walking into the building on a rush of adrenaline, you polish the pitch that’s taking shape in your head. Unlike the Julia Roberts character in “Notting Hill,” you may not be “just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her,” but you know that your pitch needs to be just as compelling to earn your editor’s approval.
Whether you’re a PR rep pitching your company’s story to a reporter or a marketer pitching your CEO’s bylined article to a publication editor, your pitch needs as much thought behind it as the fictional Anna Scott’s declaration of love. Of course your pitch needs to accomplish your company’s content marketing or public relations goals. But it also needs to balance those goals with the publication’s.
One good way to accomplish that is to pitch editors as if you’re a member of the publication’s staff, not a marketer seeking coverage for your company. That means, first and foremost, coming up with topics that the publication will be interested in.
When editors and journalists evaluate story ideas, they’re guided by industry standards for newsworthiness: impact, timeliness, proximity, human interest, conflict, novelty, celebrity. Your pitch should check several of those boxes if you want it to stand a chance. Another box is expertise: While strictly avoiding promotional language (which will ensure your pitch ends up in the trash), highlight why you are the person to speak on the topic at hand. The presentation of your pitch matters, too. Your email subject line should be descriptive and your pitch concise — it should be clear why the topic of your pitch matters today.
We live in a 24/7 news cycle, and publications have to produce new content every day. Readers want to know what’s happening now, so when it comes to pitching journalists or publication editors, the adage “timing is everything” holds true. Reporters want to write about trends in the industries they cover, and editors want to see content that responds to current events. Being able to speak to timely issues is a great way to earn a journalist’s or an editor’s attention, and doing so consistently will build trust between you and the publication.
To think like a reporter and ensure your pitch catches the right eyes, follow these four tips to generate topics that will pique a journalist’s or a publication editor’s interest:
To ensure your pitches are timely, tune in to relevant calendars. Start with your target publication’s website, which may provide a content schedule. As the aspiring author of a guest post, this calendar gives you insight into what the publication’s editors are interested in covering and when they’d like to run it. If you can’t find an editorial calendar, reach out to the publication to ask for it. Proactively showing an interest in addressing the publication’s content needs rather than your own will reflect well on you and your subsequent pitch. The site’s media kit may also spell out the publication’s content plans.
Don’t stop at the site’s editorial calendar, though. Identify industry events, annual conferences, and product releases that could provide a timely hook for the expertise you’re looking to share. A standard desk calendar or the National Day Calendar can also tip you off to holidays and other commemorations that will make your insights more relevant to journalists and editors. Pitching your company’s cybersecurity savvy around Cyber Monday, for example, is a great way to tie your ideas to a timely event. Just be sure to send your pitch well in advance of the holiday. With major happenings such as holiday shopping, there will be plenty of competitors producing similar content, so it helps to be ahead of the pack.
As a marketer, you need to be a consistent and critical reader of your industry’s news. If you’re not, it’s going to be difficult for you to position your company’s expertise to journalists and editors. Turn the news you read into an opportunity to join the conversation surrounding it. For example, if a major company’s new pop-up shop or product launch roadshow is making an industry splash, what can you learn from that event marketing strategy? Ask yourself what insights you would share with your team after analyzing the strategy or the implications it might have for your industry. Use those ideas as a way to start brainstorming commentary around a current event.
If you already have a topic or angle you want to pitch, research current trends, industry news, and recent studies that could give your topic greater urgency. Bookmark the top websites that cover your industry and do a quick sweep of the new content published there each morning. Create Google Alerts for relevant industry keywords and subscribe to free online news roundups. Morning Brew and theSkimm cover a wide range of news topics each day, for instance, while SmartBrief provides industry-specific news. Becoming a Twitter follower of key industry leaders and journalists can also help you figure out what topics will turn heads.
The ideal pitch topic should relate to what’s already on the publication’s site without duplicating it. You should get into the habit of looking at the categories covered on the site, reading a few articles in the section(s) you want to be published in, and then doing a quick Google search to discover where your expertise and the publication’s content gaps meet. If the publication covers crowdfunding, say, then by all means write an article on crowdfunding. But if it has a whole section devoted to it, then you’ll need to differentiate your article — “How to crowdfund successfully” will most likely be too basic. To spice up your pitch, approach the topic from a new angle, such as how female founders can increase their crowdfunding success.
If you see that a site has already covered the timely topic you want to write about, don’t let that discourage you from reaching out. If a past story did well engagement-wise, the publication may be open to doing a follow-up. Just make sure your pitch outlines how you envision the topic evolving rather than rehashing what the publication already has on its site.
Keywords matter. If you don’t consider the terms you want your content to rank for from the inception of your pitch, you’ll struggle to realize significant SEO benefits once you publish. Of course, you’re not the only one competing for audience attention in the digital world. Every publication pays close attention to website traffic in an effort to get content in front of more eyes and, in turn, bring in more money from advertisers. In 2020, publication editors will be analyzing reader metrics like email capture, subscription conversion, and time on page in order to understand the types of content that best attract readers.
To improve your pitch’s chances, determine where your desired keywords and expertise overlap with the publication’s most-read stories. Some publications, including Forbes, list page views on each article, while other sites might simply have a “most popular” list of articles that got the most views that day. You can also check the number of social shares recent articles have received. After identifying a topic, perform a Google search using a tool such as Keywords Everywhere to see what’s been written about the topic and the phrases people use when searching for information. If you search “AI in HR,” for example, the tool tells you that people who searched that topic also searched for “challenges of AI in HR” and “future of human resources.” You can use these insights to focus your pitch.
You don’t have to work in a newsroom to think like a reporter or editor. By following these four tips, you can make sure your pitch checks all the boxes needed to increase your chances of acceptance at the publication of your content marketing dreams.
This blog post was developed and co-written by Megan Favignano, Ardyst Zigler, Mike Miller, Katherine Caraway, Daniel Trivinos, and Karen Pasley.