Why do pitches fail? (Part 2)

‘You don’t even know me. It’s not working anymore’: thought every journalist before discarding that pitch which started on a promising note but ended being a futile exercise.

Pitching is very similar to dating online. Amongst the wave of daily pitches and releases, a journalist selects an email based on the level of interest the topic evokes. Most pitches that do not match their interest get left swiped. Few make it to the next round! This also depends entirely on how intensely a journalist is looking for an interesting story or angle.

Once a pitch catches their attention, it proceeds to round 2, that is, scrutiny. Few of the pitchers who have a better track record with the journalist earn an edge over time. So, sending a well-crafted pitch is also a great way to build a relationship with the journalist. There are few communication professionals who I still remember from my journalistic days who knew how to pitch a story.

I am going to share a few tricks I follow. Some of these can be done more precisely if you have marketing automation platforms at your disposal. But since not many PR consultancies currently have invested in one, here is a manual way to do the same.

  1. Who’s that?

It’s almost a cliché to hear that pitches must be personalised. But truth be told, it’s effective. What is needed today is the degree to which pitches are personalised. I have broadly seen two types of personalisation issues in the pitches. I have rejected both – as a journalist and as a communication professional.

Mere change of name isn’t personalisation. If you misspell my name or send me an email addressing someone else, it will not get the (positive) attention you want.

Side note: Although few studies show that emails addressed to the wrong person elicit more responses. However, in reputation building efforts, I feel this trick won’t work. Such insights should carry a disclaimer: these suggestions are subject to reputation risks; please do not try with journalists.

  1. Do you even know me?

The other issue is when it’s a forced personalisation. Sometimes people claim they loved one of the journalist’s previous works but the pitch screams they have no idea about the journalist’s story preferences.

Most likely, the journalist is already sceptical that you are trying to butter your way into their minds. Few of them also test if you are bluffing. If you can pull it off, great! But my suggestion would be to be genuine.

A simple trick I suggest to communication professionals is to add a few columns to their target media list. Add the title and link of the story and a few lines on what was interesting about it. For those who prefer to do it manually, here is a format:

Journalist name Publications Last contacted
Recent story headline and URL What stood out? Relevance to client/what can client offer
Supreeth Sudhakaran Reputation Today February, story for client on AI tools Why Pitches Fail Pitches are like bitter gourd AI driven content personalisation software can improve your pitches.

Initially, this may seem a little cumbersome. But what it does is give you a scratch to personalise a pitch. A simple mail-merge with the core pitch will provide you with a quick, personalised pitch.

  1. I can see the blue tick

One of my favourite pieces of data was to analyse ‘when’ I got a response. If the journalist has a history of responding to pitches at night, I should be timing my pitch closer to the time (don’t forget the rule of civility, though). Some journalists even mention that they respond to pitches at a particular time of the day. For instance, I preferred two slots: 11 AM – 1 PM or 4 PM to 5 PM (on occasions).

If all goes well, you might reach a stage where you will hear back the journalist say: Call me, maybe?

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Supreeth Sudhakaran
Supreeth Sudhakaran is Deputy General Manager in the Corporate Communication and Brand Team of Aditya Birla Group. He was earlier associated with Godrej Industries Limited, leading owned media platform - Design Dekko, research-driven narratives, hybrid media engagement, and brand communication mandate for the Godrej Agrovet Ltd.

Supreeth is a journalist by education, he started his career working as a desk editor at the digital arm of the Dainik Bhaskar Group. He later worked at senior editorial roles with several leading general and trade media publications such as the Indian Express Group, IPP Media India, Haymarket Media Group, and Geospatial Media, writing and editing stories on various niche subjects including marketing technology, printing, packaging, publishing, and geospatial science. His first stint as a communication professional was with India’s largest PR firm, Adfactors PR Pvt Ltd., before moving to his current role.

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