How to win over journalists with your next pitch email

There are few feelings in the world quite like the sweet moment when you land PR coverage for a client or your own creative business in a title you really covet. But how does it happen? These days, more often than not, it begins with a simple email.

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

When I started in PR in the mid-noughties, it was a very different media landscape from today's. There were significantly more press titles to approach, a dizzying number of journalists to target, and the rise of social media – in particular, Twitter – had kicked open the doors to the holy grail of public relations: real-time insight into the minds and personalities of journos.

2023 is a different world entirely. Gone are the days (for the most part) of pitching a story over the phone in a frenzied gabble of excitable words to bustling newsrooms. The number of active media titles and journalists receptive to publishing editorial content without brand advertising has dwindled massively. The love affair with Twitter and social media at large is now over for many.

Yet the appetite is still there for earned press coverage. En route to landing these sought-after column inches, whether online or in print, email has a very powerful role to play. Here are five tips to win over journalists and get results.

1. Don't waste anyone's time

The most important one upfront: only send an email pitch if you have a genuine story to share: one that is actually newsworthy, by its own editorial merit, and not, in reality, an advertorial fluff-piece trying to pose as news.

As a PR or marketing professional, it's important to be open and honest with yourself and your client before pitching to the media: is the story timely, of genuine appeal to the title and its readership, and interesting? If not, then going down the advertorial route could be a much better path to follow.

If you're not interested yourself, you can be 100% certain that the journalist receiving your email won't be either. Don't waste anyone's time by sending a pitch that doesn't grab attention quickly and firmly; instead, take a breather, sit on it for a while, explore other hooks, and only send your pitch once you're certain you've landed on an irresistible angle.

2. Research, research, research

Sending an email to a target journalist today? You'll likely be among hundreds of PRs and companies flooding their inbox daily with news pitches.

The key to standing out from the pack and kickstarting a valuable media conversation begins with research. Take your time to really explore the right journalist and title for your story. Carefully examine what they've written before and where your client or story adds value rather than repeating an already-explored narrative. Look for trends in the publication's editorial calendar. Ensure your story is a good fit for their audience, and make that very clear early on in your pitch.

Journalists are extremely busy people working to very tight deadlines. Don't make their job any harder than it needs to be.

3. Keep it short and sweet

Brevity is the key ingredient to a winning email PR pitch.

As communicators, we've mastered the art of tight prose in our social media posts to grab attention fast. There's simply no reason not to carry this forward into your emails, too, as best practice – not just for the press, but for everyone you email.

If you can tell your client's story in one or two short paragraphs, then great: do that. The best stories are ones that can be told simply, after all. Be succinct and focus on hooking interest: you can always provide the fuller picture later.

4. Be 100% ready before you pitch

Being fully prepared may sound like an obvious tip, but you'd likely be surprised just how many times journalists positively respond to pitches, only to then be told that the company spokesperson isn't available for an interview right now because they're away on vacation.

Before pitching any story to target press, you should always make sure that you have an appropriate company representative ready and waiting to field media interest if and when you do get a bite – and that they're fully briefed on appropriate messaging and, preferably, have been professionally media trained too.

It goes beyond availability for an interview, of course: it's also essential to have a robust bank of high-res images and visual assets to support your story, as well as key background facts, figures and statistics, to make life as easy as possible for the journalist to give your story the attention you believe it so richly deserves.

5. Don't be afraid to follow up in the right way

Think about how often you skim over your inbox in an average day. If you're anything like me, it'll be countless times. It's all too easy to miss the first email you receive from a name you don't recognise; the same absolutely holds true for journalists.

Just because you don't receive a response to your first email pitch, don't despair: that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a no. What it does mean, however, is that you shouldn't follow up within 24-48 hours asking 'Did you get my email?" That's a surefire way to turn off a reporter and put you on the PR naughty list for life.

Instead, if you haven't heard back within a reasonable length of time (again, remembering how busy journalists are and not how keen you are to secure interest quickly), then, by all means, follow up – but not with the same email.

Find a way to enhance the original story you sent. Fine-tune your subject line. Consider an alternative, fresh hook that may be more appealing. Align it to a topical trend that's gaining momentum in the media. Approach via Twitter or LinkedIn as an alternative to email. Don't give up at the first hurdle.

But also know when to call it a day and move on. You won't score with every email pitch that you send, far from it. But when you do, there are few sweeter feelings in the world.


Get the best of Creative Boom delivered to your inbox weekly