With just a little digging, you’d quickly find a number of debates online between journalists and marketing professionals regarding the quality of their pitches. Common problems raised on either side of the argument include:
- “Why is this person constantly asking me for a link?”
- “Why do I never get a response when I spend so much time pitching?”
- “Why do I never get images from the person pitching to me?”
The list could go on forever.
Rather than revisiting these arguments and stoking the fires between the two disciplines, it would be far more prudent to instead focus energy on what could be done to help us build better, more meaningful relationships with journalists moving forward.
That way, you can hopefully write better pitches, develop mutually-beneficial relationships and ultimately better your chances of securing coverage for your clients.
Having worked on both sides of the struggle, I can hopefully offer you some useful insight into how journalists might think – and explain how the constraints they’re under can influence their dealings with you.
Importantly, I’ll also show you four tactics you can use to better your outreach efforts with journalists, with examples of how these ideas worked in practice.
Give Them Something Irresistible
The world of journalism is demanding, pressured and often reactive – leaving journalists to work within difficult constraints.
With their editors under their own pressures to deliver pieces that enable their publications to stand out from the noise – be that via driving clicks, social shares or search traffic – journalists are the ones left to provide the the content that satisfies those goals.
This means that:
- If you’re getting in touch with them, you need to be concise with your information, so that they can quickly digest the key points
- You need to be sure that what you’re offering is going to be genuinely useful and not just a waste of time
If you’re expecting them to break away from what they’re working on (for example, if you aren’t pitching to a specific callout), make sure that what you’re giving them is genuinely newsworthy. Otherwise, you’re unlikely to get any sort of response.
You need to be delivering content to them that’s irresistible. That content could be:
- Topical to current news trends
- Offer a significant angle/development on a story they’ve written
- Be so unique that it can’t help but pique their interest
The closer you can align what you’re pitching with these points, the more newsworthy your content and pitches will become. If you can hit all three points, even better!
An example in practice
Earlier this year, I noticed that there weren’t many great resources around the amazing parks in my home city, Sheffield. Since the city’s green spaces are one of our best selling points, this didn’t really make sense to me.
This got me thinking about how I could create a shareable resource on behalf of Evoluted and a student accommodation client of mine. I wanted the guide to:
- Offer a great local resource around the standout parks for locals, visitors and students
- Sit perfectly amongst the local press and on local websites, generating valuable links in the process
- Encourage people to get active in the city’s parks and boost their mental and physical health
- Play on current local news trends including investment in the parks/passion from locals around our green resources (see tree felling)
To enhance and add value to the guide, I spent a considerable amount of time working to involve key local organisations as contributors. I managed to get Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, Sheffield Mind (a large mental health charity) and several prominent sports and wellbeing companies on board.
The guide launched a couple of weeks back and it’s already generating strong interest in the local press – and that’s because it forms an irresistible local story:
- It brings key local businesses together and promotes the city
- It encourages people to get active and stay healthy
- It acts as an interesting local resource and ‘shouts’ about the city
- Importantly, it’s very timely; at a point where Sheffield is getting big investment, notably across its parks
If you’re interested, you can view the guide to Sheffield’s parks here.
Show Them You’re Not Just in it for Yourself
Outreach can often feel a lot like take, take, take; particularly from the side of the journalist. Think about it: Someone you’ve never met or spoken to has emailed you out of the blue, expecting you to use their content and for you to persuade your editor to add a link to their contribution. Further to this, they’re likely to chase you about it too.
If you were them, would you not get annoyed at being chased for something you hadn’t even asked to be involved in?
There are a few good ways you can tread more lightly and actually appeal to a journalist with your pitch:
- You can be the first to directly respond to a callout they’ve made, since they’ve explicitly asked to be contacted (be that via #journorequest, HARO etc.)
- You can show that you understand the patch/subject area they typically write about and make your pitch really relevant to that
- You can give them something they need, even if it means not securing a link straight up
I won’t deny that you’ll often be left feeling like the one doing all the legwork, but that’s just the nature of the game. You can definitely be bold in your pitches and ask for links for your hard work, but how you do that is so, so important. Get it wrong and you’ll burn the contact forever.
Just a bonus point – whilst you might be tempted to chase outreach emails, I would generally advise against it more than once. Sometimes I would say don’t even do it at all.
You can be fairly sure that if the journalist is interested in what you’ve got to say, they’ll be in touch with you accordingly.
An example in practice
Earlier this year, I secured a great link for one of my clients on a large tech publication, TechTarget. This link only came because I gave the journalist something they needed, even when it seemed like a link wouldn’t be possible.
The opportunity initially came about as a result of a #journorequest, which was put out by the journalist in question. They were seeking a source for one of their stories and I felt a member of my client’s leadership team would be perfect.
With this in mind, I contacted them to pitch involvement and was initially met with quite an uninspiring response. They said a link wouldn’t be possible and that my client’s company couldn’t directly be mentioned.
Despite this, I got them what they needed anyway, because I felt it would be worth trying to build the relationship.
As a result, the journalist was really grateful for the help and immediately offered the potential for coverage in a different way. They needed an organisation to feature in a content series and the door was opened.
After some lengthy discussions, this ultimately led to a full piece in both TechTarget and Computer Weekly, with my client receiving mention and getting two priceless backlinks in the progress.
It would have been really easy to just write off the opportunity after the initial couple of emails, but it’s a great example of showing sometimes you have to invest in the human element of outreach too.
Give Them Something Topical
Current trends in the media can be a real friend to you when you’re looking to drive backlinks. If you can offer an angle a journalist can use, that they may not otherwise have found, you’ll undoubtedly win plenty of friends.
The key is to be the one offering the content that stands out above everything else; that would otherwise be difficult for the journalist to produce.
To do this, it’s important to get in the mind of a typical searcher. When people are trawling the internet for things to read, they might be:
- Looking for a specific article using a search engine
- Scrolling through their favourite websites, that they’ve visited directly
If you can convince a journalist your content is worth covering, then you could end up satisfying both of these goals. If you can get a valuable placement on an external site to satisfy b), you could also then expect to achieve brand visibility when that post hopefully ranks in future years too.
An example in practice
One of my clients operates within the fireworks’ industry. There are few other comparable areas of business where seasonality is so important and whilst there are ways to build links throughout the year, the lead-up to fireworks’ season is a great time to try and get in the press.
A lot of content ideas related to fireworks are timeless, since people will always want to read about things like:
- Fireworks safety
- Tips to keep pets safe
- How fireworks are made
With this in mind, I contacted Buzzfeed a couple of years back to see if they’d be interested in using some imagery we’d put together around the different types of firework effects.
After networking with a journalist there, I was ultimately able to secure a priceless backlink from the publication by helping them to put together a quiz around different firework effects. We then produced our own piece on the client’s site which went into more detail around the subject.
Going back to a) and b) above, we were able to get an awesome placement on a high-value domain; which then continues to see my client’s more expansive content around the subject rank highly in search.
The post is one of the most successful on the site for driving organic traffic, whilst we also continue to feel the value of having a great link from Buzzfeed.
Give Them Something They Couldn’t Produce Themselves
There are so many opportunities out there to get your content featured by providing a journalist and their publication with content that would be difficult to produce without your help.
Finding these opportunities can be easier than you think, too. Think about whether:
- Your company could provide content that would reflect well on the publication you want to feature on
- You could pitch an idea well-suited to a specific publication, that would otherwise be incredibly costly or too difficult for them to produce
Wherever possible, find the journalist/person that produced content; that’s closest to the idea that you’re pitching. This way, your idea can be reviewed by the right person and it could become a very welcome addition to a future piece.
An example in practice
I’m always on the lookout for different placement opportunities for Evoluted. Websites for marketing publications and tools are always a great angle for this; which was the case with this contribution I put together for Capsule CRM.
By providing them with a testimonial, I was able to deliver them content that would act as a great selling-point for their CRM system; that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to produce themselves.
Whilst testimonials are a common tactic used to gain links, this post ended up being the first of its kind on the Capsule website. That was because I went beyond offering them a few words to use on a testimonials page.
Instead, I gave them an interesting angle by explaining how the CRM has benefited the Evoluted team across different departments. In turn, this helps show Capsule’s audience and potential new customers that their tool can be useful for marketing, sales, MDs and project management.
When pitching content like this, you have to ensure that the content you’re offering is:
- Genuinely valuable for the publication/website in question
- Reflective of your actual views (we genuinely do love this CRM)
When you’re pitching, there are some strategies that you can apply to almost any contact you make with a journalist. These will all help boost your chances of success:
- Be honest and explain your intentions, it’s better for all parties
- Show some understanding of the pressures journalists are under
- Be reliable, with fast and efficient responses
- Don’t pressurise journalists over irrelevant or poor-quality pitches – you’ll permanently damage any relationship
- Look to get value for your company or client too, but be tactful in how you do it
- Don’t purely think about the benefit to you
- See the big picture and think long-term