Since 2013 I’ve written 200-300 articles for publications like Time, Inc., Forbes, Entrepreneur, Mashable, VentureBeat, and TechCrunch. The more I write, the more pitches I receive from startups, entrepreneurs, PR firms, businesses, and other parties who want me to write an article for or about them. I typically receive 50+ pitches per week, but sometimes it’s over 100. I respond to fewer than 1% of these pitches. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to write an article for everyone who wants one, but I can’t–there simply isn’t time. There isn’t even enough time in the day for me to respond to every pitch. Every other writer is in the same position. Below are tips on how to break through the crowd and get me, or any other writer, to give you the coverage you want.
But first, how not to pitch.
How Not to Pitch Journalists
- Pitch 100 journalists at once. We can see through you in 0.25 seconds, and we don’t want to write a story someone else might write at the same time. One at a time is the way to go.
- Make it about you I. When you want someone to do a favor for you, show that person how doing that favor benefits them, not just you.
- Make it about you II. I mean this literally. Do not pitch a story about yourself. Don’t pitch a story about your business. Some publications no longer even allow profile pieces because they were abused.
- Tell me you’re special. You’ve got a great company that does great things for people. Yeah, I know, that’s what the other 50 people who pitched me this week said about their companies.
- Make it long or detailed. The longer your email, the more likely it will be ignored (TLDR) or marked for follow up, and how often do you get back to those emails you mark for follow up?
- Follow up too much. If you send me or any other writer a pitch wait a week before following up. Follow up only once.
- Send pitches like this: “hi, can you help me publish on forbes unde ryour name please?” Yes, that’s a real pitch, and I’ve received 100 others like it.
1. Understand My Motivation
I don’t get paid to write. Well, ok, maybe twice out of the 200+ articles I’ve written, and I would have written those for free if they hadn’t waved money in my face. I’m a contributor, not a professional journalist. That means I submit articles to publications because I get something out of it other than money, like exposure for my agency or a stronger personal brand. So if you’re pitching me and thinking “Why doesn’t this guy want to write about me? I mean, this is what he gets paid for, right?” No, I don’t get paid to write about you. In fact, it’s likely to cost me money to write about you. Either it takes my time or it takes the time of my staff who assist me with article research, drafting, and editing. Each article I write costs me around $1,000, either in time or direct costs.
And no, you can’t pay me to write an article about you. It’s against the agreements I have with my publishers to accept pay. I know people who do it. Some of them even have standard pricing for posting an article to the publication of your choice. Some of these are well-known writers on well-known publications. I’m not going to refer you to them. I’m not going to out them, either. I don’t know exactly what their agreements are with the publishers, although I suspect they’re the same as mine. Regardless, that’s their business if they want to violate their agreements. I’ll focus on sticking to mine.
Why do I write? Because I enjoy it, and because I get “paid” in other ways. When I write about digital marketing, my company gets leads from it. Not because I promote my company in what I write, but because when I talk about digital marketing, people read the article, think “This guy sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, what does he do?” and then they do some research, figure out where I work, and contact us. I don’t have to pitch my company in what I write. People figure it out on their own. My writing has also led to a book deal and speaking opportunities. I’m well compensated for my writing, even if it’s indirect. If you want me to write an article about you, you have to figure out how I will get what I want by giving you what you want.
2. Know My Interests
My Forbes profile says “I cover digital marketing for the entrepreneur as well as the CMO.” But your pitch is for a company that provides online legal services, or a new internet-connected toy, or a health related product. Would I write about these things? Probably not. I don’t have expertise in these areas and I’m not going to take the time to become an expert on them because that will increase the cost of writing an article. Plus, what benefit is it to me as a writer to write about something that doesn’t have anything to do with my other interests?
However, no matter what your business is you can still get me to write about you if you tweak your pitch. If your company provides online legal services you could pitch me on how your company has used social media to successfully market your services. Or your IoT toy company could pitch me on how you were able to build an email list of 10,000 subscribers in two months. And your health product could pitch me on how SEO helped it grow revenues by 200% in one year. Those are all stories I’d be interested in, because they relate to digital marketing and the more stories I can write about digital marketing the better.
3. Make a Connection
Do we know each other? Did you also go to BYU? Are you from Los Angeles? Do you skate? Do you like Dinosaur Jr.? Put “I saw that you’re a skater, I’m also a skater…” at the beginning of your pitch. Why? Because in 0.25 seconds you’ve told me that you’re not sending me the same pitch you’re sending to 200 other people. Why would I want to jump on an article you’ve pitched 200 other people on? The last thing I want to do is spend three hours working on an article (for no pay) and then right when I go to publish it, find out that 10 other people have published essentially the same article in the past 24 hours. If you send me a pitch without any personalization then I assume this is what’s going to happen, and your pitch gets deleted in 0.5 seconds.
4. Make it About the Reader
I want to write stories that readers love and share. Help me help you by pitching me a story that focuses on readers want, rather than on what you want. I know you want a story that talks about how great you are as an entrepreneur, or about how great your company is, but unless you’re Elon Musk nobody cares. Sorry, but it’s true. That story might be good for your ego, but hardly anyone will read it and fewer will remember it.
Instead, focus on delivering value. You’re an expert on whatever it is you or your business does, so give me some tidbit of information you know, but which your customers may not know, but would be super helpful to them. The articles I’ve seen the most financial success from had titles like “How to hire an SEO firm” and “How much should SEO cost?” Someone who is trying to hire an SEO firm and has been burned before and feels like he’s about to get ripped off again will be very interested in reading those pieces, and will get a lot of value from them.
My agency sometimes does PR work for clients and when they can’t come up with story ideas I ask them “What are the secrets in your industry that you’re afraid to talk about? What are your competitors afraid to talk about?” Those questions often generate answers that can turn into great stories.
Another way to focus on the reader is to pitch articles that focus on questions your customers ask. If you’re not sure what questions they ask go talk to your sales or customer service departments.
5. Make it Easy
If I’m writing something like this blog post where I’m just spouting off about my own experiences and I don’t have to find any quotes, sources, data, etc., then I can write it in as little as 30 minutes, although 45 minutes is probably a better average when all is said and done (sometimes finding the right stock photo takes 20 minutes by itself). As soon as I’m writing about someone else or their company, we’re up to 2 to 3 hours of work. If I’m going to go source quotes from 3 or 4 people, it’s 3 to 4 hours. And so forth. A well researched, substantive article is going to take me 4 to 8 hours to write. Don’t get me wrong, I like to write those articles sometimes, but if I have the choice of writing for 1 hour or 8, and the benefit to me is the same either way, which article is more likely to get written?
If you want me to write an article about your company, help me out before you even pitch me on it. The “raw materials” that help me put together an article include:
- Quotes. From authoritative sources, like one of your executives.
- Data. If you’ve got visuals, so much the better for you and me.
- Media. Video, Slideshare, photos, etc.
- Lede. The lede is defined by Websters as “the introductory section of a news story that is intended to entice the reader to read the full story.” You might also call it an angle, or the whole point of the article.
- Outline. What do you think the story is? Who’s the audience? What do you think they would find most interesting? What do you think is the best way to present it all?
The more you can provide me with the above, the more you cut down the amount of work I have to do, which increases the chances your article will see the light of day this week, instead of sometime in the next month or two as I have the time to squeeze it in, if and when I get around to it.
Heck, why not just give me a rough draft article? I guarantee I’ll scrap 75% of it and rewrite it, but it sure makes the process easier.
“Wait, I write the rough draft for you? Isn’t that your job?”
You could also say it’s my job to get quotes from your execs, source the data, and come up with the lede. But it’s not about whose job it is or isn’t–that’s irrelevant. If you’re going to make me work hard to do a favor for you then I going to pass on writing your article. Not out of spite, or even a lack of interest, but because I have limited time. Reduce the time it takes for me to produce an article and you increase the chances of it getting written. That isn’t a guarantee, because I have a line of people who have done that and yet their emails are waiting unanswered in my inbox while I write this blog post…but their chances of those emails turning into articles are much better than yours if you send me a vanilla pitch without the raw materials I need. I hope that for most people reading this, this is great news, because if you’ve been asking yourself “How do I get a writer to write about my company? I don’t get it!” I’m now giving you a recipe to improve your chances.
6. Be Prepared to Wait
I know writers who put out 10 articles every week. There are two ways they do this; 1) they write as their full time job and have no other distractions, or 2) they have a team of researchers, writers, and editors who are helping them (I know one writer who has a staff of 15 people helping him full time). I’m not a full time writer, and that goes for many contributors out there. Forbes has perhaps 500 staff writers, and over 1,500 unpaid contributors. If you contact a contributor then understand that she has a full time job, probably running a business, and she’s only putting out 3-4 articles per month, and she might have 30 articles she’s already working on. Even if she says she’s interested in writing about your company don’t act as though she’s now obligated to provide you with regular updates and keep you in the loop. Maybe she’ll do that, maybe she won’t, but if she doesn’t it’s probably because she’s super busy, and if you are bugging her every other week asking “When are you going to publish my article?” you may be annoying her and making her wonder if she should reconsider publishing your article at all. Remember, she’s not working for you, you’re not paying her–she’s doing a favor for you. Treat the relationship as such to stay on the writer’s good side.
If you have given the writer information that is time sensitive and you need it published by her now or you need to take it elsewhere, then communicate this in a respectful way, not as a threat.
The wrong way: “Hi Jenny, I sent you information about [topic] several weeks ago but I haven’t heard anything back from you. Can you tell me the status on the article? I’m hoping we can get that published within the next week.”
This sounds entitled, as though the writer owes you something.
The right way: “Hi Jenny, I know you’re super busy and I appreciate you considering publishing an article using the information I sent over. The information I sent is time sensitive, so if you’re too busy right now to use it no worries, just let me know so I can talk to other writers about it and next time I have something valuable to share I’ll come back to you. But if you do want to use it and can publish it within the next [deadline] then I definitely want you to have it. If I don’t hear back from you by [deadline] I’ll assume you’re busy right now and I’ll pitch it to someone else but I will be in touch in the future. Thanks!”
That’s still a veiled threat, but it’s respectful, understanding, and reasonable. It could probably be even better, but this should be good enough. But unless you’re worried about the writer publishing what you’ve sent after you’ve decided to give it to someone else, I would just move on without following up at all. If you’re not hearing back from a writer then chances are they’re not going to use what you sent them.
Bonus tip: I sent out an email newsletter where I tell my subscribers exactly what stories I’m working on and how they can pitch me. This is the #1 way to get me to include you in one of my stories and get into a big name publication. Sign up here.
One More Way to Get PR
The catch with pitching me or any other writer is that you’re dependent on our schedules. Even if I agree to write an article that includes your company, it may take me a year to do so. I don’t work on an editorial calendar, per se. Each day I wake up and ask myself, “What is the most urgent/important article to get published, today?” Then I work on that article, and it can change from day to day. Less important, less urgent articles get pushed to the back, and more important articles are placed at the front.
One way to make sure you don’t get pushed to the back is to pay, that is, to hire my agency for our digital PR services. When you pay us we write the article you want, and we pitch it to other writers. We can’t publish it ourselves because, once again, that violates our contracts with various publications. If you need to get something in less than three months, this might be the right fit for you.Liked it? Share it!