Pitching tips from 500 online publishers

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Ever wonder why some of your pitches don’t get picked up or even elicit a response from the writers you’re targeting?

We at Fractl reached out to 500 top-tier publishers including BuzzFeed, Mashable, TechCrunch, and more to find out what they wish PR professionals knew about content creation and pitching.

Use of the term “content marketing” has been steadily climbing since 2011, according to Google Trends, while “blogger outreach” leaped in 2011 and has spiked again in 2014.

In conjunction, writers are receiving more pitches than ever. At some top-tier publications, writers receive more than 38,000 emails each year, and two-thirds of those emails are from people vying for press attention. 45 percent of the writers we surveyed only write one article per day, but 40 percent receive a minimum of 20 pitches per day. About eight percent get pitched more than 100 times.

With that much volume, it’s easy to see why every pitch isn’t going to make the cut. But the truth is, many PR professionals are hurting their chances in their approach. As TechCrunch’s guest post policy observes, “Too many submissions we get are clearly just pitches for a company, attempting to masquerade as thought pieces; a press release dressed as a guest post.”

So how can you overcome the competition to get your content noticed? Here are eight insights from our study.

1. Try a teamwork approach.

It shouldn’t be surprising that many writers are in their profession because they enjoy writing and developing their own stories. That’s why a full 70 percent told us they’d rather receive a pitch to collaborate, rather than receive a finished asset. Taking the specific interests of your target writers – and their audiences – into consideration should help you think of some collaborative opportunities to offer.

2. What’s your angle?

Publications and writers each have their own interests, and you will achieve more success if you are attentive to the topics your press contacts like to cover. When we asked our respondents to tell us what the perfect piece of content would contain, there was some agreement:

● 39 percent said exclusive research
● 27 percent said breaking news
● 15 percent said emotional stories

3. One size does not fit all.

Whatever your angle, it is important to note that just as interests vary, so do style preferences and website restrictions on formatting. In fact, writers listed no less than 13 formats when we asked their preference. The top 5, in order, were articles, infographics, mixed-media pieces, data visualizations, and images.

4. Establish a relationship.

A good strategy is to seek out your prospects at least two weeks before you send them a pitch. Find their recent articles, blogs, and social media presences to learn their beat and anything else you can about them. Comment, reply, or retweet them with meaningful observations (something more than “this is really interesting!” or “great article!”), and if you can, find a personal connection. Were you both cheering for Germany during the World Cup? Do you have kids the same age? About two-thirds of our respondents told us that having a personal connection mattered when they considered pitches, so don’t miss your chance to make one.

5. Read your pitch, then read it again.

If you’re in a rush, skipping your proofing step is never the shortcut to take. An astounding 85 percent of writers told us there was at least some likelihood that they would delete a pitch based on spelling and/or grammar errors, no matter how great the content otherwise. A good rule of thumb is that if a sentence sounds awkward when you say it out loud, then there’s a good likelihood you have a grammar problem on your hands. Buy yourself a copy of The Elements of Style, or find the closest grammar geek in your office and make friends.

6. Save industry jargon for the industry.

Publishers also told us that marketing speak such as “pitch” and “press release” were among their turn-offs, along with overly inflated adjectives such as “life-changing” and ”stunning.” Rather than using these vague terms to try to sell your content, shift to being specific and detailed about what your content is and why it is valuable.

7. No phone calls, please.

One of the chief complaints we heard from writers was in regard to phone calls. When we asked publishers how they preferred to be contacted, email came in first place with 81 percent, followed by social media with 9 pcernt, and phone calls and contact forms with 5 percent each.

With journalists already receiving such an incredible volume of email, how can you make your pitch rise above the rest?

● 85 percent of writers decide to open an email based on the subject line. Keep yours brief (6 to 10 words) and specific.
● 88 percent of writers prefer shorter pitches of 200 words or less. Say your piece succinctly, then ask if the writer is interested in receiving additional assets.

8. Right time, right place.

Writers are a crowd of early risers when it comes to email. More than two-thirds of our survey participants reported preferring to receive pitches in the morning. If the a.m. isn’t your best writing time, don’t fret – you can use a scheduling tool like Boomerang or Streak to plan your communications ahead of time.

On the other hand, you’ll want to avoid pitching around long weekends and holidays, or while they’re on vacation or at a conference. Emails sent during those times are likely to get lost in inboxes, and will be more difficult to garner attraction once the writer is back in the office.

Kelsey Libert is a partner at Fractl. For more from the survey, check out the Perfect Pitches flipbook here. 

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