How to pitch a press release to the nationals

Sarah Lee
0 minutes

How to pitch a press release to the nationals

Pitching to a journalist is the ultimate in cold-call sales. You only get a second to grab the journalist's attention and the decision is instantaneous.

But this is your job and it's the journalist's job to listen - this is a symbiotic relationship. You need each other so let's try to make it as painless as possible...

This blog is written for everyone who has to persuade a journalist to write about their client. For anyone who has avoided picking up the phone and calling the news desk of a national paper. If you work in PR and your job is media relations this blog is for you.

In this blog I will explain why your pitch matters and how to get really really good at it.

What is media pitching and why does it matter?

Pitching to a journalist is the art of persuasion in the world of public relations (PR). It is the process by which you get a journalist to write about your client or the company you work for.

You can pitch by email or by telephone but you should always remember that the journalist you are speaking to is being pitched to by hundreds of other PR people just like you, all the time.  

Sadly that means  you will experience rejection. Not every story will make it through - the ones that do will have a great pitch.

So how will you stand out? How do you get the attention of a busy journalist? And how do you deal with rejection?

How to pitch successfully

To make your pitch standout, the first step is to go back and read your press release. The press release should form the foundation of your written or verbal pitch.

The press release you are pitching will have gone through multiple stages of drafting, amendment and approvals. So why would you start writing an alternative press release as your pitch now?  

I've seen this happen countless times. Re-writing a press release for the pitch. This not only wastes your time but there is a danger that you get the story wrong or mis-lead the journalist.

So stick to the script - use the press release - and the agreed form of words.

Don't be embarrassed to use the headline or the opening paragraph as your pitch. If the story has been well written then that should be all you need - the whole story of who, what, where, when, why and how, should be in the first paragraph.

If it's not, you have a bigger problem than your pitch. I'll come to this later. If the story has been buried in the 10th paragraph just before the six vital quotes, then the pitch is your opportunity to re-write the press release and pull the story out for the journalist who will never read beyond the first par.

Hopefully the press release will not have got to this stage.  But if it has, your pitch will need to work hard to explain the story.

What to include in your pitch

Your pitch should be as short as possible - it is a signpost for journalists to the press release below. If it acts as a barrier to the journalist reading the press release then it is not doing its job and it is actively sabotaging your chances of coverage.

Summarise the press release briefly and what you are offering in addition to the press release - this could be interviews, photography, a demonstration or trial, a product or more detailed information.

Your pitch could simply repeat the headline or use the first paragraph.  This is not a sign of weakness or plagiarism.  But if that is literally all you are doing then what is the point? If your press release is strong then don't stand in the way of the journalist reading it with small talk.

Literally introduce the press release with:  Hello Sam, We have a story out today that I think will be of value to your readers.  Happy to arrange interviews or answer any questions you have.  Many thanks, Sarah

Use Bullet Points

Bullet points are a great way of highlighting the most important points in a press release. Edit down each paragraph into one bullet point. The better your press release the better your pitch.

Try to keep to three or four bullets maximum - beyond that and you are pushing the press release further down the page and it may not get read.


Your aim is to build a relationship with every journalist you pitch to. Over the years that relationship will grow as you continue to pitch them with press releases. The journalist may well move to different media outlets but your connection with them as a reporter will continue as long as the media outlet is relevant to your story.

Address the journalist as you would a work colleague - they are part of your extended team. You may well end up working with them on a weekly if not monthly basis. Get to know them - what they write about professionally but also about their personal interests.

Always remember that journalists are human - they may not always seem like that - but they are! They can be intimidating and impatient, sometimes furious, but they are just doing a busy, stressful, deadline driven job and they are human.

Find a way to connect with them on a personal level and you will increase the chances of your pitch being read.

Twitter is your best way to find the person behind the byline. What do they talk about, what do they like? Do they have children? What football team do they support? What are they reading or watching on TV? Find common ground, engage and you will be able to influence. In a not creepy way...

How to deal with rejection

Not all your stories will get published. For every yes you will get many more nos. It is the toughest thing to deal with in PR. It does get easier, because you get used to it and you should never take it personally. But it doesn't get any more enjoyable.

You definitely get better at dealing with it as it becomes a natural part of your job.

Every journalist will assess your press release against a specific set of criteria when they read the story. If it does not meet that criteria it will not pass the threshold for their media outlet. This is the story being rejected, not you.

If you have a well written pitch, a strong press release and you are targeting the right journalist on the right media outlet there is still a chance that the story will be rejected.  There are many reasons your story will be rejected:

What if your pitch is rubbish?

But what if it is your pitch that is not working?  Beyond editorial criteria (which I cover in another blog) there are many factors that may play a part in your pitch not working.  Too long, too complicated, too difficult to understand, too fluffy, too badly written...

Listen to the feedback you are getting. If it's not landing, then reposition.  

Firstly, is your pitch wrong? Did the journalist understand the story? Is that why it was a flat NO.

If your pitch is wrong then re-write it. Cut it down, keep it short. Pull out the most important bits. Eliminate any extra words or words that are not essential to the sentence.

Read it to a friend or someone on your team who does not know the client. Does it make sense to them? Does it confuse them? Does it bore them?

If they don't get it straight away you need to write it again. And test it first before you go again to the media.

The way to deal with rejection is to make sure  you have a great pitch and a good story. This means that rejection is not your fault, failure is out with your control. You have done everything you could to increase your chances, you were just unlucky on the day.  The story just did not make the cut.

Now go pitch! Know exactly who you are pitching to, get straight to the point and don't be afraid of changing tack if it's not working.

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