Ask a Journalist: What Makes a Strong Media Pitch?

I have been working with Karen Ashbee for the better part of a decade. One of Canada’s best freelance writers, she regularly contributes to publications including The Globe & Mail, The National Post, Air Canada enRoute, Bombardier’s Experience Magazine, Flare, FASHION, Western Living, and Avenue Magazine. She has read thousands of press releases from communicators who put their heart and soul into creating the perfect pitch for their clients.

I thought it would be interesting to talk to Karen about what she wants to hear from a public relations professional trying to get her attention.

Jason: How many press releases would you say you get in a week?
Karen: On average, approximately 25. Some seasons are busier than others though, leading up to holiday I get a lot more.

Jason: Of those, how many would you say are strong pitches?
Karen: I would deem a pitch strong if I have read it all the way through. I primarily work with established PR people so I am fortunate to get about 75% good information; they know me, who I write for, and what I’m looking for.

Jason: What gets your attention?
Karen: I’ll preface this by telling you that I recently read “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. He perfectly sums up what I like – people who tell me straight away why I should write about them or their client. I want to know in the first sentence why people should buy it, eat it, go see it, or be interested in reading about it. Sometimes people start with, “I have a great story for you!” I want to know why. The other thing I like is when the pitch is short and to the point. I get a lot of email so I don’t like to have to search for the answers. Lastly, it’s good when people know what I write about and who I write for. If you have a client in health care, for example, don’t pitch me with that because my focus is primarily on lifestyle. That extra homework goes a long way in good media relations.

Jason: What are your peeves?
Karen: When I read about something that I am interested in, I request more information, and I don’t hear back. I pride myself on answering people fairly quickly and I appreciate the same courtesy.

Jason: Is there a particular time of day that you like to be contacted?
Karen: For me, I’m sharp in the morning. By 4:00 I’m on to something else.

Jason: Do you like when people include images / videos / GIFs?
Karen: If it’s relevant to the product then, absolutely. If you’re introducing a new parka, I need to see it. I also need to know what makes it special. Paint the complete picture for me.

Jason: How do you feel about a follow-up?
Karen: I used to be in sales so I can appreciate the effort that goes into pitching and following up. I don’t mind a reminder, especially if I’ve expressed some interest in it already. Sometimes it takes time for me to pitch the story to an editor so there’s a delay. If I’ve politely declined, then no is no, but I have had some clever follow-ups based on my feedback that made more sense and resulted in a story.

If you haven’t already watched Simon Sinek’s TED talk, watch it below. It’s almost 10 years old and the ideas are still excellent (there’s a reason why it’s has been viewed over 5 million times).