This is how to actually write a PR pitch

Photography by Jason Henley
Words by Genevieve Phelan

Without sounding like a door-to-door salesman.

You spend three years in a Bachelor of Public Relations or a comms degree and come out with a good deal of memorable post-tute drunken nights, flawless Harvard referencing skills and lifelong mates. But when it comes to day one of that first PR internship or real-world publicist gig, something dawns on you: no one has ever shown you how to write a PR pitch. It’s suddenly such an elusive and stressful thing and you falter.

I took up a senior account coordinator role off the back of a stupidly fun alcohol marketing stint I’d deferred uni for. I had better rosé knowledge than PR logic. I didn’t know who wrote about food for The Age or how to get shoes in the fashion pages of a limited pool of glossy mags. 

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My first proper day in PR was daunting. I was absolutely jazzed to sit in that swivel chair with a coffee in tow and meet my desk fellows, but work from a media matrix? Spreadsheets terrified me. And what is a flat lay image? Why do I need to send ‘ghost shots’ of this camel coat? What’s a press loan? If you’re like me, you’ve probably googled what a line sheet is if you’re in fashion PR, or how to not embarrass yourself at a media dinner if it’s hospo-leaning.

Samantha Jones never covered this in Sex And The City. But reader, we are now.

Thanks to copious BS-ing, pestering questions and a natural leaning towards quippy-toned emails, I got the hang of the whole pitching palava. Once you find out who’s who in the zoo and get to know the journo you’re talking to (and what they actually write about), you start to build a little penpal-esque relationship with them.

I now have better email conversations with some of my favourite journalistic talents (insert Melissa Mason here) than texts with my Hinge matches. Happy Friday is banned from my email intro vocab and when I say ‘How are you?’, I make sure I really mean it. 

As a 20-something cliche millennial female, I work in comms and so do many of my friends. A few have recently asked how the fuck one writes a PR pitch. Thinking back to that tummy-turning feeling of uncertainty on my first day two years ago gives me the irrits, because these things should be openly written about and explained at uni more. Spoiler: anyone can do it. The more you overthink it all and try to abide by archaic pitching arithmetic, the shittier it will be. Here are my main findings (so far).

Relax. Make it fun

PR is not ER. There are no ‘rules’ per se, and it’s not life or death or rocket science. Sticking to any one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to anything in the comms space is just painfully boring. The best advice I have is to keep things human. No journalist running on coffee, a shitty sleep schedule, an abyss of emails and a week of back-to-back events wants to read a pitch sans personality. The biggest turn off with any email is something that feels impersonal or not really meant for you. 

When you open an email with ‘Dear XX, I hope this email finds you well’, the receiver is most likely reaching for the bin button. When you open an email with ‘Hey, XX, your piece on XX in Broadsheet last week was fantastic, I’m dying to grab a vino at XX soon,’ they’re so much more likely to want to engage with you. If you were on the other end of that pitch as a time-pressed journo looking to write some banging stories, think about the kind of language you’d like to read. Less routine, more razmataz. 

Everyone likes photos

We all love visuals when it hits 3pm and the screen’s gone blurry. Get the journo hooked with some sexy visual support, like a well-polished dating app profile. Splice your email copy with a few flicks that encapsulate what you’re talking about or really showcase the thing/garment/tapas bar you’re hyping up so much. Be selective and let the pictures do the talking, while your media release gives context.

Pressers can be fun, too

Attach a press release or link to one, up to you. The release should be factual, sure, but keep it punchy and personable. Make it interesting, entertaining even. Would you want to read about this in a magazine? Would you find the presser more digestible if perhaps some subheaders were involved? Yes, these are allowed. There is no criminal way to write a release. Make it your own and make it useful. The entire purpose of this page is to educate the journalist and intro the product/place/event to someone that’s maybe never heard about it before. 

Maybe your pitch is about a new dish at a cool bistro, but it’s a two-liner job and doesn’t really need a whole PDF doco attached. In that case, write a brief email and attach an old opening release or just link to the destination in mention (and its socials). 

Keep it concise

You probably know 500 things about the thing you’re pitching about. But the journo might’ve never heard of GOTS-certified cotton before. Make sure it’s educational but simple. Be clear and strive for makes-sense-ness. The email itself could contain a few key lines from your press release (usually the opening pars) and a question to actually engage the receiver. Like, ‘Journo, do you think this could work for an upcoming XX column? Here are a few thought-starters for a story…’ The easier you make this person’s life, the more receptive they’ll be to your pitch. It’s like coming home to a cooked dinner. Set it up for them like a banquet of resources: release, angles, photos, questions, intention, potential interviews with a spokesperson/founder, and a big cheers at the end. Because nobody gives a shit about your kindest regards, there I said it.

Learn from the best 

Nothing builds good pitching skills better than a bantery, experienced, willing-to-help mentor. Lean on and learn from your employers or friends or past colleagues. My boss Lib, the director of Project Hutton in Melbourne, kindly shared some sacred advice on PR to elucidate us all further on what makes a pitch stick. So, the following bits of advice come from someone far more experienced than me (who has taught me a lot).

What makes a bloody good PR pitch?

A researched one. First port-of-call is knowing your product or service inside out. Understand what makes it different and therefore newsworthy. Know your media outlet. Take a deep dive into the publication, website or TV show to fully understand their content, tone and audience. 

What are some of the most common mistakes PRs make when pitching?

Firing off pitches without any consideration of the outlet or journalist. Know who you’re talking to. Journalists will pick up immediately when it’s a cut and paste job. Another one is not considering the needs of a journalist. Always give them ample time to write a story if dealing with an embargoed release. And make sure you provide everything they need – hi-res imagery, all the necessary info etc. Make it easy. 

Email subject headers matter. What do you do with them?

Have a look at the outlet’s recent headlines you’re pitching to and try to mimic the tone in your email header. Reading the pitch in their language can really bring it to life.   

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