How to Pitch to Media: The Startup Pitch Stack that Won't Quit
Pitching the media is hard. There’s pressure to prove yourself (or your company) as interesting enough, smart enough, or successful enough to be worthy of a journalist’s attention.
But consider this: to be successful in their jobs, journalists need dependable sources that they can rely on for insights they can’t get anywhere else.
What you have – exciting experience, fresh ideas, and compelling thought leadership – is valuable to them.
That mindset will help you clear the mental hurdle of reaching out to reporters. What follows are some tips to help you clear the more practical hurdles.
Think of this as your “pitch stack,” a set of tactics that will streamline your pitch so it stands out in a crowded inbox, conveys a targeted message, and starts a conversation.
Break the Ice: Establish a Connection and Spark Curiosity
A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. A dream feature in a highly regarded publication begins with a single line of your first pitch (or something).
Like anything in life, getting started can be the hardest part. And the most important thing is just getting something down on paper (or screen). You can always go back and revise.
Your first line is vitally important: you need to catch the attention of your reader, show why you’re emailing them, and entice them to keep reading.
There are a few ways you can start your pitch:
Offer a personal note and show (with links) why you’ve selected a particular journalist for this pitch. The personal touch doesn’t have to be related to the pitch itself, it just needs to show the care and attention you put into it.
If you take this approach, it’s important to actually spend time to really understand what moves the journalist you’re pitching. If you don’t, you’ll likely miss the mark. The only thing worse than no personalization is bad personalization.
Here are a few examples:
- “Saw your piece on biofuel exemptions and wanted to pass along a source.”
- “Wanted to pass along a contributed article idea for your Network Security vertical.”
- “Hope you’re staying cool during this heat wave – can’t believe it’s over 90 degrees in Minneapolis!”
This icebreaker sparks a sense of urgency in your reader. It might relate to a time-sensitive topic, be a perfect fit for this particular journalist, or show that you’re privy to a counter-trend that no one else is talking about.
You can’t fake this approach. There needs to be an actual reason you’re creating a sense of urgency. If it’s clearly manufactured, the pitch will fall flat.
- “Caught your article on biofuel exemptions and just had to get in touch with a potential new source with a unique take on that issue.”
- “NAME and COMPANY shared his thoughts on three overlooked cybersecurity threats that no one is talking about, and I just had to get them to you.”
- “Stumbled across this piece from last month and thought I’d pass along this critical update that might change the way people view the CARES act.”
The Sly Dog
This approach is much more nuanced. It can work if you genuinely aren’t sure about a particular target, want to pass on a lower-priority bit of information, or have spotted the early markings of a future trend.
(Note: There is no excuse for blasting irrelevant pitches to reporters who have no use for them, something we’re firmly against here at Propllr. Used correctly, this approach can also lay the framework for future outreach.)
Here are a few sly dog intros:
- “I know you don’t cover this sort of thing on its own, but I thought it could relate to the wider trend of oil exemptions becoming more widespread under the Biden administration.”
- “Just a heads up, these three cybersecurity threats are on track to cost Illinois companies $30 million in 2021.”
- “Wanted to pass along these comments I thought you might find interesting.”
Okay. You’ve got their attention. Now it’s time to spice things up.
Reveal the Problem: Add Urgency, Drama, and Intrigue
Once you’ve set the scene and convinced the journalist to keep reading, it’s time to start getting to the heart of your pitch.
After the initial icebreaker, every good pitch has two additional basic parts: the problem and the solution. If you’re having trouble identifying either, try asking yourself these (somewhat existential) questions:
- What am I trying to solve?
- Where can my (or my company’s) expertise help inform readers on mainstream or industry topics?
- What are common sources of conflict in the organizations we’re looking to serve?
- What are the primary problems people in my industry are facing on a day-to-day basis?
- Why does my company exist?
You, rethinking life choices as you craft your pitch
As you answer these questions, you’ll start to uncover elements of drama, intrigue and urgency (all golden nuggets for pitches) within your organization and within the wider industry.
Words like “but” and “however” can be helpful in introducing the problem. You’re interrupting the status quo and shattering the scene you created in the previous section.
Adding drama to your pitch doesn’t have to have shades of your favorite daytime soap opera. People are naturally drawn to controversy (that’s why we like reality TV and gossip columns), so don’t be afraid to play that up within your pitch.
- “Development and cybersecurity teams need to work in tandem to be successful – but often end up butting heads.”
- “Last year, 73% of homeowners reached out to their bank for financial guidance, but only 23% felt like they received it.”
- “Most people attend live sporting events with their children to have fun, but every year, many end up having a negative experience.”
To incorporate elements of intrigue into your pitch, feed information to your reader one piece at a time – always leaving something behind the curtain.
- “As IT leaders work to sow harmony between their development and cybersecurity teams, there’s one common mistake they usually make.”
- “Most homeowners feel satisfied with their financial organization’s online banking experience – but only 5% actually use it.”
- “Most parents know that taking a child to a live event can be stressful, tiring, and embarrassing. So why do they continue to go?”
This sort of problem beckons readers to continue reading out of fear they might miss something important, get left behind, or not pass along an important message to save the day.
- “Most enterprise security execs left one important element out of their 2021 roadmap.”
- “Homeowners have made clear what they’re looking for in support from their lending organization – but banks and lenders aren’t bothering to include it.”
- “The biggest risk of attending live events with children is underestimated by most parents.”
Now comes the fun part: bringing it all home.
Deliver the Solution: Solve the Problem You Just Created
Finally, it’s time to deliver your expertise and bring the pitch home. You’ve got the reporter’s attention by inventing a problem. Now you just need to solve it.
Always end with a question or a call to action. Stop pontificating and open the door for a discussion.
This section of your pitch stack should flow naturally. As a finishing touch, it should tie the pitch together and bring it to its natural endpoint. If you find yourself struggling to wrap it up, go back and reevaluate how you’ve positioned the problem.
Sometimes, it’s even easier to start with the solution (since it is closest to your initial pitch idea). Then, go back and conjure the problem.
Bring your pitch down the home stretch by positioning yourself or your company in one of two ways – as the hero or the expert.
With this approach, you fly down from a hypothetical high building and save the day. It can work well if your pitch is especially dramatic.
While it’s never good to make your language too flowery, it’s okay to err on the side of creating more excitement. A pitch that’s over the top is better than one that puts the reader to sleep.
Take this opportunity to brag a little about your credibility and show how you can help.
- “I’ve helped more than 500 companies sow peace and harmony between their development and security teams. Interested in an article on the five biggest problems I’ve seen (and how they can be solved)?”
- “PineappleTech makes self-serve banking systems more accessible to customers. Could they help with anything you’re working on?”
- “Since 2018, Jim Bob, CEO of BallmarkMate, has made attending events easier and safer for thousands of families. Can I pass along more information?”
Use this angle as a way to tie your expertise into a wider trend. You might not be speaking about your company, but you can leverage your experiences and insights to the benefit of the journalist (and their readers).
- “With over two decades of experience in the energy sector, I’m happy to be available as a resource for anything related you’re working on. Let me know if I can help!”
- “We surveyed 1,000 customers on their digital banking experiences and are finishing up a report on the results. Any interest in taking a look?”
- “I’ve worked with the operations teams at hundreds of venues across the United States on making their event experiences better and safer. Can I share more on what I’ve learned?”
Tie it All Together: Re-Read, Fine-Tune, and Send!
Once you’ve finished drafting each section, go back and read over your pitch (then re-read, then re-read again…). You should find that it has a bouncy, natural rhythm to it. Give each sentence its own line for plenty of white space that makes it easy to read, especially on a phone.
And keep it short (generally). Most pitches should be under 150 words. If you’re over that limit, start looking for long-winded areas to streamline. If that’s too challenging, it could be a sign that this pitch topic isn’t focused enough.
The final product should look something like this (researcher, drama, hero):
Saw your piece on cybersecurity threats and wanted to make myself available as a source.
As remote work continues to become more commonplace, companies are rapidly accelerating their adoption of cloud systems.
But many don’t have the cybersecurity systems in place to prevent attacks and protect their employees, their data, and their reputations.
As the CEO of CloudPeace, I’ve helped dozens of companies scale and maintain their software systems since the start of the pandemic.
Let me know if I can help with anything you’re working on?
Effective Pitching Takes Practice
Effective pitching can be challenging, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t come naturally.
If you’re a skilled writer in other formats, like essays or blogs, you might find this structure challenging and constraining. That’s a positive!
By limiting yourself to this structure, you’re ensuring clear, concise communication and packing valuable information into an efficient package.
Maintaining a tight, effective pitch stack is only one step toward earning valuable media coverage. While there are other tricks to the trade (like targeting, interviewing, and manufacturing news), a great pitch puts you on the pathway to success.