For the past five years, I’ve lived a double life:
In my nine-to-five job, I’m a PR person.
But in my five-to-nine job, I’m a freelance writer.
It all started when I stumbled across a Facebook post by Backpacker Magazine. It was a call for pitches from writers in the Southwest (where I was living at the time).
The post included a generic editorial@ email address and a vague request for story ideas about Southwest hiking and backpacking trails. It was at that moment I realized that email writing – and more specifically, pitching – would become the most important piece of my side hustle and soon-to-be professional career.
From Freelancer to PR Pro
As a freelancer, I learned not only how to brainstorm unique story ideas, but also how to craft an email that convinces a perfect stranger (the editor) why they should let me write that very story.
I replicated that process when I started my PR career. At work, I was in a constant state of pitching, trying to convince reporters they should write about the tech startups I represented. Through trial and error, and lots of research on what makes a good pitch, I learned how important directness, authenticity, and personalization are in pitch-writing.
I had to perfect the way I wrote story pitch emails to pique a reporter’s interest among a sea (literally hundreds upon hundreds) of other PR people doing the same thing. If I didn’t succeed, my clients didn’t get coverage. Ouch.
With five-plus years of this kind of pitching under my belt, I’ve finally got a handle on what it takes to pitch an editor both as a freelance writer and as a PR professional. Read on for my top 10 tips to make your pitches sing.
10 Tips for PR People Who Pitch Freelancers
First, a disclaimer: every editor and freelancer has their own preference for how they liked to be pitched. So while these tips may be generally useful as you pitch freelancers to cover your clients, a person’s stated preferences should always trump these (or any) guidelines.
- Don’t waste a freelancer’s time.
Timeliness is everything when writers are on a deadline. This is especially true for freelancers, who are most likely juggling a handful of writing assignments at one time (or, like me, a few writing assignments and a nine-to-five gig).
Some classic examples of PR people wasting time include the call when a PR person kept me on the phone for 20 minutes as we waited for the CEO to join. Or the time a PR person didn’t get me the answers I needed on Monday, but instead, the following Friday (spoiler: they didn’t make it into the final draft).
- Be helpful.
Do this by…
- Sending photos in your pitch or email body.
- Including direct calls to action at the end of your emails (“Do you want to test out the product?”).
- Including helpful insights like industry stats and/or one-pagers that offer more info and color.
- Build the friendship.
After writing in the outdoor industry for five years now, I've seen friendships develop between the editors I work with and the PR folks who pitch them.
If you can build genuine relationships – by meeting writers in person and working with them on a consistent basis – that will go a long way toward making your job easier. When editors know trust you, they’re more likely to give your pitches the benefit of the doubt. They may even start coming to you when they’re in search of sources.
The best way for PR people to build relationships with freelancers is meeting up at industry conferences or catching up over coffee or a drink you happen to find yourselves in the same town. That’s right: good old-fashioned facetime.
- If you’re pitching them because they’re a freelancer, tell them that.
Freelancers like attention. It helps them build their brand by knowing what’s working. And it helps them understand that you know their coverage, so it’s worthwhile to pay attention to your story idea.
- Offer an interview over email.
Just like the clients you work with, freelancers are super busy. Save freelancers time by offering an email Q&A instead of a phone interview.
- Send (high quality) visuals.
I mentioned this above, but it’s important enough to say again: Even if a freelancer doesn’t ask, send images.
Why? Because most freelancers are required to provide their own photos to accompany their stories. Keep in mind:
- No branded images unless it’s a product review (that’s too promotional).
- Stick with high-res (300dpi or higher).
- Send a variety (like close-ups, people, and product images).
- Perfect the pitch.
I’m not kidding here. The pitch needs to be just right.
So don’t skimp. Do your research. Spend hours – if not days – researching the person you’re reaching out to. Make your email extremely personal and then make sure it sounds right.
Read every sentence with the receiver in mind – have you provided enough (but not too much) background information? Have you explained why this story is a fit for them? Have you positioned it so it’s clear that whatever you’re sending is helpful and interesting?
Show the freelancer that you know who they are and what they’re all about. That might mean commenting on how much you liked their last article (trust me, we like being flattered), or mentioning something that caught your attention and spurred you to send your pitch.
- Be patient (and move on).
As a PR person myself, I know how frustrating (okay, devastating) it can be when you’ve put time and energy into making a connection for a client, and they ultimately don’t make it into a freelancer’s story. Even worse, you might end up being ghosted by the freelancer.
Still, you don’t want your name and/or email associated with constant pestering. That could hurt your chances of future coverage, either with that freelancer or their friends they’re sharing screenshots with (it can happen!)
Set yourself up for success by not bombarding freelancers with questions like, “When will your story run?” and “Did my client’s quote make your story?”
Wow, That Sounds Like Hard Work
It is. But it’s worth it.
The more effort you put into crafting the right message for the right person, the better your chances are at breaking through the noise and getting amazing placements for your clients.