While there are a number of things that go into an effective pitch letter to reporters, I believe the most important is your headline (or subject line if sending by e-mail). The reason is simple: If the headline doesn’t grab them, they’re not likely to read your pitch letter no matter how well it’s crafted.
During my days as an editor for a healthcare magazine, I got a lot of mail. Here’s a news release headline that a well-meaning hospital or agency public relations executive sent me one day:
CDH TO HOST LAPAROSCOPIC HERNIORRAPY PRECEPTORSHIP
One in a half-million or so people would have a clue what that headline was about.
And ask yourself: how much interest does it generate? The release itself was fairly well written, and once I read the first few sentences I realized the hospital was hosting a seminar about advancements in hernia operations.
But most reporters – even those in healthcare –wouldn’t get past that headline. The release would end up in the recycle bin or deleted before the first paragraph was read.
The headline should describe, in simple terms, what the seminar is about and why it merits attention. For example, if this involves a new procedure, the headline should make that point up front.
A couple days ago a colleague forwarded an article to me titled “A World-Class News Release.” The writer, Denny Hatch, is a columnist for Target Marketing magazine and author of a new book called Write Everything Right!
Mr. Hatch gets a lot of news releases e-mailed to him, 90% of which he estimates are “unreadable.” Recently he received an e-mail with this subject line:
Infographic: Who is a fraud perpetrator?
Intrigued, he began reading an e-mail news release (with an introductory note) from Scott Patterson, senior public relations specialist with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Mr. Hatch described it as “perfect in every way.”
The copy started with a couple of attention-getting questions: What are some of the characteristics of a fraudster?That is, who are the people who commit occupational fraud, stealing from their employer or clients?
Mr. Hatch – not an easy man to please – liked the content so much that he listed the entire pitch, with key takeaways that included this:
- If the reader does not get beyond the headline, the entire effort is a 100 percent failure—in terms of money spent and time wasted.
“Hey all you P.R. folks, learn from this guy!” Mr. Hatch advises.
Duly noted – and congratulations to Mr. Patterson for an excellent pitch that started with a stand-out subject line.