How To Write A Media Pitch: The Process I Used To Get 5 Features In 6 Months
Pitching is one of the most valuable skills you can have as a freelance writer. While there are a lot of ways to make money freelance writing, a lot of it starts with a pitch. There are a lot of great outcomes when you learn how to write a media pitch. From my own experience, pitching gave me a lot of opportunities I didn’t think I could land as a freelancer. It got my foot in the door with several big outlets like The Toronto Star newspaper, and Macleans, a magazine with millions of readers. Further, I was landing a steady amount of placements in smaller publications which helped build up my portfolio and get more experience writing. Even better: as my network as a writer grew, it got to the point where I could just text editors if I wanted to write for them again.
It can take a lot of work to devise an effective pitch, so here’s a guide for how to write a media pitch.
Preparing your pitch
Before you get started, it’s important to do the necessary preparation and research. This will make for a stronger pitch that’s easier to execute.
Is your pitch worth pitching?
First off, you have to figure out if your story idea is worth pitching. Your idea needs to be more than just a general event, or topic you’re interested in writing about. There has to be something interesting happening that hasn’t been covered before – either at all or from the unique angle you’re thinking of. Interesting stories tend to have:
- Narrative: elements and events that tell a story.
- Characters: as humans, we feel more connected to other humans.
- Conflict: a good conflict is often the most interesting part of a story.
- Focus: try to get as specific with a topic as possible. This will help you find an interesting angle in your story.
For example, let’s say you wanted to write about pizza. That topic alone is far too broad, even for a niche “pizza-only” media company. A more focused topic considers potential narratives, characters, and conflicts that the pizza industry might be facing. A more focused story would be how a pizza restaurant is using robots to deliver during the pandemic. There are potential characters (the restaurant owner) who can share stories about how they’re dealing with a conflict (they use robots to deliver during the pandemic).
Pick the right outlet
Another important thing to consider when pitching, is who you want to pitch to. Every media site has a certain style or vision, and a specific audience it caters to. When you’re finding potential outlets to pitch, you should ask yourself:
Would the readers of this website care about my story?
It’s important to keep in mind that even if your story seems interesting to you, it might not sound that interesting to someone else.
Is my story on brand with what the publication is looking for?
A lifestyle magazine like Chatelaine is going to want different content than a newspaper like The Globe and Mail. Your story has to fit with what the publication is looking for.
What value does my story bring to the site?
Research if the publication already covered the topic you want to pitch about. If you can make a case that your story advances their coverage, they’ll be more interested in your story.
Pick the right person to pitch
Another important point is finding the right person to pitch.
For example, let’s say you want to pitch the story we put together about pizza to the New York Times. Find the person who accepts pitches for the food section of the newspaper (or is looking for a unique story – like the robot delivery angle).
There’s nothing worse than putting together a pitch and sending it to the wrong person. It comes off as sloppy (at best). If they’re nice, they’ll direct you to the right person, but most of the time you’ll get ignored. At worst, you risk that editor writing you off entirely and not accepting any future pitches, regardless of relevancy.
What’s the timeline of the work?
Finally, it’s important to have an idea of how long everything is going to take to finish. If your story requires a lot of interviewing and researching, chances are you’ll need more time to gather resources.
Who you’re sending your pitch to is also important for figuring these details out. Pitching a long-form article to a magazine like The Walrus or The New Yorker could take months, while writing something for The Washington Post could take a few days. You can contact publications for their average article completion time, or find more details on their websites. Being aware of this information can save you from any unwanted surprises.
To save time, you might want to consider conducting your interviews and gathering any necessary research before you send out your pitch. This will be helpful because you can gain more information that you didn’t already know about your story, and you can mention that you’re already past the stage of reaching out to sources. This is also a way to provide evidence of original research, which is important for some publications.
How to write a media pitch: Execution tips
Once you’ve done the necessary preparation, it’s time to draft your pitch. The majority of editors prefer getting email pitches, so make sure you send your pitch from a formal email address.
Find a way to get your email to stand out
An often overlooked part of the pitch is the actual email itself. Editors are sent hundreds of pitches a week, so you want to find a way to stand out from the rest. A strong subject line is a good place to start.
When drafting subject lines, you want to keep things catchy and concise. Start off with “Pitch:” and think of eight to ten words that capture the essence of your story. Let’s use the pizza story as an example:
- Weaker: Pitch: Pizza restaurant delivering with robots during pandemic.
- Stronger: Pitch: The rise of robots delivering pizzas during the pandemic.
The idea of pizzas being delivered by robots is interesting by itself, but we can find a way to make it stand out even more. The first example does a good job of being concise, but doesn’t really stand out. The second example prefaces with the angle of the story (robots), and is more creative with the word choice. When it comes to drafting a subject line, think of a headline you would click on.
Get to the point and keep it brief
One of the most important rules when you’re learning how to write a media pitch is getting right to the point. The length of a pitch ultimately depends on who you’re pitching to. But in many cases, the most effective pitches are able to boil the story portion down into 2-5 sentences. Within these sentences, it’s important to include:
- The conflict in the story.
- What’s at stake.
- Why it’s important.
- Anything new the story brings.
Once you lay out your story idea, you can get into details like structure, timeline, length, potential interview subjects, and any other research you’ve already done.
Tailor your pitch
Once you know who you’re going to send your pitch to, it’s important to keep their publication style in mind. Some news sites like NPR and Huffington Post offer specific guidelines and requirements for how to write a media pitch to them. MediaBistro offers complete guides on how to pitch to dozens of magazines. Read these thoroughly, and format your pitch according to what they want. You can also reach out to editors and ask them for examples of successful pitches.
This is also another opportunity to make your pitch stand out. Think of it this way. You never send the same resume and cover letter to two different jobs you’re applying for. You’re trying to make a case for why you’re the solution to their problems. Figure out how this story fills a need on the website you’re pitching to.
Briefly mention previous work
If you have previous work that’s been published with other media sites, don’t be afraid to mention it. It shows editors that you have experience as a freelance writer. But don’t make this the focus of your pitch.
A brief line like: “I’ve written about similar topics at Wired, Vice, and The Guardian,” with links to your work is usually all you need. You can put this right after you’ve laid out the details of your pitch.
Check for spelling and grammar
A final obvious point is making sure your pitch is clean, and free of spelling and grammar errors. It’s not a good look to send a pitch filled with mistakes to someone you want to write for. Consider triple-checking your work, or have a peer read over your pitch. You want to make the impression that you’re a capable writer.
How to follow up the pitch
Don’t be afraid to follow up, but don’t over do it
Sometimes it could take weeks for editors to get back to you. They’re really busy people, and they’re often flooded with pitches. In some cases, they might not even get to reviewing your pitch.
Some outlets tell you explicitly how long to wait before a follow up (on their “pitch us” page). If you don’t see that and it’s been a week or two with no contact, it doesn’t hurt to reach out. This can be a short follow-up email asking them if they got to your pitch. At the same time, don’t over do it. One follow up usually does the trick, and anything more may turn off the editor from considering your pitch. If you don’t hear back within another 1-3 weeks after your follow up, you can likely assume they’ve decided to pass on the pitch.
Win or lose, be respectful
Whether you get accepted or rejected, always remember – be respectful! Someone took time out of their day to review your pitch. Don’t be too down on yourself if your pitch gets rejected. It’s an opportunity to learn and refine your pitch the next time you decide to send it out. Editors appreciate when you come back with a stronger pitch.
If you get accepted, prepare to discuss what’s next
If you’re asking how to write a media pitch, the best possible news is getting your pitch accepted. But you still need to be prepared to discuss these additional topics once that happens:
- Rate of pay: It’s good to ask for a contract.
- Timeline: ask about when they’d want to publish your piece, and turnaround time.
- Ask if they can offer you any resources
Pitching is one of the most valuable skills you can have as a freelance writer. It can not only lead to great opportunities, but also help you cultivate useful skills. Although it might take some time and a lot of rejection to get to where you want, there’s no feeling quite like getting your pitch accepted.