How long is too long?
J.W. Elphinstone’s “Business Watercooler” feature for the Associated Press is just 200 words long. Why, then, do PR pros send her pitches that are longer than that — even PowerPoint presentations with 30 slides?
Call it “AKK,” The New York Times’ acronym for “all known knowledge.” Your job isn’t to forward everything there is to know about your topic; your job is to find a tight story angle on the topic and to pitch it efficiently to the media.
So keep your pitches short. How short?
Keep it to three paragraphs.
Your pitch should be, at most, three paragraphs, suggests Peter Shankman, author of Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work and Why Your Company Needs Them.
That’s maybe 100 to 150 words. Include:
- The story angle
- What makes this story different
- Contact information
Then “Best, Your Name” and out.
Think cocktail party.
When Barbara Goldberg, vice president of New York PR firm Belsito & Co., pitches a story, she thinks, “How could I get a friend at a cocktail party interested in two minutes or less?”
To promote the Surviving Sepsis Campaign, for instance, Goldberg pitched this story:
“Too many of us know someone who went into the hospital for treatment of a common infection or even elective surgery — and never came out. The culprit is severe sepsis, which is treatable in most cases but needlessly remains one of the nation’s leading causes of death. It strikes two out of every 100 hospital admissions in the United States and kills 215,000 people each year, more than lung, colon and breast cancer combined.”
Pass the one-leg test.
When expert PR professionals pitch by phone, they do so while standing on one leg. When their foot hits the floor, their pitch comes to an end.
So test your pitch. Read it aloud while standing on one leg. If you can’t finish before the second foot drops, you need to cut some copy.
Or time your pitch. Rick Frishman, president of Planned Television Arts, recommends that you limit your pitch to:
- 30 seconds of spoken word for print
- 10-20 seconds for radio and television
If your short pitch is good enough, he says, you’ll buy more time to sell your story.
Tease, don’t tell.
The job of the pitch is to pique the media’s interest, not to deliver all known knowledge. So just because you know it doesn’t mean it has to show up in the pitch.
Remember, you can always link to the full release for details. But don’t include the full release in your pitch.
And, please, no PowerPoint presentations.
Sources: “Perfect Email Pitches: Master PR Scribes Reveal How to Craft Copy That Turns Heads and Earns Media Ink,” Bulldog Reporter’s PR University teleseminar, Sept. 18, 2008;
“Turning complex into catchy,” Media Relations Report, September 2004