Keep your pitch to the point

Limit it to 150 words or so

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?

Keep your pitch to the point

Keep your PR piece short Don’t include all known knowledge. Image by Kelly Sikkema

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, creator of Help a Reporter Out, or HARO.

That’s maybe 100 to 150 words. Include:

1. The story angle

2. What makes this story different

3. Contact information

Then “Best, Your Name” and out.

Make it 150 words.

The most effective pitches are short — 100 to 150 words. To keep yours fast and efficient, answer these four questions:

1. Why you? Target the journalists and bloggers you pitch. Start with a personal greeting and slant your story to their media outlet, column or segment.

2. Why this? Give just enough detail to demonstrate that this story is different and worth covering.

3. Why now? Create a sense of urgency. Show that this isn’t a generic, evergreen story but a story that should be covered right now. Make your lead timely or link it to a hot topic.

4. Why us? Give an indication of authority and credibility. Without blah-blahing your spokesperson’s whole bio, show that she’s a credible —maybe even controversial — figure.

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.

  • Cut Through the Clutter in PR

    Measurably boost readability with our targets, tips & tools

    Regardless of what you’re writing, Cutting Through the Clutter is the No. 1 way to keep readers reading.

    Cut Through the Clutter in PR: Measurably boost readability with our targets, tips & tools

    But the stakes are even higher when it comes to PR pieces. That’s because, say, if your lead is too long, Google News might reject it. If it’s too short, Google News will reject it.

    Leave this session with “the numbers” you need to measurably improve your readability.

    At NOT Your Father's News Release — our two-day hands-on PR-writing master class on Sept. 6-7 in Atlanta — you’ll leave this session with “the numbers” you need to measurably improve your readability. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

    • Pass the Goldilocks test: Write a headline that’s not too long or too short, but just right. (Google News ignores one in five releases because the headline is too long!)
    • Write a one-minute release: Journalists rarely spend longer reviewing releases, according to a GreenTarget survey.
    • Stop using the most overused PR buzzwords: Journalists and bloggers — not to mention readers — will love you for it.
    • Write by number: What’s the right length for your release? Your paragraphs? Your quotes? Your sentences? Your words?
    • Use a cool tool (to quantifiably improve your copy’s readability. PR pros in our Master Classes have improved readability by up to 300% with this resource.

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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

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