Publicity 101: How to Pitch | Ashley M. Biggers | Skillshare

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (32m)
    • 1. Introduction

      2:16
    • 2. Getting Started: Timing is everything

      5:48
    • 3. How to Write a Cold Pitch

      6:48
    • 4. Winning Pitches

      4:49
    • 5. Providing Products

      3:36
    • 6. When You Get a "No"

      3:07
    • 7. When you get a "Yes"

      4:44
    • 8. Your Project

      0:58
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About This Class

For many businesses, earning media coverage can seem like magic. This class shows you it isn't magic—it's tactics

Whether you’re an artist, a creative entrepreneur, a small business owner, or all three, this class is for you.

Kick your publicity efforts into gear with this 30-minute class on how to send pitch emails to media outlets. You’ll learn how to time your pitch for maximum impact and the fundamentals of pitching. You'll see examples of winning pitch letters and receive templates you can use today to draft your first pitch. Plus, you'll learn if and when to provide products and how to follow up—whether you get a positive or negative response. 

As a class project, you’ll use a template to draft a pitch email primed to earn media coverage. 

No prior publicity or public relations experience is required!

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Ashley M. Biggers

Journalist and Educator

Teacher

Ashley M. Biggers is an award-winning writer and editor. Throughout her 20-year professional writing career, her bylines have appeared in numerous print and digital publications, including USA Today, CNN, Self, Outside, and Paste. She earned her master's degree in mass communications from Arizona State University. 

In her online courses, Ashley uses her insider knowledge as a journalist to help entrepreneurs confidently approach media outlets, share their stories authentically, and amplify that media coverage to benefit their businesses and missions.

See full profile

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Transcripts

1. Introduction: Hi, I'm Ashley Beggars. I'm a freelance journalist who specializes in covering travel, art, and creative businesses. For the past 15 years, I've written about hundreds of artists, creatives, and small businesses for city, regional and national publications. But as many stories as I've told, they're even more that I haven't been able to. Why? The answer could be as simple as, I haven't received the information in a way that grabs my attention. That means that countless great stories haven't been told, and other journalists will tell you they've had the same experience. Sometimes getting media coverage can seem like magic. You may see other businesses much like yours getting published while you are not getting the same attention. But I'm here to tell you that it's not magic. My goal is to break down barriers between entrepreneurs and journalists. I hope I can show creative business owners like yourself the best way to approach journalists, so that more of these stories can see the light. In this class I'm using my insider's perspective to help you understand how to earn publicity for your creative business. We'll cover perfecting your timing, writing your pitch, email, and when and how to send products. We'll also talk about how to follow up on your pitch to foster relationships with journalists, and get the most of your media coverage. You don't have to be a public relations professional to take this class. In fact, this class is aimed at anyone who's interested in attracting media attention. Whether you are a creative entrepreneur, an artist, or part of a non-profit organization. This class is for people who want to dig in and do the work themselves. That could be because you don't have the budget to hire a public relations professional or because you want to be better informed before hiring an agency. Your project in this class is to draft your first pitch letter to one publication, so you'll walk away on your wage, earning media coverage. 2. Getting Started: Timing is everything: A lot of successfully earning media coverage comes down to timing. Pure and simple. It's about getting the right idea into the right persons hands at the right time. If you want to learn more about finding the right journalists for your business, as well as their contact information, go check out my other Skillshare course, Publicity 101, How to make a media list. We'll assume for this class that you already know who you want to contact and how to reach them. All media outlets have editorial calendars that outline what they're going to cover and when they define the broad themes for coverage for each issue or series, as well as the stories that relate to each of those themes. Of course those plans may change, but in general, media outlets adhere to those calendars. So it's important to tap into those calendars to have the best chance of coverage. These calendars can be set as far as a year in advance. Once you've identified those themes, you'll need to keep in mind the media elements lead times. That's just the amount of time that outlets work in advance of the publication dates. Some magazines produce coverage a year ahead of time. That partly has to do with photos. Sometimes they'll want to shoot a Christmas scene or a summer scene during that season to capture the right feel. On the other hand, some online news sources turn around stories in a matter of hours. It's important to know how much lead time each outlet needs so you can contact them in the appropriate amount of time. So how do you know that? Sometimes the editorial calendars identifies those deadlines and that makes it easy. But if the deadlines aren't listed on the outlet's publication schedule or it isn't public, there are few generalities that you can use. First, earlier is always better. The more time you give a media outlet to find a home for your story and plan coverage, the better. Here are a few other general guidelines. Magazines may play in coverage as early as a year but most don't lock in their content until three to four months in advance. I can share my own experience here. I receive dozens of pitches just days in advance of events and holidays. However, as a primarily magazine journalist, I need on average, four months of lead time to consider covering a story. So if you're having an art opening in September, I need to know about it in May. If you're having a Mother's Day sale, I need to know about it just after the New Year. I understand these types of deadlines might be to forward thinking for your event. If that's the case, then just don't waste time on sending out pitches to magazines and focus on media outlets with shorter lead times instead. You may guess that online magazines have a shorter lead time since they don't have to contend with the print publication process. However, that's not always the case. I contribute to several online magazines that need at least a month lead time to properly commission, edit, and fact-check a story. Daily news shows need information a couple of weeks to 24 hours in advance. If you send information more than a few days in advance, it's appropriate to follow up that morning to remind them of the information. They hold morning meetings to plan out coverage for the day so it's important that you have the information into the news producer's hands first thing in the morning. Newspapers work under a similar time frame as TV news. However, if you think your story will be a fit for a special section that's only published once a week, once a month, or once a quarter, you'll need to reach out much further in advance to have a chance of gaining coverage in those sections. Beyond those generalities, here's another tactic you can use. Go to a media outlet's web page and find its media kit. Media kits are developed for advertisers but even if you're not looking to advertise, they are great sources of information. Let's take a minute to unpack what you'll find there. First, you'll likely find audience demographics. These will be useful in deciding if the publication is the right one for you to pitch. If your ideal audience is described in the outlet's readership or viewership, then you'll know you'll be reaching the audience you want to hear your story. Second, they'll likely include editorial calendars. These are the calendars that describe big picture themes that the outlet is going to cover in each issue or episode. For example, a city magazine might have an issue devoted to food and wine or an online publication might run a series of articles on emerging entrepreneurs. A TV show might be doing segments devoted to local businesses giving back to the community. If you find the theme that fits the bill for your business and story, be sure to pitch well in advance of when that topic will be covered. How far in advance? Again, here you can look to clues in the advertising deadlines if the editorial deadlines aren't specified. Keep in mind that the advertising is the last thing into the magazine or publication. So whatever that deadline is, plan to pitch your story several months in advance of that time. That's when editors will be assigning work and writers and photographers will be digging into their storytelling. Here's another item you may want to look at while you're in the media kit. Advertising rates. Even if you don't plan to advertise in the media outlet, this will give you a sense of what that coverage is worth. Assigning a dollar amount to the coverage that you're trying to get may help you see its value and help you feel better about putting in all the work that you're doing to get that coverage. Now that you have a better idea of when to pitch, let's discuss how to go about writing a cold pitch email. 3. How to Write a Cold Pitch: Today it's very rare that an editor or a contributor will accept a cold phone call or a turn a voicemail from a cold contact. As the process unfolds, you may be invited to speak with the journalist or contributor on the phone regarding your pitch. However, for the first contact it's always best to email and don't bother with snail mail either. Let's take a minute to look at the big picture of what journalists are looking for since that will help you know what you need to accomplish in your pitch. Overall, journalists are looking for stories that are relevant to their particular audience, journalists love telling big picture stories and serving people by telling stories that impact their lives. But don't forget that media companies are businesses so on some level writers, reporters, and bloggers are always tuned into how their story will please their current readership and viewership and gain them more readers and viewers. For online outlets, they are especially looking for stories that have the potential to get a lot of traffic so if you have a way to point out how your story will have a great impact or serve a wide audience, be sure to do that. Journalists are also looking for stories that are timely and provide new information, they are in the business of covering news after all. Now let's get down to specifics, every journalist has preferred ways of receiving pitches and you won't be able to know each one's preferences but there are a few tried and true approaches. First, some don'ts. Don't send out email blasts it may be tempting to use a scattershot approach because you think you're saving time by reaching a lot of people at once. However, blast emails are more likely to get caught in spam filters and targeted individual emails are always more likely they'll get better results. Also, don't just add journalists to your email newsletter list, you're likely to turn them off by adding them without their consent and it is against the law after all. Don't automatically include supplementary materials like photos, bios, press releases, or logos. Again, let's review that. You don't need to create a ton of materials to make an initial pitch, I find that creative entrepreneurs feel pressure to create press releases, but not knowing how to do so sometimes keeps them from reaching out to the press, it's understandable. Press releases are an art in themselves, luckily for you, you don't have to send them with an initial pitch. Focus on making your pitch great instead of getting bogged down in the specifics of press release writing. Also don't make it about you, many journalists enjoy that they raise up businesses through their coverage but ultimately the journalists priority is how telling this story will serve their readers or viewers. In pitches I've received, I've had business owners say that they want to get the word out so that they can sell more paintings or get more followers on social media. I've also had business owners tell me, I'd be silly not to give them coverage because they're just so amazing. Ultimately, my focus is not on how it will benefit your business and I don't like being consulted about my choices, I care about the type of story that you can tell and how it will resonate with my readers or viewers, I want to hear about that. Yes, the hope is ultimately that it will benefit your business but don't lead with that tactic, lead with a tactic that you're helping the journalist and helping their readers. Don't follow up repeatedly, I'll outline how and when to follow up in more detail shortly. Now that we've covered some don'ts, here are some do's. First, do tailor your subject line. Journalists and content creators receive hundreds of emails a day so we have to make quick decisions about whether the information is relevant to us. Most journalists decide to open the email or not just based on your subject line so you should spend some time crafting the perfect one. Without a compelling subject line your pitch won't get any further, no matter how valuable or life changing your story is. One way to approach subject lines is to imagine the headline you want written about your creative business, here are a few examples adapted from media outlets. A feel-good organization you need to know. Easy entertaining tips for the holiday weekend. Five out of this world burger recipes for summer. Landmark exhibition debuts. Unconventional advice on taking your business from bootstrapped to booming. Another way to tailor your subject lines is to make it timely and relevant to the journalist by making the connection to their needs clear. The pitch should explain why your idea is timely, unique, important, and relevant. For example, if you know they're looking for stories and products for their upcoming green living issue your subject line might be, "Eco-friendly soap for your April issue ". Within your pitch you should grab the journalists attention, try to keep the pitch under 300 words, use short sentences, bullet points, and subheadings if necessary to make the email as readable as possible at a glance. Also, do establish that you've read the journalists work and why the story fits within their body of work, this is a quick way to cut through the hundreds of emails that journalists, editors, and contributors receive on a daily basis. These connections should be clear and logical, if you're stretching to make a fit where there isn't really one, you're likely to turn the journalist off so only connect to their existing work when you can make those connections authentic. Do send your pitch in the body of the email, don't send it or any other supplemental material as attachments just yet most journalists won't open them. However, if you'd like you can include active links to your website, a video, or additional materials. I suggest setting up a Dropbox that has materials in it like photos, videos, bios, and business, and/or product descriptions for the journalists to access. Don't get bogged down in having to create all of those materials to keep you from sending your pitch but if you have them available, setting up a Dropbox and providing a link is an asset. You may also request to send follow-up information to the journalist so that you can send those materials at a later time. Finally, do showcase wide interest in the topic, as a reminder overall it's best to send an introductory note first. If you don't hear back in a timely manner and you have an event coming up or some other deadline, it's okay to follow up. I'll talk more about how and when to do so in just a minute. 4. Winning Pitches: Now that, you know a few of the do's and don'ts, let's dive into a few specific examples. The first example is a general pitch that can be used for a lot of different story types. This works especially well if you've noticed a journalist covering a particular theme or you know an allen is trying to build a certain section or column every month. You'll see a template version of this on screen. But let me give you a few specific examples verbally about how these pitches might look. Dear Ashley, after discovering your recent story about craft breweries, I'm wondering if you'd be interested in writing about my craft distillery, which taps into maker culture in the emerging spirits industry. You might find it interesting that I use all foraged ingredients for the Botanicals in my spirits. May send along photos and additional information for your consideration. Thanks. Let's talk about why this works. First, the writer establishes familiarity with the journalist's work and shows how the story being pitched is up their alley. Second, the writer pinpoints what's different, new, unusual, and exceptional about their business. The writer also asks to send follow-up information and invites further discussion. The writer points out that photos are available. Journalists may not want to be deluge with photos in the initial email, but in today's media environment, whether for TV, magazines or blogs, visuals are exceptionally important. Knowing that there are photos available might sway the reporters decision as to whether to cover the story. Lastly, the writer provides contact information so that journalists can easily follow up. The next example pitch is fitting for a business launch or gallery, or event opening because it focuses on the timeliness of a story. Dear Ashley, full price is gearing up for the opening of our new downtown location. and we're hosting a grand opening with a coffee cup in class on Tuesday at 05:00 PM. Because you wrote about must visit coffee shops in our city, would you be interested in joining us to learn more about our single origin coffees and our pay it forward program that gives back to local non-profits? Thanks. Let's talk about why this works. The writer clearly establishes the timeliness of this unveiling and opening. The writer also provides the five W's, who, what, where, when, and why. The how will come later in the journalists reporting. Next, the writer establishes why this story idea is pertinent to the journalist and their interests. The writer does well to invite for their conversation. The writer establishes a distinctive story angle. Finally, the writer establishes how this story will have wide impact throughout the city. The final pitch example works to establish you as an expert source. This could result in a journalists doing a specific story on your business or reaching out to you to provide quotes in a story about a business trend. Dear Ashley, I've been following your work for several years and love what you're creating around Baker culture. Really appreciate what you said about collaboration over competition. I've noticed you spotlighting other business owners with a similar outlook and I'd love to support your efforts. I've been hosting weekly gatherings for creatives and our crepes shop and I'll be glad to share with you how these meetings are fastering the create of economy in our city. Would this be helpful? Thanks. Let's talk about why this works. The writer establishes familiarity with a reporter's coverage. The writer also offers to help the reporter. Next to the writer provides specific background information about his or her expertise and experience in this area and the writer provides a specific example of the type of tips the reporter would get from him or her upon an extensive interview. You'll notice that each of these examples require you to quickly and strategically relay information. In several cases, you may end up writing and rewriting a single sentence to be able to capture the essence of your business. You might be asking yourself, how can I possibly explain my business in just a few sentences, let alone one. I understand. Just remember, this pitch is intended to get the journalist interested. It isn't meant to explain all of the intricacies of your story, product, or business in one e-mail. Once you have the journalists attention, you'll have plenty of time to do that. Just keep it short and sweet in this pitch. Next, I want to speak to a particular issue that arises, especially with creative business owners. Pitching products and providing them to journalists. 5. Providing Products: Many creative business owners create a product, whether it's a jar of artisanal honey, a candle, or a pair of cat theme socks. I have seen creative entrepreneurs invest heavily in sending out their products with beautiful packaging to journalists with little to no results. So don't send products unless the journalist has asked for them. Sending products blindly is a waste of time and money on your part and it's unlikely to earn you coverage. Of course, this may be different when we're talking about social influencers who work under different guidelines and expectations. For journalists, it's always better to begin with that introductory e-mail. In your pitch letter, ask whether the journalists would like to see the product in person. Here's an example of a pitch letter to use specifically when pitching products. Again, you'll see a template onscreen, but I'll provide a specific example verbally. "Dear Ashley, I enjoy your roundup of gifts for Father's Day. With your upcoming holiday gift guide on the horizon, I want to share with you my major or cookies with seasonal decorations. Why will this product serve your readers? All of the cookies are vegan, so they're delicious and healthy too. We create custom decorations to suit every client and the cookies can be shipped everywhere in the country. As a single mom, I wanted to create economic opportunity for other mothers in my community. So our staff is made up of teen mothers and we provide childcare for their children while they work in our kitchens. Would you like to receive our product for your consideration? Thanks." So why does this work? First, the writer establishes why the story idea is pertinent to the journalist and their needs. Next, the writer establishes why the product will be useful and relevant to the readers. Next, the writer shares about how their business story elevates the product and makes it unique. Finally, the writer offers to follow up with the product itself and doesn't assume that will be included by the media outlet by doing so. Of course, if the journalists response to this pitch, you're welcome to send along the product. Here are a few things to know before sending products. When the journalist asks for the product, before sending it, it's always appropriate to ask what the story the product is being considered for and when the story will run. If the story, your timeline isn't something you want to pursue, you're under no obligation to send the product. It's good to know that even if you've sent the product at the journalists request, that doesn't necessarily guarantee coverage. It guarantees you that the product will be considered for coverage. However, if the journalists has gone to the trouble of asking for the product, they're likely to include it. When you send along the product, you should expect that it will be used and then it won't be returned to you. On one occasion, I was searching for candles to use in a holiday gift story. I found a candle maker we wanted to profile, however, she specified that she would send the candles only if we returned them to her unlit and unopened. That meant we couldn't use them in our photo shoot and that was a deal breaker for us. So we didn't pursue them for the story. If you haven't heard from the media outlet or haven't received coverage within the time-frame they originally outlined, it's appropriate to follow up with the journalist. If you don't receive a response or receive a negative response, let that interaction lie and move on to the next one. 6. When You Get a "No": You've set your pitch, what do you do next to ensure you're setting yourself up for coverage either now or in the future? First, let's talk about what to do when you don't hear anything back. Members of the media are busier than ever. Some journalists don't have time to respond to every e-mail or direct message they receive. If you don't get a response, feel free to follow up in a week or two. Again, follow up via e-mail with a quick note saying you're checking in to see if the story is a fit. But if you don't hear back again, don't continue to follow up. The lack of response may mean that the story isn't a fit. It may also mean that they don't have time to discuss the story with you at that time. Either way, don't jeopardize the relationship by being your best. Here are a few tips about writing a follow-up e-mail to a journalist. Reply to your first e-mail rather than starting a new thread. That way, the journalist can scroll down to remind themselves of your previous message. Be sure to modify the subject line of your e-mail to indicate that it's a follow-up message. Make your second e-mail much shorter than the first. You can even just consider writing, "I wanted to follow up since I know things get buried sometimes, I look forward to hearing from you regarding this potential story." If you have additional information to provide, this is also a second opportunity to do so. Don't be aggressive. The journalist is under no obligation to work with you. Trying to guilt trip them or tell them they're wrong or scold them in any way for not following up with you to recover your business or product won't get you anywhere. However, do keep in mind that not hearing back or giving a no may not mean not at all. It may just mean not right now. The journalist could have just run a story is similar to your business and need a wait awhile before covering a similar subject again. Journalists tend to be information sponges. This means they're getting a lot of data inbound and you never know exactly what's going to stick or when they'll have time or space for your businesses information. The story might not be a fit at the moment but the journalist will likely keep your information on hand for roundup stories. These are list stories like the best five places to go over the holidays or the best five doughnuts in town. There have been several occasions when I've looped back with a creative entrepreneurial long after their initial contacts. Sometimes it just takes time to find the right fit for a story. You can also follow up in six months with new information about your business to give the pitch another try. Chances are if you've reached out to a contributor previously, a second pitch will be more likely to land because they're already familiar with your business event or story. You should be doing media outreach on a consistent basis as long as you have news to share. Don't be discouraged if your pitch doesn't land immediately. The more you do this, the better you'll get at it, and the more likely your story will find its home. 7. When you get a "Yes": So we've discussed what to do when you don't get a response or you get a not right now. But what if you get a positive response and the journalist wants to do the story? First respond promptly, as in within 24 hours, and make yourself available for interviews by phone, email, or in person. As a journalist, I frequently encountered situations where potential stories sources don't get back to me in a timely manner. On a few occasions, artists, food truck owners, or candle makers have eventually gotten back to me weeks after my original inquiry. But by that time I have already moved on and I'm not predisposed to cover that business again in the future because I already know that I can't reliably reach the owners. So respond. If you're going to be away from the office, let your staff know so that they can relay the message or setup an out of office e-mail response. Doing something as simple as that could help you preserve the relationship with the journalist. When you get back to the journalist right off the bat, ask them what they need and by when. Although stories, maybe months in the planning, journalists may only have a few days or even a few hours to actually report the story. So make sure you know the timeline for providing resources and be able to of follow-up well within that time-frame. If you've promised resources like photos or contacts, be sure to provide them. Keep in mind that once the story is in the journalists hands, they may frame it in a different way or take it in a different direction than you originally pitched. For example, you may have envisioned a story about your new cake topped by succulents. But in doing so, you shared that you're cakes are made with your grandmother's recipe and the journalists may pursue that story-line instead. As long as the direction is in keeping with your business' ethics, follow along. Journalists are experts at their jobs and know what will work best with their audience. So trust that. You may also want to do some follow up on your end. First, you want to maintain the relationship with the journalist. Remember, you're not just trying to get press coverage once. You want it to be an ongoing part of your business. So follow up. Write the journalist a thank you note for the coverage. Doing this follow-up may mean that the journalists comes back to you in the future for another story and it may help you gain coverage from other journalists. Journalists are people too, and they talk, they'll share when they have good experiences with sources and when they don't. So make sure that you're on the good side of that conversation. You should also highlight the coverage on all of your social media outlets while tagging the media outlet. Amplify the coverage as much as possible. Post the coverage with the source on your website under a dedicated press section and make all the work that you put into getting that press coverage go as far as possible. Highlighting this coverage does a few things. First, it gives you credibility with your current customers who will be excited that something or someone that they patronize is in the press. Second, it will help you gain additional customers as people see your business in the media and see the media's stamp of approval when they're perusing your website in the future. Third, it will earn you favor with a media outlet who is interested in getting the most reach possible for its stories. Finally, it may help you gain additional press coverage. Media outlets also work on the premise of social proof. If another media outlet has covered a business, then it must be worth covering, at least from the media's perspective. So broadcasting your coverage will help you build momentum in your efforts and be in the media spotlight again. This also may mean that you want to do some tracking on your return on investment. This is an area that confounds even the biggest businesses. How can you measure the impact of a press effort that may take months or even years to reach its full effect. It's difficult, but here are a few strategies. One, track the number of pitches that you send versus the stories that you earn. After your coverage monitor web traffic to see if it increases and by how much. You should also monitor changes in your social media numbers and or interactions. You can track changes in sales in the weeks or months following your media coverage. If you aren't getting the return that you hoped for, it might be an opportunity to revisit your pitch tactics or the media outlets that you're pitching to. 8. Your Project: Today, we've talked about quite a bit. We've talked about how to develop a story pitch for your creative business, and that all starts with timing. Timing is everything, when it comes to media coverage. We've also discussed the dos and don'ts of writing pitch Emails and work you a few example pitches. We've also talked about, when and how to follow up regardless of whether you get turned down or your pitch land successfully. Now it's time for you to dive in and write your first pitch Email. You can use one of the four templates provided here, or draft your pitch from scratch. Either way, I hope you use the lessons provided here, to be well on your way to earning media coverage for your creative business, non-profit organization or event.