Pitch like a pro: How to pitch media, straight from the city's top editors

Without any name recognition, many startups and new businesses often struggle to secure valuable media coverage. But pitching isn't rocket science -- you just have to think like an editor.

To help you out, we went straight to the source, asking top Hong Kong editors from CNN, Women's Wear Daily, and SCMP to share their tips for getting your business noticed. 

Tiffany Ap
WWD Asia Correspondent

What factors do you consider when taking on stories?
News is about being "new." Nobody wants to have the same story as a competitor, so think about how you can offer something different and unique.

For features, think about big anniversaries or events you could peg it to. Around New Year's, for example, most lifestyle publications will be thinking about resolutions, goal setting, health, etc.

What is a big no-no?
Expecting the journalist to do your PR for you -- hire somebody for that. And don't try to control the finished version or asking to change quotes.

If you are that concerned about being misrepresented, you can record the interview and keep it for your own records to dispute any inaccuracies later.

And if you don't trust the journalist and outlet enough to get the story right, then why are you trying to get publicity from an untrustworthy outlet? It makes you look bad too.

Any other common mistakes? 
Not understanding the target publication's audience. It's not enough to know that SCMP covers China.

Look up each outlet's media kit, which is set up for advertisers. It will detail the age, gender, socio and economic, psychographic factors for their reader. If you are pitching the exact same way to Quartz as you are to WSJ as you are to FT then you probably are doing it wrong.

Follow writers, or columns. If you want to be featured in Vogue magazine, which section? Oftentimes, you can try different sections of the same publication.

What factors make your life easier?
High quality images but please in a Dropbox link, because our inboxes are clogged up enough.

I also need context -- introduce your business like you would yourself. Make sure your unique selling point is actually unique.

I've had SME founders say that they were different because the founders were hands on and truly cared about their product. That is a dime a dozen.

What other advice do you have for new businesses, pitching media?
Outside your local city paper or town magazine, it is hard to justify in the editorial meeting why a small business should be covered in and of themselves.

Help the journalist and pitch a trend that your brand would be demonstrative of. The 800-word story might not end up all being about you but 150 words might be. That's a start.

kylie_knott.jpg

Kylie Knott
SCMP Lifestyle Editor

What factors do you consider when lining up your editorial calendar?
Is your pitch newsworthy? Having a world first, a Hong Kong first or doing something that’s not been done before in your industry makes something newsworthy.

Look for a story behind your story, for example, if you run a restaurant, a press release about your latest winter menu won’t get any traction -- don’t forget Hong Kong has over 4,000 restaurants, so a new seasonal menu just won’t appeal!

What is a big pet peeve?
Not knowing your audience. There’s no point sending a restaurant pitch to a fashion magazine.

If you have sent an email pitch to a journalist and a week later have not heard back, then send a follow-up email with something like: ‘Just checking if you received this email. Let me know if you need more information.’ Don’t harass them!

What is a common mistake that pitchers make?
Don’t bury vital information at the bottom of the release -- highlight it at the top. It’s tough to stand out in a competitive media market so if you want your press release to grab an editor’s attention then push the news hook, the details that make it newsworthy, unique or different from the rest.

Make sure your press release includes in THE BIG "5 W's" … and the H. It's an easy checklist: WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY and HOW should tell the journalist -- and reader -- everything they need to know.

Who is this about? What is the actual news? When does this event happen? Where does this event take place? Why is this news? How is this happening?

What factors make your life easier?
Commissioning editors and journalists are always under deadline pressure -- and have short attention spans -- so if your press release is short and to the point with no flowery language and nicely packaged with images and video, then it is more likely to get noticed.

When sending images in an email, send 3 to 4 picture selections so an editor does not have to trawl through too many.

What other advice do you have?
Don’t attach high-resolution images in the email (just lo-res) and include a link in the copy to high-resolution images.

Having an inbox full because of hi-res image overload is very annoying. Videos are also a key part of today’s storytelling as digital media increasingly dictates and shapes the media landscape.

A slick 30-sec to 1-minute video included in the package will give your story increased appeal and exposure. Tell a story in the video and make it creative -- it wont be wasted as you can post it on your site, etc, and is easily shared.

But DIY video jobs done on an iPhone are not recommended -- hire a professional! A top notch video is money well spent. Also, this is a must-read.

Zahra Jamshed
CNN Style Producer

What factors do you consider when lining up your editorial calendar/stories?
We look in advance at what sorts of events our readers would be interested in, and how we can create the best user or reader experience for these key calendar events. 

What's a big no-no?
I prefer to keep communication to e-mails and telephone conversations, and so a big no-no for me would be blasts over Whatsapp or other forms of social media.

E-mails and telephone calls are the more professional avenue and it shows that you respect the boundaries of someone’s personal life.

What is a common mistake that pitchers make?
As a journalist, our responsibility is to know our audience, and create a piece of content that they would actually like to read.

I therefore find it frustrating when the same level of ‘audience understanding’ is not conducted by a representative pitching their business or product to me. Oftentimes, a pitcher will suggest ideas that have almost no correlation with our platform or what kind of content we cover, but other ‘style’ publications might.

Celebrity fashions, for example, are perfect for some publications, less so for others. It’s very obvious when pitchers paint all style coverage with the same brush.

What factors make your life easier?
HI-RES IMAGES! And bullet points with the most interesting facts that a reader might want to know. For example, what makes this special, why should you care, is it the first product to do something special?

What other advice do you have for new businesses, pitching media?
Less is more -- keep things short, concise, and simple. Start with your most interesting information rather than every ounce of information in one giant e-mail blast. Use your best bites, and if there’s interest from there, a conversation will start.

KateSpringerPortrait.jpg

Kate Springer
FEW Editor and Freelance Contributor, CNN, Vice, Vogue, Fodor's

What factors do you consider when lining up your stories?
As a freelance writer and editor, I spend about 25% of my time pitching. Just like a new business, I need to research publications, look up editors, and get a feel for what types of stories they tend to cover. 

As a business, I'd start with the media kit. Does the publication reach your core audience? Or a secondary target market? If so, make a good impression with a tailored and thoughtful pitch.

Find out which editors look after which sections. Then study the stories -- how do their headlines usually sound? Do they do Q&A interviews, long-from profiles or shorter newsy trend stories? Try to emulate the style and envision how your business might fit into the mix. 

What are your biggest pet peeves?
I receive hundreds of emails a day, many of which are cold pitches asking to chat on the phone, to (prematurely) schedule an interview, or meet up for a coffee, etc. I simply don't have time to take nine coffee breaks a day.

Best thing is to get to the point straight away -- include all the crucial details in your email, so I can decide if that coffee or interview is a smart use of my limited time (not to mention yours!)

What is a common mistake that pitchers make?
I would recommend deleting the words "free coverage" from your vocabulary. Remember that websites, magazines, and even some blogs are businesses too. While editorial is traditionally kept separate from advertising, it would be a misguided to act entitled to coverage. 

Leave it to the editor to decide if the story is suitable for the publication. And consider supporting the publication in the future, if it's capturing your target market. 

What factors make your life easier?
Beautiful hi-res images (minimum 1MB in file size, via Dropbox please!), videos, a general fact sheet, reasonably quick responses...

Lead with your USPs. If you are solving a worldwide problem or are the first-ever XYZ, then tell me right away. Put it in the subject line! 

If your business taps into a relatable lifestyle trend, saves people time, or solves a common headache -- perfect. In addition to making the claim, provide the key stats to make the case. 

What other advice do you have for new businesses, pitching media?
Think about your brand from the perspective of an editor. Good stories surprise readers and illuminate a corner of the world. It helps to have a compelling personality or an unconventional perspective, a surprising discovery, or genuinely useful innovations.

If you are an expert on a topic (eco fashion! tea! startups!), you can and should promote yourself that way. Offer interviews on topics that might help a journalist or editor in the future.

Try to think beyond conventional media. Consider co-branding events, Instagram takeovers, or collaborating with bloggers -- there's always more than one way to get your name out there.