The secrets journalists wish you knew

black and white photo of woman 'shh'ing with her finger

I’ve been working as a journalist for 7 years now and over that time have received thousands of pitches, as have my friends and colleagues in the industry. Even today, for Forbes, I receive hundreds a week.

Considering both these facts, I feel that I’m in a strong position to tell you what journalists do and don’t like.

From the boring to the rude; from the ridiculous to the incredulous, I’ve seen it all over the years, and (this should make you feel a lot better) a lot of the time it’s been from PRs.

Yes, that’s right - even PRs don’t get it right all the time.

From the many pitches I’ve opened and immediately known are not for me to the conversations I’ve had with other people in the industry, this is a (not exhaustive) list of all the secrets journalists wish you knew so that when you pitched to us, you gave yourself more of a fighting chance.

Don't expect the journalist to do all the work for you

Sending an email saying ‘is there anything I can help you with?’ or ‘what pieces are you working on at the moment? I’d love to know if I can help.’ might sound generous but it’s not. The journalist has probably received 100 pitches today. They don’t have time to teach you how to pitch to them. Do the research yourself and pitch them an idea that fits what they write and that they can’t say no to.

 Don't throw in overused words - they lose meaning

Don’t fall into the trap of using words that you think will impress. If I had a dollar for every time I’d been pitched an idea for my Forbes Women column about an ‘inspirational woman’ I would be writing this from my palace on my private island. Tropes, phrases or words that are generally associated with what you’re pitching about are usually overused. You know when you repeat the same word over and over again out loud and, after a few seconds, it’s lost meaning to you? That’s exactly what happens when you send a wellness editor a ‘mental health’ pitch or a feminist writer an idea about being an ‘inspirational woman.’

Be bold. Find a new way to say what has already been said by others before you. Chances are, you’re far more likely to get noticed.

 Less is more

There’s a common misconception that journalists need to know every detail. In the initial outreach, the shorter the pitch, the more welcome it’ll be - if they decide to work on it with you, you can send them more later. Focus on the main points, make sure it’s easy to follow and you’re well on your way to delivering a first-class pitch (DO NOT WORRY - I WILL TEACH YOU HOW TO DO THIS!).

Don't try to impress - connect instead

You know when you’re at a party and there’s one person totally dominating the conversation? They go on and on about how impressive they are and don’t bother asking you anything about yourself?

Do you like that person? Do you want to see them again? Probably not.

That’s what it feels like when a journalist receives a pitch that’s totally self-centred. ‘I’ve done this,’ ‘I’ve done that,’ without any consideration for the journalist’s interests or what their audience responds well to. Now, of course you have to talk about yourself a bit, but if you do it from the standpoint of ‘what can I do for them and their audience?’ rather than ‘what can they do for ME?’ I can promise you, your pitch will stand out a mile. Because hardly anyone pitches like that.

Focus on the audience and you’re onto a winner. What are you going to teach them? How are you going to entertain them? What are they going to learn? Because, at the end of the day, theirs is the only opinion that really matters.

Ditch the over-familiarity 

Starting a pitch with something like ‘Hi lovely!’ or ending it with ‘xxx’ is a sure and fast way to get on a journalist’s nerves. It won’t make them more likely to take on your pitch and it won’t endear you to them.

The way I like to think of it is, imagine you’re sending this email to your new boss, who you’ve only met once or twice and are very keen to impress. Warmth is good. Saccharine terms of endearment are not.