“Thanks for your pitch. I’d love to commission this.”
This is a quote from an editor — I received it in my inbox recently. After I did my celebratory chair dance, I went back to the earlier message to see the details of my pitch and note it (and the deadline) on my calendar.
Now, unless you’ve worked in journalism, you might be wondering what I mean by “pitch.”
If you look it up in the dictionary, you’ll find a definition like this one from the Cambridge dictionary online: “a speech or act that attempts to persuade someone to buy or do something.”
But that isn’t the full picture, is it?
You’ve probably heard of a sales pitch. You might even hear writers say they’re “pitching their services.”
And you might wonder what they mean.
Let’s take a step back and look at it from that journalism angle.
The Journalism Approach to Freelance Writing (and Why It’s Useful for You)
If you think of a small-town reporter, you might be able to imagine them scribbling down notes for their story. Perhaps the story is the grand opening of a new playground or the dog that saved Timmy from the well.
It’s a story relevant to the local area.
Whether it’s a local news publication or a large company using B2B content marketing, both look to writers to provide them with useful content.
And they’re also looking to writers like you to come up with the content ideas as well.
So now, imagine you’ve heard about a 3rd generation beekeeper in your community. This beekeeper supplies hundreds of jars of honey for area shops and restaurants following in her great-grandfather’s footsteps. In talking with her, you discover the honey processing equipment has been in business for 100 years, and her great grandfather purchased from them too.
Now you have an interesting story. You’ve dabbled in beekeeping yourself and are familiar with the brands. So, you go online and type in the equipment manufacturer she uses and see they have an active blog. You pop over to LinkedIn and, after a couple of minutes, find someone with a Director of Marketing title. You draft a quick message sharing your story idea and why you’re the person who should write it. You hit “Send.”
Congratulations, that’s a pitch!
Both brands and publications appreciate relevant pitches, aka story ideas from potential writers. Even if they don’t put out a “publication” per se, I’ve had plenty of clients ask me to share ideas because frankly, they don’t always have the time to come up with ideas.
Pitching well is one way you can get a foot in the door.
It worked for me with one of my clients in the dog grooming industry. I started writing for them a couple of years ago when I sent an email offering an idea about dog groomers and how they can use Facebook for marketing. That’s an example of a “pitch.”
Now, I write for them regularly, and my editor comes to me with story ideas, but it started with me sending an idea relevant to their audience.
If you do this correctly, this isn’t a cut-and-paste message you could send to 100 businesses. This is targeted for a specific company.
Now, you may never hear back. Or, you may hear back, and they say something like, “Sorry, we don’t have a budget for freelancers right now.”
Your goal is to send the ideas and keep track of them.
A Simple Way to Track Your Pitches
My go-to for tracking is a Google spreadsheet. It’s simple and effective. I list the date, the potential headline, the contact’s name, and the organization’s name. Then, I note the response (if any). Sometimes they will say they’ll “keep your info on file.” Sometimes it’s crickets. Occasionally, they’ll ask for more information. If I don’t hear from them, I follow up in a few days or a week or so to see if they received the message.
It’s easy to get discouraged if you don’t hear back right away but try not to let it get you down. Editors and marketing professionals are drowning in emails. Yours can get lost in the inbox; they may not have a need for your services; your story idea may not be tailored enough; etc.
However, if you consistently improve your pitches and send them out, you will get assignments.
Specificity is key.
Don’t send notes that say something like, “Hi, I’m Jen and I’m a writer. Can I write for you?” (Believe me, I’ve seen such examples. Don’t feel bad if you’ve done it. This is an opportunity to learn.)
Rather, look at the site and note the types of material they publish. Do they publish a lot of in-depth “how-to’s” with screenshots? Do they publish a lot of case studies that show their product in action? Do they publish reviews or commentary on current trends?
Once you’ve assessed the type of content, ask yourself where your background fits in so you can reference it. Draft a template for yourself. You can even reference something currently on their site. For example, you can write something like, “Hi, I loved this recent post you wrote [something specific about the post that shows you read it]. It got me thinking on this [related topic] and I’d love to write a post about [how this benefits your audience]. I have a background in x and write on similar topics for A, B, and C companies. Do you work with freelance writers?”
In this sense, a “pitch” is nothing more than a targeted story idea. If you have a good one and present it well, you just may land a new client. What do you think? Are you ready to start pitching?