Rodger Johnson

“When I was a journalist, I would get about 150 emails a day, and out of those, probably 75 percent were press releases,” says Rodger Johnson, public relations professional and founder of SociallyRelevant.us, an inbound marketing company. “Of that 75 percent, maybe two of them were stories and the rest were sales-y. They were pitching the company—not a story.”

And that, Johnson says, was the first mistake that PR people and, now, brand marketers make. We spoke to Johnson, who has been on both sides of the journalist-PR equation, for his tips on how marketers can think more like editors to create media-worthy pitches. Here are his some of his insights.

Pitch a Real Story

Don’t sell your company, offer up a real story, says Johnson. “And not just any story, but one that fits with the journalist’s or editor’s readership.” If you’re really savvy, he says, do your research and find out a particular staffer’s beat or area they tend to write about, and match your pitch to that. “If you can find a person to make that story more humanized—maybe a someone who is already a reader of that particular publication—and build the story around them,” he adds, “then that’s when you get really good coverage.”

Get to the Point

Emailing a pitch? Keep it short. “It should be no more than four sentences,” says Johnson, “and you should be able to tell your story in four sentences.” Research has shown that while journalists will read a four-sentence email, they won’t read one that is five or six sentences because it takes too much time. With that in mind, make sure you grab the editor’s interest right away. “Lead with your very best anecdote or fact or question,” says Johnson. That way, you pull in the editor’s interest and stand a better chance of success.

Develop a Relationship

Are you more likely to respond to an email from someone you know or someone you don’t? That’s why content marketers and PR people need to develop relationships with journalists and editors, says Johnson. “I don’t mean going out and having lunch all the time,” he says. “I mean being able to share relevant content and information with them on a regular basis that helps them do their jobs better.” One key way to do that, Johnson adds, is by reading or watching what they have written or produced in the past. “You need to be familiar with their particular style,” he says. “That also speaks to the stories they’re writing about and what they are interested in.”

What you don’t want, Johnson says, is to use any kind of automatic pitching device, which will only lead to your pitch being to widely distributed to (mostly) the wrong people, undermining your value and credibility. “Content marketers and public relations people need to stop doing the mass and blast,” says Johnson. “Don’t use the Uzi method to pitch journalists. Be specific. Call people up by name and make it personal.” What better way to cut through to the top?