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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Different Kind of Pitch

We've spent some time here discussing newspaper pitches and television pitches and radio pitches as part of your PR efforts.  Small businesses and non-profits depend on these pitches and stories to help raise their profile and attract customers.  In short, these pitches are often the lifeblood for PR.  But there's another type of media that often gets overlooked, particularly by small businesses and non-profits; magazines.
We've discussed magazines before, but mostly in terms of timing, the various types of magazines and how they can help boost the bottom line of a growing business or non-profit.  But when it comes to pitching a magazine, PR takes on an entirely different feel.

When you're pitching more traditional media, you have your press kit, your release and a short pitch intro.  You can still use these basic elements when pitching a magazine, particularly a local magazine.  But your pitch letter is different, and your timing is significantly different.  Let's take a look at how.

Know Your Target:

Just like pitching other media outlets, the more you know about who you are pitching, the better.  The first thing you need to do is figure out which magazines you want to pitch in the first place.  It can either be a local, general or trade magazine.  Your needs, your goals and your organization will help you make this determination.

For instance, if you specialize in business to business, a trade magazine might work better for you.  If you're a smaller business that really just wants to focus on your immediate area, then target your local magazines.  If you're trying to simply raise your profile and reach as many potential customers as possible, then shoot for a more general magazine.

Also keep in mind what KIND of operation you run.  You might run a small restaurant in your neighborhood.  Or maybe it's a nightclub or carpet cleaning service or even a dog walking service.  Unless you have something so unique or nationally relevant, getting into one of the big national magazines is going to be exceedingly difficult.  You can certainly pitch them, but don't be surprised if you never hear from them.  Your best bet might be to focus on trade magazines (industry-specific mags) or your local magazines.


Spend some time at your local library or bookstore thumbing through the various magazines on the shelf.  Figure out which ones would benefit your company best and then take some time to actually read the articles. 


What To Look For:


You're not just reading the magazines to see what kind of writing style they use.  Look to see what kind of businesses they write about.  Check if they've written an article about a company that resembles yours.  Figure out who the primary writers are, look to see who the editors and publishers are.


You'll also want to see what kind of features, departments and special sections they have.  While you might not be able to pitch a feature article, you might be able to get mentioned in a special section or sidebar element.  This is important because you'll have to know exactly what you want from them when you make your pitch.


An example of this would be Maxim Magazine.  When I wrote my article for Maxim, I knew I had a story worthy of feature status.  However I also knew that if I provided some quality sidebar elements to run with the story, Maxim would take notice.  They use sidebar and special section elements heavily and like it when writers provide information that might not be included in the story itself, but is interesting and gives insights, tips or adds humor. 


My particular story dealt with the unlikely survival of plane crash survivors in the Montana Wilderness.  In my pitch, I offered a sidebar element involving plane crash and wilderness survival tips.  They loved the idea and it was included near the end of the article.


You can even pitch sidebar and special section elements without pitching a feature article.  If you have a nightclub, you can pitch a tips article focusing on the best and worst pick up lines.  As a deli, you can provide recipes, as a dogwalker, you can offer tips on building that particular business.  These aren't necessarily feature articles, but work great as little sidebars and special section elements that magazines love.


Timing it Right:


Once you've figured out which magazines you want to target and you've taken the time to familiarize yourself with those particular magazines, you have to go one step further and find out how far in advance you have to pitch your story.  If it's a sidebar or special section element, you can pretty much pitch those at any time.  They're not hard to put together and can be published at any time.  However, many magazines have what they call, "calendars" that determine what kind of stories they print.


In Denver we have 5280 Magazine.  A great magazine detailing life and activities in and around the Mile High City.  They have a very set calendar that they distribute at the beginning of the year.  This lets everyone know when they'll be publishing their "Doctor" issue, or their "Real Estate" issue or their "Getaways" issue.  Knowing this information beforehand let's you know when you need to pitch your story. 


In general, it's a good rule to pitch a magazine three to six months in advance of the issue you want to appear in.  This is due to lead time, printing logistics and content restrictions.  Magazines often try to operate a few months in advance of their next issue.  In other words, you see the July issue of Vogue, but the staff is most likely already working on the November issue.  This means most of the major decisions for the August, September and October issues have been made already. 


Knowing this information will greatly increase your chances of success when making your pitch.  If you want to be in the October issue of Motherhood, and you wait until September to make your pitch, you're likely going to be declined simply because they have other stories already slated for that issue.  If you know you want to be in the "Doctors" issue of 5280, and it comes out in January, then you should be making your pitch sometime in June or July.  This is counter-intuitive and goes against many of the rules we follow when pitching more daily media where a pitch made too early is usually ineffective.  But magazines simply work differently, thus pitch timing has to be different as well.


Decide On Your Voice:


The last major decision you have to make before you actually make your pitch is deciding on your approach.  Every magazine article I have written has been as a freelancer and has focused on an overall story, not a particular business.  When pitching a magazine keep in mind that the larger-reaching the story, better your chances of being accepted.  You own a Deli?  Then your story should be on the resurgence of traditioanl deli's in the U.S., NOT just your deli in general.  You own a dogwalking service, then pitch a story about off-leash dogparks, NOT just your service.  Certainly you can include your company in your story, but you'll also have to have statistics, include other companies to show the scope of the story and have quotes from other business owners.  Unless you're talking about a major business like Apple or Microsoft or Shell Oil, getting a magazine article written specifically about your business is a tough sell.


This is where freelancers come in to play.  While you can pitch the story yourself, most magazines shy away from having business owners write articles about themselves.  They don't mind if you're writing an article about your industry overall, but what they don't want is an article that ends up being a free commercial for your company.


Find a freelancer that you trust, and ask him or her to make your pitch.  The great thing about this is that it doesn't cost you anything.  You can put your pitch together yourself, you can create your pitch letter and find all the contact information for the magazines you want to target.  Then, when you're ready, hand it off to the freelancer and let them make the pitch.  If that makes you uncomfortable, then send the pitches yourself, but make sure you're pitching it as if you were a freelancer, NOT the business owner.


If the magazine accepts the story, then you can simply let the freelancer know, and let them do their job.  You don't have to pay the freelancer since the magazine will pay them for the article.  I am aware of some business owners creating a nom de plume for themselves to pitch magazines, and this can work, but be careful, because if you're caught you will have burned a bridge with that magazine that you'll never repair.


The exception to this rule is that when you pitch a trade magazine, you CAN pitch as a business owner as long as the story focuses on the industry overall.  A column or a guest writer spot will allow you to comment on your industry, using your company as an example.  Still, be careful that it doesn't end up being a commercial for your organization.  Magazines will simply kill stories that sound too much like free advertising.


The Pitch Letter:


Now you know what magazine you want to target, what kind of form you want your content to take (feature article, sidebar, guest writer, etc.) and you know when you need to time your pitch.  You also know how you will approach the magazine (as business owner, freelancer, etc.).  Now it's time to actually create your pitch letter.


When you write your pitch letter for your local papers, radio and tv stations and online media, your pitch letter should be very short and to the point.  The shorter the better.  This is because you have the added element of a press release to provide statistics, background and details that you don't need to cover in your pitch letter.


However when pitching a magazine, your pitch letter has to be longer and provide details that will entice the editors to consider your story for publication.  One thing that DOES remain constant, however, is that your first line or two needs to capture their attention immediately and draw them deeper into your pitch.


Keep in mind, shorter is always better, so while the magazine pitch letter is longer than your normal pitch letters, you should try to limit it to one page at most.  Two to three paragraphs is best.  Here the basic elements of a good magazine pitch letter:


1.  An eye-catching opening line
2.  The story idea
3.  Statistics (if applicable)
4.  Details (such as who will be interviewed, their qualifications, which businesses will be profiled as examples within the story)
5.  Quotes 
6.  Relevance (WHY this story is relevant to the readers of that particular magazine)
7.  Content Request (Is this a feature article, a sidebar, a special section entry, is it for a specific issue?)
8.  Your credentials as a writer
9.  Your contact information

Difference Is The Spice Of Life:


Of course, not all magazines are the same.  This is where your research really pays off.  By understanding the style of the magazine and what they're needs are, you'll be able to tailor your pitch letter to meet their specific standards.


For instance, when I pitched Maxim, I made sure to offer photos and sidebar information, which took up a full paragraph of my pitch letter.  I focused on the overall story of survival and how it would appeal to their audience, and followed that up with a couple of fantastic quotes from the survivors that were intriguing and brought home the intensity of the story.  I didn't provide statistics or dive too deeply into the details.  I painted the picture in broad strokes, hitting only the details that really mattered (plane crash in Montana wilderness, two survivors, alone together for ten days, dragging themselves back to civilazation, the frantic search by rescue workers, the pair appearing alongside a highway on the very day of their funeral services).


However, when I pitched the story of animals being rescued in the Iraqi war zone to Cat Fancy, I backed up my pitch with statistics showing the magnitude of the problem.  I followed up the statistics with some quotes from soldiers telling a more personal side of the story.  I didn't go overboard on the details, choosing instead to focus on the stats and the personal risks some soldiers were taking to rescue these animals.


Start your pitch with an opening line that immediately grabs their attention, this is so very important.  For my Maxim article, my opening pitch sentence was:
"After a deadly plane crash deep in the Montana Rocky Mountains, John and Marie surprised everyone when they showed up late to their own funerals."
This sentence immediately causes the reader to ask questions and want to read further to find out what happened.  It also lets the reader know that there was a deadly plane crash in a remote area.  The reader assumes everyone died in the crash, but if John and Marie showed up to their own funeral, then they must have survived.  They know it's a story of survival and they have to read on to find out more.


For the Cat Fancy story, my opening sentence was:
"American soldiers are in the business of protection, but what happens when some soldiers defy their own government to protect the most helpless of creatures caught in a war-torn region of Iraq?"
There's an element of intrigue for this story because the opening sentence immediately sets up a conflict between soldiers and the U.S. government.  It also dramatically personalizes the story by focusing onthe protection of helpless animals in a war-ravaged area. 


When I pitched a story to Golf Digest about an extreme golf tournament in Aspen, Colorado, I approached the magazine with this opening sentence:

"Golf takes on a whole different dimension when played a mile above sea level, but it becomes truly bizarre when played at 12-thousand feet, on the side of a mountain generally reserved for skiers and with only seven clubs in your bag."
The opening statement speaks to the knowledge of all golfers, immediately establishing some credibility, but the rest of the sentence begs the reader to ask, "what is this all about?"  The reader is hooked and has to read on to find out what the story is all about.


Be Creative:


As you can see, your pitch letter to a magazine allows you to be more creative than in your normal pitches.  In each example above, I used questions, strong statements and an element of intrigue to catch the readers' attention.  I followed each of those opening sentences with a short explanation of the story and why it would appeal to the magazine's readers.

The use of quotes and statistics is encouraged, but don't go overboard.  A couple of good quotes will add a personal touch to the pitch, and statistics will back up any statements you make about the impact of the story.  But if you use too many quotes, you look like you're depending too much on the opinion of individuals.  If you use too many statistics, it gets confusing and you'll lose the editor.  They don't want confusing, they want interesting and factual.


Also, don't be afraid to use your own personal writing style in your pitch.  The editors will be able to tell a lot from how you put your pitch letter together.  Are you organized?  Do you use humor?  Do you focus only on facts?  Are you detail oriented?  Do you use correct grammar and punctuation?  You can have a great opening sentence, but if your grammar and punctuation or spelling is bad, you'll lose them and your story won't be accepted.  Take your time to read and re-read the pitch letter before you hit send.  Have a friend read the letter and give you feedback.  If they find it interesting, then send it off.  If they tell you that they lost interest at some point, rewrite your letter.


Finally:


There is a great book published by Writer's Digest that outlines every magazine in the U.S. and gives contact information, timelines, what they're looking for, how much they pay and offers some insight to their specific calendars.  It costs about $70, but if you believe you're company will be pitching magazines a lot, it's well worth the investment. 


Magazines can be a huge boost to small businesses and non-profits for this reason:  They last.  If you get a newspaper article, or TV spot or radio interview, you will reach several thousand people all at once.  But once that paper is old, once the broadcast is over, the story is done.  You have very little chance to perpetuate the viewing or reading of that story.


However, magazines stick around.  How often have you been to a doctors office, or a real estate office, a barber shop or bank and picked up a magazine to read while you waited?  Once you get mentioned in a magazine, your story is there for a while.  People who might not even subscribe to the magazine itself might see your mention, simply by picking it up while they waited for a haircut.  It takes a little more time to put together your magazine pitch letter, but it's worth the extra effort.

Take the time and pick out some magazines you really would like to appear in.  If you already read specific magazines, take a chance to pitch them your story.  Keep in mind, it's not a commercial for you, but its a chance to tell a story that impacts your industry and get mentioned in an article that will be read by thousands upon thousands of readers and will be around for a long time. 

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