Eight steps PRs can take to prevent their pitch failing at the first hurdle

Journalists can be rude, self-obsessed, hugely-entitled, 'the-world-revolves-around-me' complete *******, writes Tim Johns, a producer on the Jeremy Vine show.

Follow Tim John's steps for a happy life pitching to journalists
Follow Tim John's steps for a happy life pitching to journalists
If you've pitched stories to the media for long enough (about five minutes) you'll have encountered this. I am very aware of this fact as I write the following. The thing is, on the other side of the fence, pitches from PR companies are for the most part absolutely terrible.

I'm a producer on the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2. We get a lot of pitches. From books to events to charity gigs to celebrities, the phone keeps ringing and our inbox overflows. 

We have a two-hour programme with just four topics per day. By the time we reflect the main news agenda and have a bit of fun there's rarely a space free for stories people pitch us. 

However, as a producer, I never want to miss a thing so I try my best to monitor those pitches and press releases. And 49 out of 50 fail at the very first hurdle and get deleted without even being read.
Here are some things that would make me read a few more emails...

Keep it short
The other week I received an email from someone at a big-name book publisher. It was nearly 1,000 words long. Instead of deleting it as I usually would I did a word count. My disbelief at the result was the motivation to write this article. 1,000 words?! No. Sell your story in one sentence. Follow it up with three more lines to give context. Add more detail beyond that, sure, but whatever you do don't write an essay.

Stop attaching things
If it's a case of "please see attached press release", the email gets deleted.

No fancy HTML
Some PR companies (especially music-based ones) have a habit of trying to look fancy with creative HTML press releases complete with pictures and all sorts. For anyone in a big organisation Microsoft Outlook blocks this stuff by default. It's easier to click delete than to click to download your images.

Make it personal
Personal doesn't mean starting an email with "I hope everything's great with you". Know who you're pitching to and say one thing to make it personal; clearly sent to them specifically. Google the recipient. If they're on Twitter/Facebook stalk them for a couple of minutes.

Know the programme
When people pitch stuff to us that would never usually be heard on our show in a million years, we just ignore that particular PR company from then on. "Hi! We have a generic expert to talk about world gadget day!" (etc) = delete.

Never put the subject of your email entirely in capital letters
It will be immediately deleted.

Don't make up research
So goes the email: 'Dear Radio Lincolnshire. 67% of people in the East Midlands feel most depressed in January! Would you like an expert psychologist to discuss?"
No. Journalists see through this. You didn't survey enough people. The East Midlands covers three BBC local radio patches, so it's not even a local story. And what's the commercial tie-in? Even if we agree to an interview, we'll pre-record it then remove those corporate references.

Don't phone
I can't speak for everyone in the industry. But I know that for any BBC colleague I've ever spoken to – in national radio, local radio, network and regional TV – no-one wants to be pitched a random story over the phone rather than by email. We're all on deadlines; that phone call never comes at the right time. An email can be scanned when there are a few seconds spare.

Tim Johns is a producer on the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2

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