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Does Your Pitch Pass the 5-Second Skim Test?

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As any good real estate agent knows, location is everything. Even the most beautiful homes can seem unappealing if the neighborhood isn’t ideal.

Location is just as important in PR pitches. Overall, it takes about 5 seconds to skim a pitch. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how great your story is; if you don’t have the right info in the right location, then your journalist is going to pass.

Let’s look at the most valuable slices of real estate in your email pitch:

  1. Your subject line should grab attention in a crowded and boring inbox. It should stand out with a flash, leaving journalists unable to resist opening your email. But it’s important to never promise more than you can deliver. If your subject line says “Pop icon to endorse new diet trend,” then your email better include an iconic pop star. Never bait-and-switch.
  2. Your customized intro should be warm, friendly and not overly formal. It should make the journalist want to stay and keep reading. Use this space to show the journalist you know who they are, what they do and the stories that are relevant to them.
  3. Your compelling story idea comes next. This is place to showcase your compelling angle front and center. Don’t bog this space down with paragraphs of background info. Select your words carefully. Consider using bullet points to punctuate and simplify your idea.
  4. Your call to action is the note you end on. The majority of pitches do not invite journalists to act, and this can make all the difference in whether you get a response or not.

So, here’s my call to action. Five seconds may not seem like a lot of time to get your point across. However, if you follow my guide and learn the real estate of your email pitch, then you’ll earn a much higher response rate from the journalists you’re targeting.


P.S. The “P.S.” section of your email is where you can put in the info intended for people who have been intrigued by what you wrote earlier. For example, we still have slots available for the Secrets of Media Relations Masters workshop in Atlanta on March 21-22. If you’d like to dive into the pitch structure outline above in way more detail, this workshop is a great way to do that.

Michael Smart teaches PR professionals how to dramatically increase their positive media placements. He’s engaged regularly by organizations like General Motors, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Georgia Tech to help their media relations teams reach new levels of success. Get more media pitching knowledge from Michael Smart here.



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Michael Smart


  • I agree with this post. People’s attention spans and willingness to care are so fleeting in this day and age. It’s vital to grab their attention and make sure you’re putting your best foot forward, even when they just skim it. The subject line is almost the most important part because it’s their first impression, and that’s where they will make their judgments. The real estate analogy is really good- it really is all about location, location, location! In a pitch, every word counts. Bait and switch is the worse ploy you could pull on someone. It’s always frustrating and never works.

  • This article is very helpful, especially for a soon to be public relations graduate. In my Public Relations class this semester, we have learned that is important to keep the reading level as low as possible, and to grab the attention of the reader ASAP. I believe you are on the right track in regards to the four tips; your subject line, your customized intro, your compelling story and your call to action. I strongly believe in order to be successful in Public Relations you have to know how to get the reader’s attention, as well as explain your information as simply and as interesting as possible. Thank you for these helpful tips, articles like these really help future Public Relations professionals.

  • Often times, pitches are cast to the side in the field of public relations, instead overshadowed by writing in press releases, social media management and handling crises. But it is pitches that end up being relevant in almost everything we do as public relations professionals, whether or not we consciously note it.

    The blog points out five points that are considered imperative to any quality email pitch. They are: subject line, customized intro, compelling story idea and call to action. All are pieces of the puzzle and are not solely used in communication to journalists and other industry professionals. They are also relevant in learning how to craft any press release, use social media to convey a narrative and turning a story around in any event of a crisis.

    But beyond the value-laden suggestions in terms of what to use in a pitch, what I found to be most helpful was the underlying morals and ideals that drive the reasoning behind all aspects of a pitch.

    Overall, I think one thing I agree with even more is the idea of a story. Even when we are purely presenting information, our words take up space, so we should make them tie everything together. Including an anecdote or unique take on a situation will not only make your work unique, but will make important business connections fare better in the end.

  • I really enjoyed your insight with this post. I am a communication major studying with a concentration in Public Relations. I enjoy reading these types of informative blogs because they give me so much insight on what I can do to become better in the field I am learning in.

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