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How to pitch…and how not. Ten timely rules for getting your story into print

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Pitching has been much on my mind lately. No, not because it’s baseball season. I mean pitching in the sense of definition #9 in my Webster’s: “[Slang] a line of talk, such as a salesman uses to persuade customers.” In the media world, pitching is when you suggest a story idea to someone (usually an editor) who has the power to run it.

We all have to pitch in this business. Later this month I’ll be in New York at the world famous Enthusiast Tower in glamorous downtown Elmsford, pitching my own story ideas for 2009. But I also get pitched at (or to) a lot, usually from P.R. types anxious to get some print (or digital) coverage for their clients. So, as an old hand at pitching from both sides (a bi-pitcher?), I’m in a pretty good position to offer this unsolicited advice about what makes a good pitch.

1. K.I.S.S. The concept should be easily graspable in a simple sentence. “After becoming totally paralyzed in a car accident, ___ got his V&E degree from Davis and now owns his own winery.” There’s nothing worse than getting pitched and after about 1,000 words you’re wondering, “Now where the @#$%* is this going?”

2. The best ideas often come in the unlikeliest places at the most inconvenient times: in the shower, while you’re sleeping, driving, jogging, etc. Try to have a pad and pen to jot those great ideas down. I keep a little tape recorder by my bed so when I wake up in the middle of the night with a great concept (and I do), I can just dictate it.

3. A good thing to pitch is trends. Editors love trends; be the first to identify a trend and you’ll be the Prince or Princess of Pitching.

4. Human interest is good. A few years ago someone pitched me a story about daughters who followed their fathers into the family wine business. I liked it, the editorial staff at Enthusiast loved it, it made the cover, and it was one of our best-received articles of the year.

5. A good pitch suggests its own art possibilities. In the fathers-and-daughters story, it was really beautiful photography of all those proud Dads and beaming daughters.

6. Don’t be promiscuous! When you pitch, pitch to one person at a time and let them know they’re the only one you’re pitching. Don’t lie, either, or you’ll be found out.

7. Avoid the usual, the hackneyed, the trite, the predictable. Here’s a classic example of how not to pitch: “I know you get a lot of pitches about couples who started wineries, but Jim and Joan are really unique. After making his money in [choose one: high tech/publishing/construction/drug dealing], Jim decided the fast-paced lifestyle wasn’t for him. With his wife, Joan’s, help as an artist, they…” Zzzzzzzzz….

8. If I ever hear another word about cool breezes through coastal gaps I’ll scream! Those words should never, ever be in a pitch! I mean it! These pitchers will be severely punished!

9. Be in possession of your facts. Even if you have a terrific core concept, an editor is likely to want more information. So have all your “W”s down: who, what, when, where, why. And don’t forget how and how much. The editor wants to know you’ve done your homework, not just come up with something off the top of your head.

10. Be passionate about your pitch. There’s nothing drearier than getting pitched by someone who’s completely bored with their own pitch. You can hear it in their voice: “I know you’re going to hate this, because I hate it, but I have to pitch it anyway because my boss told me to.” I always want to say, “Then why are you wasting my time and your own?”

Anyhoo – that’s my advice and I’m sticking with it.

  1. adam strum says:

    Hi Steve,

    “The Enthusiast Tower” will soon be moving from downtown Elmsford to Mt Kisco but we will always welcome your “dazzling pitches” in the tower of the Castle in Tarrytown.

    No one does it better than you!

    Best,

    Adam

  2. Thanks Adam. The Mt. Kisco move is an exciting one and I’m looking forward to this summer’s editorial meetings as we plan the 2009 Wine Enthusiast calendar.

  3. Rusty Eddy says:

    Steve:

    Can I save your list and use it in my UC PR class this fall?

    Rusty

  4. Rusty, Absolutely. I’m honored.

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