Posted by: Mike Peake
Magazine writers have to pitch stories to editors all the time, and if nothing else, it makes you focus on exactly what you want to get across. If you can’t sell your idea succinctly and in an appealing way, you’ll not find a buyer.
And so, like all journalists, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to hone my craft. But you don’t have to be a journalist to apply the same thinking.
Anyone who writes blog/web content should consider it, too. By pitching to yourself, you’ll not only be able to see if your proposed content is any good, you’ll be able to sharpen your angle at the same time (though that won't necessarily make you any better at selecting photos to go with your posts. Asteroid hitting the sun? What was I thinking?!).
My three golden rules of pitching are as follows:
1/ Give them the headline
2/ Give them the sell
3/ Knock ’em dead. Quickly
Great – so what does that mean? Normally, headlines are handled by the newspaper/magazine team, but as anyone who writes web content knows, that responsibility lies with you.
If I put my journalist hat on, the following would be a classic example of a FAIL pitch:
“Hi, Dan – I had an idea for something on the Olympics because I was thinking that there must be so many people in the Olympic village who take drugs and I was wondering if there was some sort of ‘dealer’ network and etc etc etc).”
You’ve lost them already. Your pitch almost needs to be like a mini-front page of a newspaper, so in the example above your 1, 2 and 3 might be:
1/ EXPOSED: THE OLYMPIC VILLAGE DRUG DEALERS (this is the headline – duh!)
2/ 12,000 athletes, no booze and lots of adrenaline – it’s a pressure-cooker and only one man can release the tension (this is the sell)
3/ 'Nikki X' was the dealer of choice in Beijing, and the dealer of choice in London. He will be travelling to Rio in 2016 with a small team of helpers and the keys to a small safe, the contents of which will be sold to a small band of athletes who risk everything if they get caught. This is drug-running at its most dramatic, but Heavensky says he is untouchable. He is, after all, the son of a diplomat… (this is the ‘knock ‘em dead’ bit)
NOTES: I have a contact for ‘Nikki X’. He will talk to me and hasn’t yet done any US press. (This bit is a bit of extra waffle to get the Editor hooked)
OK, so this story is pure piffle (athletes? Drugs? Never!) which I’ve made up purely for illustrative purposes, but I hope you can see why this would catch the eye of a commissioning editor. Let’s do it again with a more realistic story.
THE MAN WHO LIVES FOR DESTRUCTION
His ‘holy grail’ would be to see a whole city ripped apart, an event which would probably earn him his biggest tips ever from his customers...
Meet Darren Hamer-Smith – Storm Chaser and head guide for WildWind Vacations… Ex-doctor Darren lives in Kansas and spends half of his year dashing through the wilderness with a truckload of tourists who are only happy when they’ve stared death in the face. Darren’s been battered, pummelled, and even struck by lightning, but says he cannot stop until he sees a tornado tear a city block to pieces.
Hopefully you’ll agree that this sounds like a pretty decent read. And what you’ve done here is transformed yourself into a salesman. You’ve used emotive, powerful words (but hopefully note gone too over the top) and presented yourself as the kind of writer who could deliver a razor-sharp piece to demand.
I’ve seen so many bad pitches over the years that I know this and similar styles are the only ones that work. In fact, I was going to go on and on here about what not to do but I think it’s best if I don’t, because it’ll just be a distraction. Do it like this. It works.
Pitching is a real skill – an art, when taken to its nth degree – and you definitely get better with practise. And you can keep on practising simply by opening a newspaper and reading a random feature – what would your three-point pitch be?
Now try it before your next blog posting. It might just give you the direction you’ve been looking for.