This Is How I Actually (Write A) Pitch

Because people said they would read it

Ed Zitron
Ed Zitron
Jun 9, 2016 · 7 min read

You may or may not know I literally have a book called This Is How You Pitch. If you want to buy it, you can I guess.

I put out a tweet asking if anyone would care to read/know/understand the thought process behind my most common work product. The pitch (if you don’t know what that is in this context) is the email I send to a reporter with a goal of sorts:

  • I have a client — why not talk to them? They’re interesting for you because of reasons.
  • My client is releasing a new product, how about talking to them about it?
  • My client knows about this subject, and maybe they’re useful to have a chat with about said subject, even if it’s just for the future.

There’re probably other examples, but basically any pitch I send has a goal. Even if said goal is just “two people are going to talk,” that can sometimes mean said people talk, and at the end the reporter says “huh that’s actually interesting, perhaps a story I shall write.” Perhaps they won’t but they’ll file them away in their brain and pick them up later.

So How Do You Pitch: The Actual Thought Process In General

But what I’ve been asked is to talk about the actual thought process behind my email pitches or how I pitch.

The only consistent one, across every person, across every vertical, is that I want something at the end and I want them to have the most painless process to get to it. This sounds way more mercenary than it is; yes, I have a for-profit business, and I’m emailing reporters to get them to write about or talk to a client so that the client keeps paying me money.

So, whatever I send, wherever I send it, I’m always trying to go for the path of least resistance for both parties. Something for them to easily say “okay, sure” or “eh, nah” at the end of. Why am I considering that “nah” part? Because guess what. If someone gets a pitch that’s on target but not for them, and they can say no without having had to do battle with a word-army, that’s easily digestible but still not for them, they’re less likely to be annoyed to have wasted their time. Which they did because the email didn’t do anything for them.

On The Phone

On Email

  • If it’s someone I don’t know or who doesn’t like my particular brand of I’m A Huge Idiot humour, then I’ll do something straightline like “(date) Thing does thing, which means thing.”
  • If it’s someone I know, sometimes I spice it up by making it “This app is good as hell and does this.”
  • If I really know the person I’ll just write any old nonsense that sort of says what it’s about but is mostly there to make them laugh, because I’m confident they’ll read it.

The Basic Pitch

When I end up writing an email to someone it can be your common or garden pitch — 120–140 words is about the right amount because the human brain gets an initial reaction of “damn, that’s a lot of words” and the person decides “no, I’d rather not read this.”

These are usually the following:

“Hey person, here’s thing. It’s out this day. You may like it. It does this, this and this, the founder is like this. It’s good for this reason, to me. Anyway, if you want to talk to person X or play with thing, let me know.” Sometimes it’ll be “Hey, this person’s smart and can talk about these things, want to have a 15 minute conversation with them? No problem if not. Thanks.”

The key thing there is that I don’t write shit like “innovative” or “amazing.” The furthest I’ll go is saying I think something is really great. I’ll only do that if I think it is.

If I really, really believe in something and feel like there’s a chance they may read it and may not be totally sold, I’ll say “look, talk to them. I get that this may not jump off the page, but if I’m wrong about this you can kick me hard in the balls.” I’ve actually said that. Nobody has taken me up on it in pitch form. This is generally because I only use this parlance when I truly believe the people will get on but there’s a barrier to it.

The Rambling Email — the “Look, alright?”

Sometimes I’ll just load up a window and type out a load of shit. Not incomprehensible, but there’re days when I’m just done with everything. I’m totally exhausted. I also know certain reporters I’m closer to that will appreciate a break from the PR style guide formula of hello>here’s thing>like thing?

The reason I call it the “look, alright?” is because it’ll almost always be someone I’m confident will love it, someone I know who will appreciate the break from the norm, and someone who will get a laugh out of it.

So, said email will be “look, alright, here it is, here’s some shit. Christ, if you don’t like it I don’t know why. Anyway it does (note, I mean this bluntly as possible) this and this, it’s not shitty like this other thing, which sucks.

The thought process is my actual thoughts. Like I’d tell them in person. Without the barrier of professionalism. This sounds scary to potential clients, but it works, because I genuinely am writing just whatever comes into my mind. So it may be a case of saying “Look at THIS shit. It does this, and I was personally shocked it did because it sounds like bullshit up front. Anyway, once you try it you’ll probably feel the same.” Or “this guy you want to talk to. He can talk about this. Give it a god damn go.” A good example would be saying “okay, so this device? It connects to your WiFi, it does this, it makes your life better because of this. It’s good as shit. Try it.”

Instant Messaging and Twitter DMs

Over IM there’s almost no thought process — it’s more akin to just chatting shit with a friend, where I’m saying the purest, most brutally blunt things in my head. “Okay, so it’s expensive, it’s weird looking, but it works,” or “look this shit probably sounds boring as fuck, but talk to the person, they’re great.”

You may wonder “how in the world does this gel with the actual professionalism of a professional?” and the answer is guess what people like to be talked to honestly and sometimes this doesn’t mean it sounds professional. I keep the facts, I don’t insult clients, but I do say what they can’t do if they can’t do it. Or if they’re not the most brilliant orator but they just know so, so much interesting stuff.

Over Twitter DM it’s not totally different. You just sort of get out there and say “hey, I’ve got some stuff, can I send it here or via email.” If I do a pitch over DM I truncate as much as I can — and I want to make sure they read it. And don’t feel spammed. So I have to get it into one not too long DM. It’s a challenge.

My Overall Thought Processes

For the most part I’m just thinking “alright, how can I get this person to think about acting on this message?” I’m not thinking about being good at pitching or about the PR profession. I don’t even like sending many pitches. So if I do send one I want to make sure it has the best chance of not being totally ignored.

Anyway, I hope this helps.

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Ed Zitron

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Ed Zitron

On Advertising

We’re an open community of Executives, Strategists, Designers, Developers and Students alike, skeptically examining communication, technology and culture.