Content development is a key component in any SEO strategy. In today’s content-driven market, the articles, videos or images that make up your marketing campaign will make or break its effectiveness.
You need native content to power a proper campaign, and while creating content itself can be simple, the best content in the world will be useless unless you can get it placed on relevant, high domain authority websites. So how do you get your work on sites like Forbes, Huffington Post or Yahoo?
It’s an art form you’re likely already familiar with—pitching.
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The concept of pitching is difficult, and writing a good pitch is even harder. Every publication or website wants something slightly different from people who pitch to them. Often those differences grow among editors at the same publication, as each of them might look for unique standout points.
Good content creation teams will have a journalist or experienced freelance writer on staff to lead these developments. And as they’ll know all too well, sadly there isn’t a sure-fire method to pitch somebody that always leads to success; failure is part of the process and you’ll fail far more than you succeed. But learning how to pitch well will emblazon your content development efforts.
Let’s use the following story as an example: Will self-driving cars lower insurance rates? It’s an article idea that can find its way onto industry websites like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, AAA, or a news publication like Wired or TechCrunch.
There are two main methods you can try when pitching an article like this:
- On-spec, or
- Explorative query
An on-spec pitch is when you already have a story written and you’re trying to find it a home. Publications that agree to on-spec work will either publish your piece or not, entirely at their discretion.
Many news outlets will give on-spec authors edits or ask questions to clarify certain points, but many specialty or trade websites will take the base content, apply their own changes and then publish it as they see fit with or without author feedback.
From a content building perspective, on-spec pitch ideas are better suited for low domain authority websites where there is a wide variety of content accepted. These sites are less likely to alter your work and remove your link or message. It can occasionally work with higher-tier websites and news publications, but editors typically want something written especially for them; they want an idea crafted specifically for their publication and with their likes and dislikes in mind. This is why the open-ended query is a stronger, but more difficult pitch.
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An open, exploratory query is pitching an idea to people and seeing who likes it enough to let you write it for them. This often requires a lot of investigation prior to the actual pitch, and that preparation comes with its own challenges.
First you need to find the right publications or websites to pitch. For our example, we’ll need to see if they post about self-driving cars, car insurance, car safety or the general car industry as a whole. Basic web searching skills will enable you to find all of this information.
Once you find your target websites, you need to dive through them and see how often they’ve covered autonomous cars and in what capacity. Have they talked about insurance rates and self-driving cars? If so, how long ago was that? Anything past three years and you have a shot of getting your idea through; otherwise, you’re better off looking elsewhere or finding a unique angle on that topic.
After you’ve figured this out, it can be tricky to actually know who to get in touch with. Some news sites, like Forbes, ask writers to email a completed, on-spec story to a designated email address and then you might hear back. Other publications like The Atlantic ask you to email an email address that various desk editors share, and then if they’re interested somebody will get back to you.
These methods technically do work, and you can get commissioned for a story using these options: But it’s not the most effective method. If you want to have a better chance of at least starting a conversation with somebody at a news publication and make sure they know you exist then you need to actually talk with a specific person.
This is where your searching skills are put to the test. How well can you navigate the website to find the masthead or the editor in charge of that section? Are the editors’ email addresses listed, or are those something you’ll have to track down via Twitter or elsewhere?
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Writing the Pitch
After you find the proper email addresses, you’ll need to actually write the pitch. This is by far the hardest part.
The key thing about your pitch is relaying the story idea and making it interesting. Try to keep the email concise, but long enough to leave the editor yearning for more. There isn’t a consensus about pitch length, which adds to the challenge. Some people stick to a four paragraph style: introduction, story idea, potential sources, and then qualifications, contact information and conclusion.
This can be simple, friendly and casual. Or it can be a workhorse pitch where you jump right into a lead, hook the editor in hard and give them the nuts and bolts of your idea up front. Other people like to tease the editor with story information in order to spur a conversation.
Contently has a great overview of different pitch types to help you find a happy medium.
One final thing to keep in mind is that the freelance news industry is a catch-22 in the sense that most publications need to see previous articles you’ve published. If you don’t have prior clips, then you’re going to be in for quite the struggle to find an editor willing to work with you.
It’s not impossible by any means, but learning how the editorial process works takes time and it’s jarring for the inexperienced. If the other content you’ve created is quality and related work then share that. If it’s not appropriate, then consider making a blog to showcase your writing chops. Having a body of work, regardless of how small, will increase your chances of success.