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Online release format | Evaluating releases | Pitch letter

Pitch Letters and Confirmation Letters

    What is a pitch letter?

      We always consider a pitch letter and a confirmation letter together, not separately.

      • Just as you write a media alert to convince the press you have an event they should cover...

      • you write a pitch letter to convince a producer (or editor) to interview your client on the air (or in print)... and

      • you write a confirmation letter to help "script" the interview to deliver your message.

      You can click on pitch letter or confirmation letter at any time to see what a sample might look like.

      These suggestions are written primarily for setting up radio and TV interviews, but they work for print interviews as well.

    Uhh... this isn't in the textbook

      No, this is a much more sophisticated approach than the old- fashioned way.

      You see, the PR bureaucrat is satisfied just to get an interview scheduled. There is hardly any thought given to the results of the interview.

      One of the many reasons that you're going to make the big bucks in your PR career is that you have a much more enterprising approach. It will come as a pleasant surprise to your boss or client, when they figure out that you're taking responsibility way beyond what they're used to.

      The broadcast interview is one of your best publicity tools. You would not think of giving it any less attention than a PSA or broadcast release. Therefore, you will cultivate strategies and tactics to make sure that your message gets delivered.

      Think of a pitch letter as your foot in the door -- and then think of the confirmation letter as your real pitch.

    Here's the secret of our success:

    1. first we write the confirmation letter
    2. then we write the pitch letter
    3. then we mail the pitch letter
    4. then we telephone and make the pitch by phone
    5. then we mail the confirmation letter (30 minutes later)

    Why do we do it this way? That's actually several questions in one:

      Q. Why write the confirmation letter first?

      A. Because the confirmation letter does four things:

      • it confirms the details of the scheduled interview
      • it serves as a kind of "script" for the interview
      • it helps you (and your client) plan the interview
      • most importantly, it will help you figure out where and how you're going to make your pitch. Once you've written your confirmation letter you'll have a pretty good idea of which interview targets you can rule out -- and which you can focus on.

      Q. But why write it first?

      A. Because it will focus your planning on what matters most.

        After you've prepared a confirmation letter you'll keep it ready in your word processor. As soon as you've made your pitch by phone, you'll go to your word processor, do some fine tuning in the first paragraph, and then fax it out -- about 30 minutes after your successful telephone pitch.

      Q. What's the point of the 30 minutes you keep talking about?

      A. To clinch the sale.

        The point is after you've made your phone pitch, you want to hit them with the fax while it's still fresh.

        Also, this will help you "save" the interview, if they discover they've double-booked or otherwise want to change their minds about giving you the interview -- if it's between two competitors, the one who's fustest with the mostest is going to come out ahead. Never take for granted that anything is a done deed -- you're always selling, pre-selling, or post-selling.

      Q. So you write the pitch letter after the confirmation letter?

      A. Yes.

        Once you've written the confirmation letter you're going to find it much easier to write your pitch letter creatively, because you're going to be completely clear in your own head exactly what you're trying to accomplish. (Actually, you can write the two letters in whatever order works for you, so long as you understand the idea is to write them both together.)

      Q. So give me that sequence again --

      A. Okay --

        First we write the confirmation letter

          We do this not only to confirm the details of the interview but also to help "script" how the interview will go.

        Second, we write the pitch letter

          This will make a strong case for why your client will make an exciting interview for the media audience.

        Third, we mail the pitch letter

          As already explained, in some cases you might want to phone first.

        Fourth, we call and make the pitch by phone

          The producer (or editor) will by now have some idea of why you're calling and how your idea is a perfect fit with their interests.

        Fifth, we mail the confirmation letter (30 minutes later)

          This will help guarantee the arrangement you've just agreed on, and it will be the first step toward controlling the interview to deliver your message.

      Q. I know a PR director who says you should always call first.

      A. That's an interesting point.

        In some cases I will phone the producer (or editor, or a reporter) before -- or instead of -- sending a pitch letter. When I'm doing political PR, stories are sometimes breaking so fast that a phone call is the only way. It's also a good way to "negotiate" the approach to a story -- that is, to see how suggested ideas are being received, and even establish ground rules for an interview.

        And when I'm doing arts PR -- for theater, dance, arts advocacy -- I'm almost always working with the same producers or editors or reporters, with whom I've developed a symbiotic relationship -- a kind of partnership -- I bring them celebrities or lively show biz ideas and they put them into stories.

        Obviously, if you have a cozy relationship (with anyone, for that matter) a formal letter can be awkward and inappropriate. Except for cozy relationships, however, these pointers on pitch letters should be taken seriously.

    A confirmation letter has four sections

    1. The confirmation paragraph

      This should be crystal clear and should leave no room for error. On my sample confirmation letter I have put both the day and the date (Sunday, May 28) in case there was a calendar error when we were talking by phone.

      I include the street address of the studio. Seems unnecessary, but it can be a lifesaver. I once booked an interview at a station in a small central Illinois town that had moved its studios. By "idiot-proofing" my confirmation letter, the goof was discovered in good time.

      In general, use this first paragraph to summarize every detail of the interview scheduling. Remember that a copy of this letter will go to the client, the client's secretary, driver, security personnel (in the case of some elected officials), etc. Another copy will go in your files, where you'll be able to quickly identify, and sort, all your scheduled interviews just by looking at the first paragraph.

    2. The message

      This is a one-paragraph review of your pitch letter. Its purpose is to (a) remind the producer (or editor) why this was such a good idea, and (b) convince anyone else at the station (the station manager, the on-air talent, etc.) that this is going to be a dynamite interview. Again, you're always either selling, pre- selling, or post-selling.

      In my sample confirmation letter I used two short paragraphs to accomplish this.

    3. The "script"

      This is where the real work of the confirmation letter takes place.

      What you want to do is gently steer the interview along the lines you and your client have worked out together. Just as you plan a press release with a simple strategy...

        State the Message
          - Supporting point #1
          - Supporting point #2
          - Supporting point #3
          - Supporting point #4
        Restate the Message

      ...with a confirmation letter you provide a subtle set of guidelines to direct the course of the interview to develop your supporting points.

      Obviously you're not trying to muscle in on the station's journalistic independence -- you're just making helpful suggestions. Obviously you can't tell an interviewer, "My clients want you to ask these questions." But 99 percent of the time, the interviewer will be happy to take the hint and be guided by your suggestions.

      At the station, your confirmation letter will go into a folder, to be used at the time of the interview. As a rule, on-air talent are given notes -- or do their own preparation -- prior to an interview. With your confirmation as a guide, the preparation will follow the points you want to make -- not random ideas that are developed at the station. The producer will generally be only too happy that you have made his or her work easier.

      By now your clients know how you work. They know their job is to put the message across (in the opening moments of the interview) and then to support and reinforce and repeat the message by making the supporting points. And finally to repeat the message at the end of the interview. You're making it easy for them to do that by providing this "script."

    4. The close

      Keep it short & sweet. Thank them and make the point again that it's going to be a wonderful interview!

    "Rules" for writing a pitch letter

      Don't be too tightly bound by these suggestions. You might be able to write a much livelier, more compelling pitch letter by ignoring this write-by-numbers approach. So long as you keep your letter to one page, and use your creativity, feel free to break these "rules."

      Keep in mind that you are not asking for a favor -- you are making a match between what your client has to offer, and what the station needs. Your mindset should be upbeat and confident. You have something that will benefit the station, and you need to find a way to explain that simply.

      Here are some suggestions that might be useful. The four sections of a pitch letter are:

    1. The grabber

      Start with your best stuff -- and put it into words that are irresistible. Of course you've done your homework first, so you know what the station considers interesting.

      As with all PR writing, make sure you're looking at this through the eyes of the station, not the eyes of your client. What does the station need and want, to keep their listeners tuning in. That's what you're there to deliver.

    2. The specifics

      Get to the point -- what is it you're offering? Don't be so "cute" in your opening grabber that you leave the reader in suspense about the purpose of your letter.

    3. The message

      Your grabber in the first paragraph led with some of your best stuff... but your reader doesn't know the context. Make sure your pitch letter contains a succinct, newsworthy, compelling paragraph that explains why this whole idea is so important and exciting... why it's getting (or going to get) a lot of buzz, and therefore why listeners will stay tuned.

    4. The closer

      This is where you let them know you'll be calling in a day or so. When I'm sending out pitch letters toward the end of the week, I say, "I'll call you next week..." and when I'm sending them out on a Monday or Tuesday, I say, "I'll call you later in the week."

    Other points to keep in mind

    • Do your homework. You need to know the radio or TV or print media audience before you write your confirmation letter -- otherwise how can you claim that the idea is perfect for their audience? Doing your homework is a necessary first step to figuring out who you're going to send your pitch to.

    • Customize but don't rewrite multiple pitch letters. There is absolutely no reason why you can't use the same pitch and confirmation letter language for a variety of different producers (or editors). You may want to tweak the paragraphs a little to accommodate different sets of audiences, but you don't need to make the letters unique just for the sake of being unique.

    • Don't use email or faxes for your pitch letters except in situations where you have already talked to the producer or editor. For the confirmation letter, you can ask the producer whether fax or email is preferred.

    • You may include a press kit with a pitch letter. It can help you get attention focused on your story idea. But it can also make your personal pitch look like junk mail, especially in media markets where press kits are stacked up in the mail room. My personal preference is to send press kits out during the first phase of a PR campaign, but to send pitch letters as personal correspondence.

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