Pitch Letters and
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
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.
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-
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:
- first we write the confirmation letter
- then we write the pitch letter
- then we mail the pitch letter
- then we telephone and make the pitch by phone
- then we mail the confirmation letter (30 minutes later)
Why do we do it this way? That's actually several questions in
Q. Why write the confirmation letter
A. Because the confirmation letter does
- 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
Q. What's the point of the 30 minutes you keep talking
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
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
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
- 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.
- 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
- The "script"
This is where the real work of the confirmation letter takes
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
Restate the Message
- Supporting point #2
- Supporting point #3
- Supporting point #4
...with a confirmation letter you provide a subtle set of
guidelines to direct the course of the interview to develop your
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
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."
- 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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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