PR Writing: the Pitch Letter & Confirmation Letter

The Art of the Interview:
The Pitch Letter

The pitch letter is where you make your case to the media -- it's where all your preparation gets focused onto a single page that tells the scheduler why your story is irresistible.

The pitch letter is where you make your case to the media -- it's where all your preparation gets focused onto a single page that tells the scheduler why your story is irresistible.

Of course, for the pitch letter to work, you have to make sure your story is irresistible. That starts with your research into the magazine or newspaper section or radio or TV program... what kind of interviews do they do? ...what is their audience? ...what are their themes? Some programs may not be suitable for your client, but others can be approached through imaginative enterprise. Almost anything goes -- you can book a sports figure on a cooking show, for example, and you can book a clown on a stock market program -- and you can come up with stranger real-life examples than that, just from an afternoon's sampling of radio and TV.

There's a formula for pitch letters that I'll share with you, but I also want to encourage you to use your own imagination and inspiration. For every story there are dozens of ways to get someone turned on, and your way might be far superior to the formula I'm going to outline here. Trust your instincts... trust your own voice...

The first rule is brevity: keep it to one page. You may want to include your press kit to supply the background, but keep your pitch to one page. They don't want to read more than that, and there's always the danger that a two-page letter will fall apart in transit, as it's passed from person to person at the station. Also, make certain that your format is crisp and clear and professional-looking -- people do judge a book by its cover, and by how the pages look and feel, and the first impression is always a lasting one.

Here's the formula --

  • First graf: Lead with your best stuff [angle]

    Give them a gripping paragraph that captures their attention with whatever angle is strongest and most impressive... this is the make-or-break paragraph... captivate their curiosity -- but don't get giddy with hype here or be too obscure.

  • Second graf: What's the story? [5 W's]

    This is like a "nut graf" in a delayed lead (you'll learn more about this in the next lesson)... you've got their attention but now they need to know what your story is about... they need the "5 W's," the basic elements, or they'll lose interest.

  • Third graf: Your "second best stuff" [message]

    This is where you complete the points you started in your first two paragraphs... for example, your first graf was a "teaser" emphasizing some unusual angle, and your second graf gave the basics of the story... now that you have their attention, in the third graf you'll bring those two points together and complete your message -- you can think of the 3rd graf as containing your "second best stuff"

  • Fourth graf: What are you offering?

    Now you need to be specific. Think about the audience you're trying to reach -- I mean, the audience of the radio program or the TV interview show you're pitching. Why is your idea particularly well-suited to that audience. Remember, the people you're pitching may care about your cause, but they're much more concerned about whether your story will make for a good program. You need to think like a programmer and make clear why this is a perfect fit for their audience.

  • Fifth graf: Set up your follow-up

    This is just a quick sentence that says you'll be in touch soon. If I'm sending a pitch letter on a Thursday, I say I'll be in touch "early next week." If I'm sending it on a Monday, I say I'll be calling them "later this week." Either way, you want to give it a few days and then make the call. Never say you'll look forward to hearing from them.

Pitch letters and confirmation letters work together. I want you to read about how they work together, before you look at a sample pitch letter. As I say, for now I want you to follow the general point I'm making for you, which is that "writing an interview" includes three distinct stages:

      Planning the Message
      The Pitch Letter
    The Confirmation Letter
... and we've just finished with item two.

Go on to the next page.

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