How to follow up on a pitch to a journalist

Jan 30, 2024

As a publicist who does a little freelance writing on the side, I empathize with both professions.

I pitch journalists on ideas involving my PR clients. And a fair number of fellow PR practitioners pitch me, hoping I’ll write about their clients.

I like to think this combo gives me more of an edge with the PR side of my professional life, if only because I can assume that what flacks do to annoy me as a freelance writer likely also pisses off other journalists. In other words, at very least I’ve learned what not to do.

Wearing my journalist hat, I receive a fair amount of lame story ideas and crappy writing (I’m probably also guilty of its production).

But by far the greatest annoyance (to me) is the poorly executed follow-up email.

First, let me share a couple of the more obnoxious yet all-to-frequent real-life examples of how publicists have followed up on initial emails pitching me on story ideas.

1 – “Just following up to make sure you received my earlier email.”

2 – “When can we schedule an interview with (so-and-so) about (whatever)?”

The first is lazy. The second, weirdly presumptuous. Either pretty well guarantees that I’ll push delete.

Like most folks, I can accidentally overlook or forget to reply to a thoughtful, well-constructed story idea pitched me by email. I’m grateful when a publicist reminds me in a well-done follow-up note.

The best follow-up notes tend to have one thing in common. They subtly amplify or otherwise add to the first pitch.

Examples might include suggesting a fresh angle or aspect of the story idea. Or the offer of additional information and/or sources who could be interviewed.

Ideally, you’ll offer something that might be a better story idea or angle, or adds more detail or substance, such as hard statistics that back up a trend or additional and relevant people who could be interviewed.  

While there’s no magic limit to the number of follow-up emails you should send, I’ve found (as both publicist and journalist) three total missives to be about as many as you should send.

If you wind up pitching the same reporter again on another story idea, and he or she responds positively, you might use this occasion to follow up on a previous pitch, but don’t consider this an invitation to dredge up every old email to the journalist for re-appraisal.

Lastly, if a reporter responds to your first, or second or third, email with a polite no, never argue that he or she should reconsider, etc. At most, simply thank him or her for considering it. If, instead you receive a less polite response, say, a tart “unsubscribe me, please” reply or worse, let it lie. You could have crafted the loveliest, most relevant of story pitches, but you don’t know what’s going on in the journalist’s life. Of course, it could also be that your pitch was garbage.