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Wax Marketing Blog

How to pitch a magazine editor

I’ve been chewed out one too many times by a fierce, brilliant magazine editor, and yet a great feature in a national print monthly is still a plum placement. I asked an old editor of mine (in my brief freelance writing career) to spill the beans on what these folks REALLY want. And how to avoid totally pissing them off.

Sheri Wallace is the former  Editor-in-Chief of ePregnancy magazine and Associate Publisher of REAL Magazine, with respective bi-monthly national newsstand circulations of 400,000 and 250,000. She doesn’t mince words so read on…

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Q; What’s the best way to develop a relationship with an editor?

There’s no way to make an impression like a bad pitch. Don’t do it. An editor judges your entire client list and everything from that point on based on your first pitch. It should be obvious but spell check is your friend, and if you can’t write, have someone help you. Editors don’t want to hear about every product you represent, we don’t have time for all that. Just give us one well-written pitch with an angle that we’d actually use. That might require studying the publication, which should also be self-explanatory, but most publicists just take mass email lists and send out generic pitches. You’d rather develop a good relationship with an editor, and you do that by sending me something customized to my needs. Don’t be afraid to email and ask what editors are interested in. Some will probably tell you in detail. Keep that information and refer to it before sending a pitch.

Q: What are the basics of a good pitch?

Basic journalism. Who is doing what, whom are they doing it to, and why? When is it happening? Why am I interested? How would I feature it in the publication? Are pictures available? Make it easy for me to get everything an editor needs.  A pitch to an editor is not the press release. That might have a lot of B2B information that an editor doesn’t care about. Include the release but the pitch should be specific to each publication. Keep it simple. Include links so that an editor can research various features or information quickly.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve about public relations people?

That they don’t research the publication or send me something publication-specific. So I get a lot of pitches that are completely inappropriate.

Q: Describe the worst pitch you ever got (or one of them) Why was it so bad?

It’s hard to remember just one. But a particular pitch with awful grammar and spelling came just recently. Followed a couple of hours later by a retraction saying that the publicist didn’t have all the facts right and she’d send a corrected pitch later. Like anyone will be paying attention.

Q: Is it better to pitch an editor, or a freelancer and why?

Depends what you’re pitching. Probably better to pitch both, but do it well. If it’s a product, the editor is probably your best bet, as many publications don’t have freelancer-written product sidebars. If it’s a service, then both staff and freelance-written articles would probably work. But, again, you should study the publication and know these things. That’s why it’s hard to get featured if you don’t have a relationship.

Q: How can you use editorial guidelines to help figure out when and what to send in a pitch?

The editors write those guidelines so it’s a window into what they want from writers. That gives you hints on what to send as a publicist. It might also include email addresses or calendar dates for upcoming issues. All that would help you get the right pitch to the right editor at the right time. Essentially your job is the same as a freelance writer, just from another perspective.

Q: How has the relationship changed between editor and PR person in the past five years?

There are so many more publicists pitching, and many of them are business owners/authors or novice publicists. There are also a lot of new editors because there’s been so much turnover in the industry. So lots of jobs switch around on a quarterly basis. It used to be about making long-term relationships at a publication, now it’s very individual. There’s a lot more social media interaction, though, which can really be a great thing. What used to be a snail-mail pitch can now be a quick inquiry over Twitter or Facebook. But, you have to know your product/client and you have to write good pitches to survive. There’s no way to make an impression like a bad pitch. Don’t do it. An editor judges your entire client list and everything from that point on based on your first pitch. It should be obvious but spell check is your friend, and if you can’t write, have someone help you. Editors don’t want to hear about every product you represent, we don’t have time for all that. Just give us one well-written pitch with an angle that we’d actually use. That might require studying the publication, which should also be self-explanatory, but most publicists just take mass email lists and send out generic pitches. You’d rather develop a good relationship with an editor, and you do that by sending me something customized to my needs. Don’t be afraid to email and ask what editors are interested in. Some will probably tell you in detail. Keep that information and refer to it before sending a pitch.

Q: What are the basics of a good pitch?

Basic journalism. Who is doing what, whom are they doing it to, and why? When is it happening? Why am I interested? How would I feature it in the publication? Are pictures available? Make it easy for me to get everything an editor needs.  A pitch to an editor is not the press release. That might have a lot of B2B information that an editor doesn’t care about. Include the release but the pitch should be specific to each publication. Keep it simple. Include links so that an editor can research various features or information quickly.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve about public relations people?

That they don’t research the publication or send me something publication-specific. So I get a lot of pitches that are completely inappropriate.

Q: Describe the worst pitch you ever got (or one of them) Why was it so bad?

It’s hard to remember just one. But a particular pitch with awful grammar and spelling came just recently. Followed a couple of hours later by a retraction saying that the publicist didn’t have all the facts right and she’d send a corrected pitch later. Like anyone will be paying attention.

Q: Is it better to pitch an editor, or a freelancer and why?

Depends what you’re pitching. Probably better to pitch both, but do it well. If it’s a product, the editor is probably your best bet, as many publications don’t have freelancer-written product sidebars. If it’s a service, then both staff and freelance-written articles would probably work. But, again, you should study the publication and know these things. That’s why it’s hard to get featured if you don’t have a relationship.

Q: How can you use editorial guidelines to help figure out when and what to send in a pitch?

The editors write those guidelines so it’s a window into what they want from writers. That gives you hints on what to send as a publicist. It might also include email addresses or calendar dates for upcoming issues. All that would help you get the right pitch to the right editor at the right time. Essentially your job is the same as a freelance writer, just from another perspective.

Q: How has the relationship changed between editor and PR person in the past five years?

There are so many more publicists pitching, and many of them are business owners/authors or novice publicists. There are also a lot of new editors because there’s been so much turnover in the industry. So lots of jobs switch around on a quarterly basis. It used to be about making long-term relationships at a publication, now it’s very individual. There’s a lot more social media interaction, though, which can really be a great thing. What used to be a snail-mail pitch can now be a quick inquiry over Twitter or Facebook. But, you have to know your product/client and you have to write good pitches to survive.

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Organic PR, Sheri’s recently-launched organic public relations company is a culmination of her publishing, public relations, and marketing expertise. Whether her clients need short-term consulting, crisis communications, or a complete public relations or marketing campaign, Sheri Wallace is connected, competent, and a natural fit to help you grow. Follow Sheri on Twitter or find her on Facebook.

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5 Comments

  1. Criminal Justice Degree Says :
    Posted on May 6, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    I think a few of those questions/answers were posted twice. This offered amazing insight into the world of an editor. I can understand their frustration with people not taking the time or the effort to check spelling and grammar before sending off a pitch. I’d be sick of it if I had to deal with it.

  2. Mike
    Posted on May 7, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Very helpful and extensive Q&A, very appreciated

  3. Andy @ FirstFound Says :
    Posted on May 10, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Thanks for this. It’s amazing that they feel the need to remind us to use spellcheck. Are people really that lazy?

  4. Maggie Says :
    Posted on May 12, 2010 at 12:55 am

    I can understand their frustration and people don’t spend time and effort to check spelling and grammar before a court. I hate it, if I have to deal with it.

  5. Custom Display
    Posted on February 8, 2011 at 12:52 am

    It also boils down to what the product and/or service is. Some people come with all sorts of ideas which in a larger scale, simply will not work because they are uninteresting. To garner attention, and especially for an editor, you need to let them know that it is interesting, it works and needs the attention of the masses.

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