Email Distribution Best Practices

Modified on: Thu, 1 Dec, 2022 at 8:18 PM

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that journalists continue to prefer email as the primary means of contact, with more than 90 percent indicating it as the best way to directly pitch a story idea. You also may not be surprised that there is a lot of conflicting advice about making your email pitches resonate. It’s difficult for PR practitioners is to sift through all of the disparate advice and to come up with a sound strategy to engage journalists.

In this article, we will look at best practices for email pitches using insights from PR experts and journalists.

Demonstrate Research:

82 percent of journalists say PR professionals can improve by researching and understanding their media outlet.

Forbes Communications Council, a group of communications, PR, public affairs & media relations executives echo this sentiment:

“To break through the volume of emails reporters receive, you need to know them inside and out. Every time you see a story that relates to your business or platform, add that reporter to a list and follow their social media accounts.”

The Cision media database makes this process easier, but many journalists and PR practitioners note that using a media list requires research to demonstrate that your pitch would be a good fit.

HubSpot Marketing Manager Rachel Sprung describes how lack of demonstrated research reflects poorly on the PR professional: "Blindly pitching a journalist without performing any background research is a bad move.”

Want to improve your pitching skills? View our on-demand webinar “Media Relations Hacks: Getting Your Share of Media Coverage.”

Focus on Your Subject Line:

Don’t do this!

Like a headline, the subject line of an email draws a recipient in. Of course, there are plenty of ways to generate interest, but you should not try to “click-bait” the media.

Other particularly egregious subject lines in an email pitch might include:

  • Anything beginning with “re:” or “fwd:”
  • “Press release”
  • “Interview opportunity”

Contently published a round-up of valuable advice from reporters on the subject of subject lines.  Jennifer Ortiz, senior editor at Marie Claire said, “Starting a subject line with something like ‘Story Idea:’ or ‘Pitch:’ is a quick way to get lost in my inbox.”

Eric Sullivan, features editor at Esquire, looks for “wording that is both attention-grabbing and explanatory, that uses lively language, [and includes] just five or seven words that guarantees what follows is worth reading.”

Most journalists and PR practitioners agree that the subject line is a crucial aspect of the PR pitch and should be thoughtfully crafted.

Be Short, Straightforward And Show Value:

The consensus opinion of journalists is that brevity and economy are crucial aspects of an email pitch. It’s easy to understand why given that most journalists receive multiple pitches each day.

There is a varying opinion about the ideal length for an email pitch (suggestions include 20 words, 100 words, one to two paragraphs and everything in between). While there isn’t a consensus about the length of an email pitch, there are three aspects of email that most people agree on:

  • Economical — email pitches should be as short as possible (most people recommend using bullet points where appropriate).
  • Straightforward — email pitches should get to the point quickly and should rarely deviate.
  • Valuable — email pitches should be able to show value for readers (and relevance to the journalist’s past work).

Offer Exclusivity:

According to Harvard Business Review, the most attractive characteristic of a content pitch is “exclusive research.” 

To effectively offer an exclusive keep these tips in mind:

  • Offer something new — Not every story is exclusive worthy, but if you have an interesting timely story then offer it up to a targeted reporter.
  • Set a timeline — Offering an exclusive is a great way to build a relationship with a reporter but you should set clear expectations. Give them a timeline to accept and if they don’t respond by that time then you need to move on to the next influencer on your list.
  • Keep your word — When a journalist agrees to cover your story, honor the agreement by keeping the news under wraps until his or her story is published. Offering an exclusive and then having that news leak early is a great way to kill a relationship with a reporter.

Attach Nothing:

This is a pretty universal opinion. Aside from the fact that it increases the likelihood that an email will be sent to spam, an email pitch isn’t intended to be a complete resource and many journalists may find this off-putting. Imagine proposing marriage and having all of the people and resources available to have the wedding immediately — it could be done but it is a pretty presumptuous way to propose.

However, it’s important to remember that reporters love visuals. In Cision’s latest State of the Media report, journalists said they “always” or “often” use multimedia elements 70.5 percent of the time. To provide multimedia elements without annoying reporters include a link in your pitch that they can use to view and download them.


So many variables are in play when you are trying to generate PR buzz. Not every tactic will work with every journalist, but these five guidelines should serve you well for many of your email pitches.

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