Want A Journalist’s Attention? Be Vulnerable

I have a unique position with a foot in emerging tech PR communications but also the freelance side of writing. I pitch ideas for clients but have also written for The Washington Post, Quartz and others and I can say with certainty: how to get a journalist’s attention is about being vulnerable, honest and respectful. 

I was reminded about this topic this week when I messaged Tom Giles of Bloomberg Businessweek about an op-ed written by my client. Thinking it was a good fit I direct messages him on Twitter “@tsgiles If it pleases the editor, may I get your email address to pitch you a piece? DM open.” His immediate response validated my honest approach, calling it “disarming.”

My “disarming approach” works often, but this was the first time any professional journalist had actually commented on my approach. There’s a good chance I could have looked up his email address in a database, but there are a few reasons I simply reached out directly on Twitter. I believe my vulnerable approach is truly how to get a journalist’s attention. 

How To Get A Journalist’s Attention

My vulnerability in the form of playful groveling, In this case, “if it pleases the editor,” is an approach works for a few reasons.

Firstly, the direct approach via Twitter ensures I got the right email address. Many email addresses you can find online (like mine) are filtered, or in many cases not even active. It also increases the likelihood they will open your email because after a DM they’re more familiar with you. The real key, and truly how to get a journalist’s attention, is the vulnerability aspect.

Editors like Tom get blasted and emailed thousands of times per day, and around 95% or higher of the pitches they receive are junk and completely off topic. Because they can’t read every pitch fully, they are forced to adapt and develop a sixth sense for BS. That means hovering over the delete key as they read email.

When I was writing regularly for The Washington Post, my hottest piece was getting me nearly 200 pitches per day, and I wasn’t even a staff writer, I was a freelancer. The volume I received doesn’t match a staff writer or editor, but it’s enough for me to see patterns. Overconfidence, misrepresentation, sensationalism, and especially “BREAKING” news emails are the norm. 

Be Honest To Get A Journalist’s Attention

My former Washington Post editor, Matt McFarland explained to me great ideas speak for themselves and don’t need brushed up pitches. If you can’t explain it in a sentence, it’s not worth running. Deep down inside, lots of writers know this, and instead of finding better ideas, they add fluff. The result is spending more time, and getting no payoff.

If you have a great idea, however, I firmly believe showing vulnerability upfront, not only sticks out from everyone else but indicates your pitch can stand on its own and doesn’t need to be dressed up. There is also research that shows vulnerability attracts people.

I may never know, but perhaps my vulnerable approach is why I’ve received the large amount of guest opportunities I have in the past. It may be why my first published piece, ran in the largest newspaper in the country. The Wall Street Journal.

Pitching The Wall Street Journal

I often advise people to be vulnerable when they consider how to get a journalist’s attention. Journalists are language pros. They see BS easily. That’s why I do my best to be as open and honest as possible to disarm them of those potential roadblocks.

I did it for my very first published piece in The Wall Street Journal. I didn’t have fancy credentials, I didn’t have contacts, I just did a little Googling, reached out directly, and was vulnerable. The woman I pitched, Tracy Corrigan, simply looped in Paul Gigot, editor of the Editorial Pages, and Pulitzer Prize Winner. (Imaging getting THAT email!)

Hi Tracy,
My name is Justin Brady, I speak on creativity and I’m the art director of Test of Time Design. We work on “impossible” communication design challenges with global brands like CDS Global and Kemin Industries.

I called a moment ago about an op-ed piece I have written — I’m not a freelance writer, so if I’m “doing this wrong” I apologize. The piece is about creativity in corporate culture and highly relevant to your readership.
All I want is for someone to review it, that’s it. Can you help me get it to the right person?

All I want is for someone to review it, that’s it. Can you help me get it to the right person?

Vulnerability is how to get a journalist’s attention.

Honesty Really Is The Best Policy

Although A/B testing would be nearly impossible, my hunch is a successful pitch sent from a state of vulnerability, would be ignored if it was overconfident and sensationalist.

The people that are shoe-ins for The Justin Brady Show or future freelance articles, check only two boxes. They’re vulnerable, and their idea is great. (And it helps greatly if you keep your pitch short.) That’s it.

Now you know how to get a journalist’s attention. Be vulnerable. Be to-the-point. Be kind. Go try it out and get back to me. (But leave Tom alone for now…)

Thank you for contacting me!

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