As a managing editor at Contently, there are a number of things I look for in pitches, whether they’re in response to a request from a brand or an idea sent proactively. While every brand and editor is different, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of getting an idea accepted when pitching Contently clients.
I sat down with a few other MEs to get their insights. Here’s some helpful guidance to help you nail your next pitch.
1. Get familiar with the process, and don’t rush it
Understanding how the pitch function works within Contently—and how clients use it—is key to submitting a successful idea. “Some clients create multiple pitch requests, each for a different topic,” said managing editor Lisa Farino. “If a client has more than one pitch request live, be sure to place each pitch under the appropriate request. Otherwise, the client may miss it.”
To keep track of all the pitches you’ve recently submitted, click the “Ideation” tab on the top toolbar when you log into your Contently account. Keep in mind that you can re-pitch ideas if a client declines them or if they expire. In both these cases, they’re your intellectual property.
The review process varies by publication. While some clients review pitches on a rolling basis, others might wait for the submission process to end, then look at them all at once. If you don’t receive a response right away, don’t worry. If a couple of weeks go by and you still haven’t heard anything, check in with your editor—they likely have an explanation for the delay and an ETA for when you can expect feedback.
Some pitch requests are time-sensitive, so to avoid a last-minute crunch, give yourself enough time to prepare. As soon as you see a request come in, read through it so you can start mulling over your response.
2. Site search the publication to spark new ideas and avoid duplicates
Once you’ve come up with a brilliant idea, take a look at the brand’s site to see if your concept has been covered before. (If you don’t know where the client’s content lives, ask your editor.) If nothing comes up in a site search, you’re good to go. If you find something similar, make sure your idea has a different angle—one that gives the audience a new take on the topic, not just a slight shift from what already exists.
“The biggest mistake I’ve seen writers make is pitching a topic that has recently been covered,” said managing editor Gina LaGuardia. “Taking a few minutes to search a [publication] using the keywords of your pitch idea often turn up any conflicts that may have otherwise wasted your valuable time.” Site searches don’t need to be a manual burden—here’s a helpful guide on how to conduct one quickly.
Getting in this habit will not only help you pin down the best possible ideas, but your research should also give you a better sense of the client’s ideal tone of voice and audience. Speaking of which…
3. Scan the content strategy and guidelines every time
It’s easy to overlook a publication’s content strategy and just pitch an idea that seems like a good fit—but this is a surefire way to miss something important. Managing editors love it when your pitch shows that you’ve read the guidelines and strategy. This demonstrates that you understand the “so what?” behind your idea.
When creating a pitch in the Contently platform, you can find the client’s content strategy by clicking the green “View Content Strategy” box. You can then navigate through Audiences, Voice and Style, and Pillars and Plan using the top toolbar of the pop-up screen or by scrolling. (You can also access this information after a story has been accepted; it’s in the green box at the bottom of a story’s “info” tab.)
Keep in mind that some clients’ strategies change more frequently than others. “Even if you’ve read the strategy before, read it again,” said managing editor Sean Lough. “Strategies change. Audiences change. Tone and voice changes. I recently had a team move from mass audiences to government and policy influencers. The strategy and target audience reflected this—unfortunately, most of the pitches submitted didn’t.”
4. Understand the brand
Beyond reviewing existing content and the publication’s strategic overview, it’s also important to get to know the larger brand identity. This isn’t unique to Contently, No matter where you’re pitching, a business will want to know that you understand the products it sells and the people who buy them.
“The better you know the brand’s business, the better your pitches will be and the better your stories will be,” Lough said, recalling a time one of his contributors pitched a story disparaging a particular type of product—which turned out to be similar to an item the client sold. “Point blank, the brand said that if the writer didn’t know their products, they couldn’t be trusted to write an accurate story. A quick look at the brand’s ‘Our Company’ or ‘About Us’ section might have prevented that.”
5. Think beyond the obvious
Even if a pitch request asks for straightforward ideas, you should brainstorm ways to make your angle stand out. It’s really easy for editors to tell if a writer has rushed their pitch because it usually lacks a strong narrative.
“The biggest problem I see with pitches are simply lazy ideas,” said managing editor Stephanie Walden, who noted a time when she put out a pitch request for a financial services client only to receive six identical concepts. “That article had been published before ad nauseam. If you really want to wow your editor, resist the temptation to copy/paste the ‘who, what, when’ and take a few minutes to flex your creative muscles.”
Walden suggested contributors brainstorm three unexpected details they can add to the conversation on a given topic. Consider some of the nuances that aren’t evident in the top five Google search results. “Taking even 20 minutes to dream up unique angles can go a long way,” she said.
6. Follow the instructions—including that pesky “sample lede”
Even if you’ve pitched the publication a hundred times, take some time to read the request thoroughly. Then, follow the instructions—all of them. Yup, including submitting a sample lede.
“To me, a stand-out pitch contains a strong lede,” LaGuardia said. “I’ve always considered the querying process an opportunity to show a publication or client what you’ve got… Being able to quickly demonstrate your writing prowess alongside an understanding of the publication, and then support that with an engaging [teaser] paragraph is the ultimate one-two punch.”
Farino added that every client and editor has their own needs, so don’t assume that one type of pitch translates across every account you’re staffed on—a travel brand might be looking for something very different than a fintech company. “Some clients may want to see sources you’d use, while others want to see a few related clips to establish your expertise,” Farino said. “Submit whatever details the client is asking for to increase your chances of acceptance.”
7. Don’t be afraid to slide into our DMs
Our job as editors isn’t just to produce content. It’s also to support you as contributors. We’re the conduit for your creativity, and we’re happy to answer any questions you might have. I love it when writers reach out to me to float an idea, because it means I can help shape it into something really strong.
Other MEs feel the same way. “I’ve had freelancers reach out to me via DM to quickly touch base about an idea,” Walden said. “Often just a sentence or two like: ‘Hey, here’s what I’m thinking, does this sound aligned?’ While I can’t guarantee an idea will be accepted, I generally know what the client is looking for, and I can usually give some quick reassurance—or save you the time and effort if it’s a story I suspect won’t resonate.”