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Five things… that make a great sell-in

By Aaron Covington:

I joined the PR industry less than a year ago, and one of the first things I learned was that sell-ins are the building blocks of good PR. A timely, well-written pitch is crucial when aiming to garner journalist attention.


The key to success is simplicity. This, if nothing else, should be your watchword. Here at Five not 10, we may harp on about simplicity, but that’s with good reason. The simple approach is often the best – easier for you to write and easier for others to understand.


Yet, there’s more to the sell-in journey than that. So let’s start with five simple steps…


Step one: find a newsworthy angle

Before you can contemplate writing your pitch, you need to find your story. While your clients will have a multitude of interesting ideas to share, it’s the job of a PR company to find the appropriate angle that aligns with the current news agenda and a journalist’s interest. A story that isn’t topical and relevant won’t receive any traction.


In doing so, it’s vital to ensure the client’s message is woven into this angle. Otherwise, you will end up falling at the last hurdle, gaining a great piece of coverage with the crucial part missing.

"While simplicity is important, don’t fall into the trap of over-simplifying and missing key information."

Step two: pick your style

So, you’ve got your story. Now it’s time to pick your style. What medium best suits the story you’re selling? News works well in short-form, often a press releases or a media alert, whereas opinions and thought leadership read better as long-form articles.


Once this has been established, it’s time to adapt your tone accordingly. Ultimately, any content will aim to inform, but depending on your chosen medium, you will need to adjust the formality and overall vibe of the piece. This then helps inform which journalists you decide to approach with the story, based on their own preferences.


Man reading a newspaper on a bench

Step three: form an appropriate press list

On the topic of journalists, that brings us to step three. A major part of the sell-in process is collating your press list. This is the time to put your media knowledge to good use.

Some publications and journalists prefer a more formal tone, or focus on bylines rather than press releases – pick the ones who are interested in the medium you are pitching. If you don’t, no matter how interesting the story, your pitch will struggle to get a glance, let alone a proper read.

Step four: the pitch

Now we get down to the meat and potatoes of any sell-in – writing the pitch. It’s essential to keep any pitch concise – don’t try to be all flowery and fluffy, as this could be detrimental, deterring some, and potentially even losing the message for others. I remember in school being taught to KISS (Keep It Short and Simple). Ten years later, and this still holds true today.


While simplicity is important, don’t fall into the trap of over-simplifying and missing key information. When it comes to writing a pitch, it‘s often good to keep in mind the "five W's”: who, what, where, when and – most importantly of all – why.

Step five: send out the pitch

Finally, and arguably the most crucial part of a sell-in – actually sending the pitch out. It’s vital to get any pitch sent out in a timely manner – don’t miss the deadline/interest period, or all your hard work will go to waste.


Following up with journalists is also a part of the sell-in process. You may have sent it out, but without a little nudge here and there, it could fly under the radar. Journalists get a lot of emails, and sometimes things can just get missed.


While these five points make for a good foundation, there is plenty more that goes into the process. But you can’t expect us to share all our secrets…


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