A pitch letter is a story idea sent to a journalist or editor in the hopes of getting media coverage for a company's product or service. Individuals also use them to promote themselves as experts available for interviews. These short letters--usually no more than a page--attempt to persuade the recipient why he should cover the story and how it relates to his audience. Unlike press releases and other marketing materials, pitch letters are written to specific people rather than for the media as a whole. For small businesses, pitch letters can be an effective way to secure media coverage even when competing against companies with larger marketing budgets.

Introduce a Story

Pitch letters are sometimes written as a prelude to sending a press release or full media kit, to explain to the journalist why he should read the complete marketing materials. The sender asks the journalist permission to send additional materials, increasing the chance he'll read them because he already knows how they're relevant to his audience. Pitch letters can also accompany press releases or full media kits, to distinguish them from generic press releases that journalists often discard because they're not tailored to the publication and its audience.

Seek Media Coverage

A pitch letter asks journalists to cover your product, service, project or event. They're more flexible than press releases in that they're not limited to promoting something that just happened or is about to happen. Instead, you can write a pitch letter to ask for a review of your book, even if it's been out a while, or you can introduce yourself and offer to be a source for articles related to the industry you work in. Pitch letters can help small businesses reach prospective customers through the placement of articles in publications catering to their target audience. Pitch letters should pique a journalist's interest and explain why he should cover the story or interview you or your client.

Establish Communication With a Specific Journalist

Unlike press releases and other forms of public relations, pitch letters aren't mass released to journalists and media outlets. Instead, a pitch letter is meant for a specific journalist or editor who covers your industry or specializes in the kind of story you'd like written. While press releases are written for a broad audience, pitch letters are tailored to the publication the journalist writes for, taking into account the publication's target audience. A well-written pitch letter can mark the beginning of an ongoing relationship with the journalist, especially if you cement the personal connection by following up with a phone call to discuss your pitch. This personal connection can make all the difference for small businesses, who may be overshadowed by larger competitors and struggle to attract media attention.

Offer a Call to Action

Pitch letters go a step further than press releases in soliciting media coverage, by offering specific days and times for an interview or by stating you'll call at a specified time to discuss your pitch. Because a press release is sent to so many people, it usually doesn't include specific follow-up arrangements, but a pitch letter is designed to create a dialogue with one journalist. Pitch letters, unlike other marketing materials, may ask for the journalist's thoughts and suggestions regarding the story, including what angle he'd like to cover it from and who he'd like to interview.

Remind the Reporter of a Previous Conversation

If you've called the journalist first to discuss the pitch, you can use a pitch letter when you send supporting materials to remind him of your conversation. Journalists may receive dozens of pitches each week, so reminding him that he already expressed interest in your pitch encourages him to read your pitch letter instead of dumping it in the pile of unsolicited letters and press releases he's probably already received. You can also pitch the story again in your letter using a different angle, to increase the chances of showing the journalist why your pitch is relevant to his readers.