You know what reporters never do anymore? Pick up the phone when they can see it’s a PR person calling. Caller ID has just about ruined your chance of having a spontaneous conversation with that Widget Beat Reporter at the Journal. And, obviously, leaving a voicemail is laughably old school.

So… if you’re a media relations pro you pretty much have to be able to break through via the written word. Most communication with reporters is conducted today through email or Twitter – at least until you’ve built up a relationship and the reporter will actually take your call. That puts a lot of pressure on those email you’re sending to reporters – if your emails are lame, they’ll get deleted, you won’t ever have success, and eventually, you’ll get deleted too (from your job). To avoid this fate, there are some things you need to know.

However.

Before you start writing, you need to do some research. For eons, reporters have demanded that PR people “read the publication” before sending a pitch. In 2015, this is more necessary than ever before. A poorly targeted pitch that demonstrates lack of understanding has no chance of culminating in a story placement for your organization; it can even turn out to be a negative – vindictive/angry/curmudgeonly reporters have been known to blast misguided pitches … publicly. So begin to dip your toe into the journalist’s world – follow them on social media, maybe even share some of their work that you find especially compelling (don’t overdo it), and read what they’ve done in the past and are working on currently.

To avoid this fate or just plain old irrelevance, you need to have some empathy for reporters and their situation. Journalists today are more harried than ever, and it’s way too simple for them to delete your email without ever giving it a second thought. And that leaves you stuck. Don’t let this happen – do the little things first to make sure that you’re beginning to build a relationship, even if it’s a virtual, social media-based relationship.

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Once you’ve done your homework, it’s time to start crafting your masterpiece. Here’s how to build the pitch email that will break through:

Personalize! Businesses today want to automate everything. When emailing reporters, that’s usually a bad approach. Yes, it can be painstaking to have dozens and dozens of one-on-one conversations, but that’s where the most success will be found. The more you can make your pitch email the start of a relationship rather than a transaction, the better off you’ll be.

Draw them in. You need to strike a chord right out of the gate in order to get their attention. Think about how you engage with unsolicited emails that land in your inbox: If the subject line is truly compelling, you might open the email – but if the emailer doesn’t grab your attention in the very first line, you’re probably out of there. (I know I am.)

Flattery might get you somewhere. Speaking of your first paragraph, it’s a good practice to mention something the reporter wrote recently and say that you enjoyed for whatever reason – goodness knows that their editor rarely gives them praise. Just don’t make it hollow praise; more than likely, the cynical journalist reading your email won’t believe you if it doesn’t seem genuine.

Don’t be too fluffy.  Public relations pros have a long history of embellishing – they called it puffery in my college journalism classes. Don’t overpromise the awesomely wondrous things your organization’s new solution can do. The reporter won’t believe you and you’ll end up doing more harm than good. Remember – just the facts, ma’am.

Provide details, but don’t turn this thing into War and Peace. Your goal is to spark a conversation, not overwhelm the reporter with information. At the same time, there needs to be some substance in the email; otherwise, who cares? Don’t be shy about enlisting a teammate to lend a second set of eyes to your pitch email before you send it to get a better idea of whether you’re finding the right balance.

Ask for something.  Create a call to action. Give them a next step. Let them know where to find your website, and where to call or write. Then get proactive. Tell them you will be following up in the next 24 hours. You don’t have to be specific. Give them just enough time to digest what you’ve written, but not so much time that they’ve forgotten.

The pitch email is just the start. As with any other relationship, if you deliver value you have an opportunity to allow the relationship to grow stronger. The pitch email that sparks this relationship is the first impression you’re creating, so take it seriously. Revisit, redraft and revisit again. It’s how you gain mindshare, and set yourself apart from the crowd. Follow up with a link to an article that contributes to the success of the business, or to one of your blog posts that relates to company operations.