PR Writing: the Pitch Letter & Confirmation Letter

The Art of the Interview:
The Confirmation Letter

We always consider a pitch letter and a confirmation letter together, not separately. They have different purposes, but they work together, not only to schedule an interview but to give it the direction you want it to have.

  • Just as you write a media alert to convince the press you have an event they should cover...

  • you write a pitch letter to convince a producer (or editor) to interview your client on the air (or in print)... and

  • you write a confirmation letter to help "script" the interview to deliver your message.

These suggestions are written primarily for setting up radio and TV interviews, but they work for print interviews as well.

Uhh... I never read this in a textbook

    No, this is a much more sophisticated approach than the old-fashioned way. The confirmation letter is a secret in the profession, and it will help you in a number of ways.

    Remember, the PR bureaucrat is satisfied just to get an interview scheduled. There is hardly any thought given to the results of the interview. But you're not going to be a PR bureaucrat -- you're going to be a PR artist.

    One of the many reasons that you're going to make the big bucks in your PR career is that you have a much more enterprising approach. It will come as a pleasant surprise to your boss or client, when they figure out that you're taking responsibility way beyond what they're used to.

    Keep in mind, the broadcast interview is one of your best publicity tools. You would not think of giving it any less attention than a PSA or broadcast release. Therefore, you will cultivate strategies and tactics to make sure that your message gets delivered.

    Your job isn't done when you've pitched your idea... Think of a pitch letter as your foot in the door -- and then think of the confirmation letter as your real pitch.

Here's the secret of our success:

  1. first we write the confirmation letter
  2. then we write the pitch letter
  3. then we mail the pitch letter
  4. then we telephone and make the pitch by phone
  5. then we email or fax the confirmation letter (30 minutes later)

Why do we do it this way? That's actually several questions in one:

    Q. Why write the confirmation letter first?

    A. Because the confirmation letter does four things:

    • it confirms the details of the scheduled interview
    • it serves as a kind of "script" for the interview
    • it helps you (and your client) plan the interview
    • most importantly, it will help you figure out where and how you're going to make your pitch. Once you've written your confirmation letter you'll have a pretty good idea of which interview targets you can rule out -- and which you can focus on.

    Q. But why write it first?

    A. Because it will focus your planning on what matters most.

      After you've prepared a confirmation letter you'll keep it ready in your word processor. As soon as you've made your pitch by phone, you'll go to your word processor, do some fine tuning in the first paragraph, and then email or fax it out -- about 30 minutes after your successful telephone pitch.

      Q. Should I use email? fax?

      In the course of the call, ask whether you should use email or fax or some other preference in your communications with that media person. Keeping a good record of media preferences will produce, over time, an invaluable PR writer's contact list. Anyone can produce a mailing list, but if you know the "secret" of how best to approach each media figure -- perhaps including cell phone and home numbers, Facebook and Twitter connections, etc. -- you'll have a tool that will also enhance your employability.)

    Q. What's the point of the 30 minutes you keep talking about?

    A. To clinch the sale.

      The point is after you've made your phone pitch, you want to hit them with the email or fax while it's still fresh.

      Also, this will help you "save" the interview, if they discover they've double-booked or otherwise want to change their minds about giving you the interview -- if it's between two competitors, the one who's fustest with the mostest is going to come out ahead. Never take for granted that anything is a done deed -- you're always selling, pre-selling, or post-selling.

    Q. So you write the pitch letter after the confirmation letter?

    A. Yes.

      Once you've written the confirmation letter you're going to find it much easier to write your pitch letter creatively, because you're going to be completely clear in your own head exactly what you're trying to accomplish. (Actually, you can write the two letters in whatever order works for you, so long as you understand the idea is to write them both together.)

    Q. So give me that sequence again --

    A. Okay --

      First we write the confirmation letter

        We do this not only to confirm the details of the interview but also to help "script" how the interview will go.

      Second, we write the pitch letter

        This will make a strong case for why your client will make an exciting interview for the media audience.

      Third, we send the pitch letter

        As already explained, in some cases you might want to phone first.

      Fourth, we call and make the pitch by phone

        The producer (or editor) will by now have some idea of why you're calling and how your idea is a perfect fit with their interests.

      Fifth, we email or fax the confirmation letter (30 minutes later)

        This will help guarantee the arrangement you've just agreed on, and it will be the first step toward controlling the interview to deliver your message.

    Q. I know a PR director who says you should always call first.

    A. That's an interesting point.

      In some cases I will phone the producer (or editor, or a reporter) before -- or instead of -- sending a pitch letter. When I'm doing political PR, stories are sometimes breaking so fast that a phone call is the only way. It's also a good way to "negotiate" the approach to a story -- that is, to see how suggested ideas are being received, and even establish ground rules for an interview.

      And when I'm doing arts PR -- for theater, dance, arts advocacy -- I'm almost always working with the same producers or editors or reporters on that beat, with whom I've developed a symbiotic relationship -- a kind of partnership -- I bring them celebrities or lively show biz ideas and they put them into stories.

      Obviously, if you have a cozy relationship (with anyone, for that matter) a formal letter can be awkward and inappropriate. Except for cozy relationships, however, these pointers on pitch letters should be taken seriously.

    Okay, let's take a look at the "formula" for a confirmation letter.
    Go on to the next page.

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