Pitches and press releases sound like they should be the same thing.
They're both short, condensed tools designed to capture the media's attention and set the stage for getting media coverage.
But although pitches and press releases have the same end goal, the process they use to get there is very different.
If you treat a press release like a pitch – or if you treat a pitch like a press release – your news story will never see the light of day. A press release is not a pitch, and here are the differences you need to know about . . .
Structure & Organization
A pitch is a brief and compelling presentation of a story idea. It is more loosely organized than a press release, even though they both have to present the main points of the story idea in a very brief period of time.
Press releases are longer and follow a more formal document structure with a header, a title, a strong opening line, and concluding paragraph containing background information about the company and/or business leader.
A pitch does not need to have any accompanying press release; you can write an informal pitch whenever you want and send it to an editor and journalist. However, press releases, when they are sent to a journalist, will often be sent with an accompanying pitch that conveys the highlights of the press release and its news value.
Pitches generate many more PR placements than press releases. Firms that don't get many PR placements often are under the misunderstanding that formal press releases are the only way to communicate with journalists.
Tone & Attitude
Pitches tend to be more informal and conversational than press releases. If it's done well, the tone of a pitch will be noticeably different from the tone of a press release.
Persuasion vs. Information
The biggest difference between a pitch and a press release is that a press release is designed to inform media contacts about a newsworthy item. In contrast, a pitch is usually a more focused attempt to persuade the media to run the story. A PR pitch should still be informative, but its main purpose is to make a case for why your concept should be developed into a news story – not to simply convey information, as is typical of a press release.
Formatting & Delivery
Pitches are often personalized communications, tailored to the specific coverage interests of a specific reporter at a specific media outlet. Most journalists prefer to receive pitches in the body of an email (not an attachment) with the exception of some who prefer a phone call.
In contrast, press releases are often simply put on press release wire services and posted on the organization's web site. The hope is that a journalist will see the press release on the wire service (e.g. PR Newswire) and cover the news. While this used to be an effective way to generate coverage, it's no longer considered to be as effective.