While there are many guidelines for writing a print pitch, it seems like information on pitching video stories is scarce. We spoke to video editors from several publications to figure out what makes a strong video pitch, and came up with these 5 steps:
1. Know your audience.
Keep your publication’s style and content, as well as the section you’re pitching to, in mind when crafting your pitch. A pitch for The Guardian will be very different from one for New York Magazine’s video section, for instance.
Prior to pitching, make sure you familiarize yourself with the videos on the publication’s site to get an idea of the type of content they produce, as well as the average length of their videos and their style. Storyhunter, a relatively new video content provider that works almost exclusively with freelancers, generally takes 4-6 minute videos, for example. Though many editors may be looking for a hard news angle, at this publication, it’s the opposite. Storyhunter CEO Jason Gilinsky says, “We are not looking for hard news; we like to go behind the news. If something is being covered, we feel like we can do something else.” This is the type of insight you’d get by looking through the company’s website.
Clearly, doing your research is particularly important, and will come through in your pitch. It can be helpful to compare the story you’re proposing to one they have already published – not necessarily in terms of topic, but general subject area and style – to demonstrate to the editor that you’ve done your research.
2. Consider your story: Is it interesting? Is it visual?
Not all stories are best suited to video. First and foremost, you have to make sure your story has movement and interesting audio or ambient sound that will make the video come to life. Gilinsky says, “Often we get the greatest pitches for great stories but you have to ask, ‘What are the visuals here?’ For a video story to be great, they have to have things that move and make great noises.”
Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg, executive video producer at the Atlantic, agrees. While working at Current TV from 2007-2009, she commissioned short documentaries for their cable channel, where, she says, she “looked for story ideas that surprised me by revealing something new — visual stories that had to be told through video, with interesting characters and some inherent drama.”
Thus, while the visual aspect is crucial, your pitch should include all elements of the story that you would normally include in a pitch. Storyhunter CEO Jason Gilinsky says that when weighing a pitch, “We look for visuals, characters, the description of the story, the description that you would write as a print journalist, too. We try to look for a nut-graf right at the beginning, because that helps focus what the story is about.”
So, as with any pitch, characters, narrative or a news hook are what editors look for. “The best videos are character-driven and have a news quality to them,” Gilinsky says. What separates a video pitch from print, however, is being able to describe why this story needs to be told through video. Says Gilinsky, “It really comes down to visuals and knowing how to tell a narrative using the visuals.”
3. Include links that show your skills.
Don’t overwhelm an editor with links, but do provide two or three examples of your best previous work, as well as a link to your portfolio. When she receives a freelance pitch, von Baldegg says, “First and foremost, I look for a link to a short documentary where the filmmaker clearly worked on every aspect of the piece.”
“I usually won’t bother watching a reel — it doesn’t tell me anything, unless you’re a cinematographer or animator,” she says.
Make your links count: only link to high-quality work that shows your production as well as storytelling skills. “I look for a baseline of production values — cinematography, audio, music, everything,” says von Baldegg. “I look for documentaries that can stand alone and create a narrative on their own, without the support of an article.”
You don’t need an enormous body of work to have an editor see your potential: just a few impressive clips can be enough, if they’re impeccably produced.
4. Make your information easily accessible.
After von Baldegg checks out a potential freelancer’s portfolio, she looks for an “About” section that contains the journalist’s “contact info, location, freelance availability, etc.” This is essential, she says. “If your pitch doesn’t work out, for whatever reason, I’ll keep you in mind for future projects if I like your portfolio.”
Remember to carefully curate your portfolio site so it’s attractive and easily accessible. If you want more suggestions about crafting your portfolio, we have some here.
5. Be patient and persistent.
“Editors get an insane amount of email and even the most well-meaning, hardworking editors can’t possibly field it all,” says von Baldegg. “The more direct and concise your email, the more likely you’ll get a response.”
Lastly, she says, don’t take it personally if you don’t hear back. “Go make the video anyway, if you can, and send them a polite note with a link to the project when it’s done.” If they’re impressed, they might consider you for a project in the future.