There’s no denying that publicity is crucial for businesses and brands. Every day, PR professionals are tasked with selling in a story for a client to an impossibly busy journalist.
The first thing to remember is that journalists hear from dozens of PR agencies daily. Not only this, but they’re also meeting deadlines, pitching their own stories to editors and generally trying to stay ahead of the news cycle.
Safe to say you only have a small window to impress, and sometimes the sheer pressure from clients to get a story up yesterday can force PR professionals to make crucial mistakes at the most critical time.
If you’ve researched your targets and you’re confident the story will be relevant and newsworthy to the journalist, then the pitch should be easy. Being aware of the following basic do’s and don’ts will not only ensure you do your story justice, but the journalist you’re pitching to thinks the same as well.
#1 DO – Make sure your pitch is relevant to the journalist you’re approaching. It sounds so simple, but it’s such a common pitfall. There’s a reason the most common bugbear in a journalist’s media profile reads: “Receiving pitches irrelevant to me and with no angle”. Pitching a story to an unsuitable journalist is a waste of your time, and has the potential to damage your relationship with them.
#2 DO – Personalise your email. As a former journalist, there was nothing worse than being on the receiving end of a giant send out. Unless it’s a media call or something of a general nature where you’d expect multiple outlets to attend, address the journalist personally. It can make all the difference to them opening your email, or scrolling past it.
#3 DO – Be conversational over the phone. Many people fall into the trap of sending a rapid-fire pitch down the phone line when the journalist picks ups. In most cases, they’re in a noisy newsroom, so if you’ve started speaking without taking a breath, they’ve likely already missed your name and where you’re from – so recalling what you’re trying to pitch them becomes impossible and frustrating. In a nutshell, keep calm and carry on. Speak slowly and give the journalist the time to recall the story you’re referring to. By doing this, they can provide any feedback and let you know if they’re interested or not.
#1 DON’T – Under any circumstances nag a journalist. Yes, journalists are busy and it may take an email or two calls to finally get their attention, but it’s important to know your limit (and theirs!). Many people think the more they hassle, the more chance they have of getting the story over the line, but it’s quite the opposite. In fact, while many won’t admit it, the reality is that if a journalist is interested in your story, they’ll be in touch. Even if they’re caught up and won’t be able to interview your client until later in the week, or even the following week, they’ll let you know. Sending multiple emails and a string of voicemails will not only lose you the story, it may also earn you a place on the journalist’s blacklist.
#2 DON’T – call a journalist when they’re on a deadline. Take the time to research the outlet and gauge a good time to call them. If you don’t, you’ll either struggle to reach them on the phone or you’ll be greeted with a swift (likely stressed) and brutal response, so the story may be tainted before you’ve even had the chance to sell it in.
#3 DON’T – Contact multiple journalists in the same newsroom – especially if they’re all covering similar rounds. Not all journalists are assigned stories by an editor. Most are tasked with building up their own story lists which they pitch to their editor. Having multiple journalists realise they’ve been pitched the same story may cost you the opportunity altogether. If you’ve pitched to a journalist of an outlet and it’s not for them, or they’re too busy to take it on, ask if there’s a colleague they could refer you to.
While it can feel like you’re treading on eggshells when it comes to dealing with the media, it’s important to remember that it’s a two-way street – they need stories too and in most cases (despite what’s written above), they do appreciate contact from PR people. The trick is knowing the balance, remembering that journalists are regular people. By employing a little courtesy and common sense, you’ll be able to build the relationships you’ve always wanted.