Let’s face it. Earned media coverage is critical to the success of most public relations campaigns. In a recent conversation with Fred Cook, Chairman of Golin and Director of the Center for Public Relations at University of Southern California, he noted that media relations is becoming a lost art. He believes students today are very adept at social channels but do not have the skills to pitch media and secure coverage.
If you’re new to PR or new to earned media outreach, here are five tips to success.
Of course, our first tip is to engage a professional. Media relations experts have relationships with journalists and are accustomed to the back and forth required to get stories in the news. But these five tips will help you prepare to work with a professional or do it yourself.
Email reporters. Do not call.
Use email and don’t spam them. If you send a relevant and timely pitch and don’t hear back, send a follow up email. If there’s still no word, it’s done. They are not interested. I know this is frustrating. You just want to get a response, even a “no” with an explanation but reporters are inundated with pitches most of which are not appropriate and they do not have the time to get back to everyone. Don’t take it personally.
Research. Research. Research.
It’s so easy in today’s world to quickly educate yourself on reporters’ interests. Read a few stories they’ve written so you understand what they like and tailor your pitch accordingly. For example:
Do they like lists?
Do they only quote C-Suite execs?
Do they tend to cover surveys or studies?
Also, take note of when their stories post. If a reporter posts every Wednesday, don’t pitch them on Monday and Tuesday as they’re likely swamped finalizing their current story.
Pitch the story, not your client.
Reporters understand your job…really, they do. But they are writing for their readers and their editor. They are not in the business of promoting your company/client. They need good, solid, relevant stories their readers will find interesting and will elevate their social channels. Granted, sometimes the story IS your company/client (large funding round, new product, earnings, etc.) but a large majority of what we’re doing for our clients/organization is securing coverage between the major news announcements.
Make every pitch unique.
The fastest way to kill a pitch is to copy and paste to multiple reporters or to blind copy a pitch. Often there are a few sentences that can be used for every pitch but your pitch needs to highlight why that reporter at that publication should care about the story you’re pitching. Fast Company and The Atlantic might both be appropriate targets for your story, but their focus and their audience is different and therefore your pitch needs to be different.
Just as they don’t have time to respond to all the pitch emails they receive, they don’t have time to read several paragraphs. Do you? A Today Show producer once told me that if he has to scroll with his thumb more than three times while reading a pitch on his phone, it’s too long and he’ll delete it. (Let’s hope he gets the new iPhone XS Max!)
I’ve been pitching reporters for nearly 30 years and I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I’ve been yelled at in email, on the phone and in person. I’ve spelled a reporter’s name wrong. I did a copy/paste and forgot to change the name of the outlet. I’ve called a reporter on his deadline day.
But the many successes I’ve had are the result of relationships and research -- I knew the focus of the outlet, the reporter’s beat and who their readers are which helped me position my pitch to make it relevant for them.
It’s an art, not a science.