by Therese Joseph, Shift PR Fellow
Public relations professionals have to acquire many skills to manage the public image of their clients including a solid media pitching process. The most successful PR professionals most often acquire and perfect these skills through an apprenticeship model. While this model of learning helps PR professionals to learn their skills without ruining a client’s reputation, it also ensures that the people outside of the public relations industry are less aware of how the best PR professionals work their magic.
In the month of September, we will be taking a closer look at some of the techniques we use at Shift Collaborative to work our own public relations magic. We’re starting off our series with an in-depth look at how we gain media coverage by pitching a story. If you ever wondered how we get journalists to care and write about your company, here are a few of our secrets.
1// A newsworthy story
To successfully pitch a story, we need one main ingredient. The story must be newsworthy. Journalists are rewarded for getting the scoop and spotting the trend. If your story is old news or doesn’t have a unique angle of relevance to the public, then journalists won’t care no matter how we frame the story.
In order to be a reliable source for journalists, we have to spot what is newsworthy or not before we share. Otherwise, we risk being blacklisted by journalists as someone who repeatedly shares stories that they can’t use. The danger of being blacklisted is very much like the story of the boy who cried wolf; when we finally have that newsworthy story, no journalist will respond because they have made a habit of deleting our messages without reading them.
2// Compile a targeted list of journalists
A pitch is more likely to be read when it is directed to a specific person than a general editor. Journalists are often swamped with deadlines and have very little spare time. Due to their lack of time, they won’t read information that wasn’t specifically directed to them and they won’t redirect information that was misdirected to them.
As PR professionals, this means we must know who covers what stories at each publication and target individual journalists based on the story we are pitching. These journalists expect us to know what they write about and to contact them with newsworthy stories that are relevant to their area of expertise. Repeatedly sharing stories with a specific journalist that doesn’t match up with their area of expertise can be just as bad as repeatedly sharing stories that aren’t newsworthy.
3// Be aware of media deadlines
Journalists have deadlines they need to meet and require time to follow up on a story before they can publish. Knowing when different publications and their sections are expected to submit finalized stories is a huge advantage. One, if you pitch a story with enough time before deadline, a journalist is more likely to pursue the story. Two, you can avoid irritating the journalist by presenting a newsworthy story that they cannot properly investigate.
4// Craft personalized pitches
Once you have your newsworthy story and a list of targeted journalists, you are ready to begin crafting your pitches. Each journalist should receive a personalize pitch. There are many advantages to this approach. One, it allows you to frame the story with how it relates to their area of expertise. Two, since journalists are looking to discover a story first, they will be more encouraged to respond when they are the sole recipient. They will be eager to grab the story first and attempt to negotiate exclusive rights to the story, if possible. Three, you can reach out to multiple journalists who write about different areas of expertise by adjusting the angle you frame the story from.
5// Follow up on pitches
This can be the trickiest part of the process. As a PR professional, our goal is to secure as much coverage as possible for our story. Increased coverage can be achieved by obtaining multiple journalists to write about the story or by obtaining one journalist at a widely distributed publication. However, every journalist wants to be the only journalist on the story. As requests for information come in, you have to balance the need to secure coverage with the need to maximize the distribution of the story. This can be nerve-racking as responses come in at different rates.
Follow-up can sometimes include a phone call to a journalist a few hours after we emailed a pitch. All follow up communications of this type should ideally be communicated via that journalist’s preferred method of contact. This is why is it crucial to cultivate long-term relationships with journalists so you can come to know such preferences.
6// Connect journalists with our client
When a journalist commits to writing a story, they often immediately want access to the client to ask addition questions for the story. For a news article, this can be as simple as exchanging phone numbers and setting a time for them to talk. For broadcast news coverage, we have to negotiate a time when the client can go to their studio to film the segment on the story.
In these or any other instances, a necessary step of connecting the client with the media is prepping the client to respond to the media. This type of preparation usually includes reviewing talking points, issues to avoid, and how to respond to difficult questions appropriately. Without this type of preparation, a thoughtless quote might overshadow the entire purpose of the original story.
Our next post…
This post was the first in a series of posts taking an in-depth look into the public relation techniques used to manage our clients’ reputations. If you enjoyed this post on media pitching, check back on Thursday, September 18 when our next post, PR Part 2: The Social Frontier will go live. In the post I’ll be discussing the techniques we use to monitor and manage your reputation through social networks.