Reporters are bombarded with e-mails and phone calls from PR people every day of the working week. Due to the sheer volume of pitches reporters receive--as well as the fact that many are not relevant, timely or thought through--the majority of e-mails are deleted without a reply, and most phone calls are brought to a swift conclusion.
So what should you do when pitching a reporter with a well-conceived, newsworthy piece of information? How do you make your pitch stand out without being aggressive or imposing?
To gain a reporter's attention and eventually their trust, seasoned PR professionals use some simple yet valuable tools. The following five tips will help you do the same.
1. Instead of pitching, engage in a conversation.
No one likes to be lectured to or have information forced on them, especially busy reporters with pressing deadlines. Instead, when calling to follow up on an e-mail, open the conversation by asking a question. Seek their advice rather than their immediate interest in your news. For instance, inquire about what sort of stories they would be interested in or whether they're the right reporter to be speaking to about your type of company.
Reporters are often willing to help. By asking for advice you're acknowledging the very real possibility that this particular story may not appeal to them. And what you may gain is a more appropriate contact, a chance for a future conversation, or potentially interest in some aspect of your news that resonates with the reporter.
Additionally, if in the course of your conversations, you know a reporter is interested in a specific topic and you come across relevant information, even if it has nothing to do with your organization, send it along. Establishing yourself as a valuable resource will make the reporter more amenable to your pitches in the future.
2. Don't blast e-mails; send individualized communications.
It may seem obvious, but no one likes to receive spam. Personal e-mails are always more likely to receive replies. However, in the rush to contact as many reporters as quickly as possible, people often take shortcuts by blasting a generic pitch to a pre-determined list. While efficient, it's not a good strategy for generating interest or respect among the reporters you're targeting. In fact, a good way to ensure that your communications are ignored is to conduct a blast-e-mail campaign.
Rather, customize your outreach to the individual reporter. Always address the reporter by his or her first name, with a brief yet polite opening remark. Read up on their past articles and reference these in the e-mail. When you show a personal interest, you acknowledge the other as someone worth your time. This vastly increases the chance that they will reply.
3. Recognize deadlines; empathize with the reporter's plight.
One very important factor to consider when approaching a reporter is his or her deadline. Sometimes, despite your best intentions, your e-mail may still be lost or put aside, requiring a follow-up call. Be aware that the volume of work a reporter tackles ebbs and flows; there may be no perfect time to call. You can show empathy with this situation by opening with the question: Am I calling at a good time?
You can also show empathy by keeping your pitch brief and to the point. Don't wallow in niceties, but always be professional and polite. If a reporter is busy, inquire about a good time to call back, or if it looks as though this is impossible, ask whether sending another e-mail would be beneficial. Usually reporters are open to an alternative, especially if you've shown understanding and then listened to their response.
4. Know the reporter and publication.
When approaching reporters, a little knowledge goes a long way. Do some homework on the publication. Find out what sort of reader it's aimed at, where it's based and how often it comes out. Then research the reporter's own articles to assess their interests, frequency of publication and style. These will give you clues as to the type of hook that will capture their attention. When constructing an e-mail pitch or preparing for a phone conversation, highlight reasons why their readers might benefit from your information.
5. Be responsive, even if you have nothing to say.
When you've built a relationship with a reporter based on previous news, there may come a time when they contact you directly. Whether they call out of the blue or are responding to a pitch, remember that a quick response can often mean the difference between having your company's name in an article, or in the "deleted items" folder. Always return messages, even if you can't supply any new information. Besides behaving in a professional manner, you're establishing trust and developing a relationship. And as any PR professional will tell you, strong media relationships are the foundations for any successful PR campaign.
These five tips may seem like common sense--and they are. Even so, most are regularly forgotten, glossed over or put aside in the rush of the working day. By taking extra time and putting in extra effort, you can vastly increase your chances of being heard amid the cacophony.