As PRs, we’d love more than anything to pick the brains of journalists to see how we can get our story covered. But the reality is, they’re super stretched for time so even getting written feedback on why the pitch isn’t working is unlikely.
Having trained and worked as a journalist at Australia’s largest news network, I know what it’s like “being on the other side.” I wanted to share the key takeaways about how to engage with writers, ultimately helping you build relationships and land coverage.
1) Timing is everything
Emails are definitely preferred to phone calls, and I would recommend sending your pitches early in the morning (preferably pre-9am), especially if you’re outreaching internationally. There’s nothing worse than being woken up at 3 am by a work email so make sure you check the timezone before hitting send.
It’s also a myth that you shouldn’t send your pitches on a Friday or over the weekend. The news cycle is 24/7 meaning journalists work weekends and on Bank Holidays. It’s actually tactical to send pitches during these times as it’s harder for journalists to connect with experts and find stories.
2) Know what your team is planning
In agencies, we tend to work on many accounts across our teams and it can be difficult to know who is doing what and contacting who. When planning the strategy, or even during your Monday morning meeting, divide up the tasks and be clear about who is going after what. There’s nothing worse than bombarding a journalist with multiple pitches from one brand or even worse, sending the same press release to a journalist from two separate emails!
3) Always include an expert in your pitch
One of the hardest parts of being a journalist is connecting with media-friendly experts from all different fields. As a writer, you need to ensure the information you’re putting into the public domain is factually correct. Journalists cover a range of topics so being able to back up their story with an expert can give weight and credibility to the piece.
Find out which experts your clients have in-house and opt to use different people for different pitches. For example, a CEO or Founder may be great for a piece on supply chain shortages but not so great if you’re writing about fashion trends. Find the right person for the right job and if you need to, you can always outsource talent.
4) Check back in regularly with journalists who’ve covered you before
You could be working on five or more stories a day as a journalist so it’s easy to forget about who you’ve covered in the past. I always appreciated a friendly follow up email from PRs representing experts I’ve worked with before. If it was a good experience for the journalist, and you’ve delivered on your promise as a PR, the writer would prefer to go with the same expert again as they know they’re trustworthy.
Touch base with the writer if you have a newsworthy hook, offering up comments from the expert. This will help you easily build connections and secure links without too much work.
5) Keep your finger on the pulse
As PRs, we should be avid news consumers and have a good understanding of what is making headlines that day. If there’s major national or international news, you might want to refrain from sending your pitch or follow up email on that particular day, unless it fits in with the event. There’s nothing worse than getting a call or email under a deadline on a story pitch that would not have a chance of being covered due to major breaking news.
With this in mind, have a think if you can repurpose any old content or come up with new story angles to make it fit within the news of the day.
6) Manage client expectations
In an ideal world, every interview you do would lead to a story so everyone’s time is best utilised. But news breaks or interviews aren’t quite what was expected so stories are sometimes dropped. By being upfront, open and honest with clients you’ll be able to manage their expectations and avoid tarnishing your relationship with the writer by sending follow up emails.
This also relates to product-led PR as writers have to test and review products before recommending them to their readers. A story is never promised, it is just hoped for by both parties.
7) Be judicious when asking for changes or corrections
Don’t ask for a change without a really solid reason for doing so. You can avoid this by fact-checking your press release prior to it being sent out and being really clear with any recent changes to the brand. For example, if a brand has rebranded recently, make the journalist aware of this in your first email instead of following up to have it changed once the story is published.
8) Know your boundaries
Everyone has a reasonable expectation of some privacy, and many reporters won’t forgive you for sending your pitch to private channels and email addresses. The rules of outreach are constantly changing and what was once in fashion as a means of outreach could now be a no go.
Make sure you’re using the right channels and if you do accidentally contact a journalist using a personal email address and they make you aware of this, remove them from your database so it doesn’t happen again. Never DM a reporter on Twitter or, even worse, their personal Facebook account.
9) Be trustworthy
As a reporter, knowing the credibility of who is pitching is always part of their judgment on whether to pursue a tip. Only pitch a story if you know it is factually correct and your methodology is solid.
Having data or research to share can help with this, especially if it is exclusive.
10) Be prepared to deliver on your pitch
If you’ve got a reporter’s attention with your pitch, make sure you respond in a timely manner. At this stage, it really is make or break for the relationship. There’s nothing worse than a reporter not getting back to you before your deadline or finding out the expert is available for an interview…in a month’s time.
Hopefully, this article has given you an insight into the demanding profession of a journalist. The PR-journalist relationship is symbiotic and we want to make their jobs as easy as possible because ultimately, that will help you in your role. Comment below if you’ve got any tips to share with us!