Dec 06, 2010

Getting on the Radar: Tried & True Media Relations Best Practices

Over the course of my career, I have belonged to the two sides in the media world that have always had the most conflict – - that of a journalist and a media/public relations professional. Having successfully experienced these two professions, I have learned many lessons in developing a positive and mutually advantageous relationship between what can be humorously described as a relationship similar to “Tom & Jerry.” Tom chases Jerry and Jerry hides. Tom usually gets the short end of the stick and Jerry walks away without a scratch.  But when these two become friends, it’s a perfect match with both helping each other as much as possible.

Many PR pros continue to make the same mistakes when trying to communicate with the media. While some of these suggestions may seem obvious, I’m hoping this post will help you develop a better relationship with a desired journalist or media point, and assist you in taking that first step in your outreach.

“Do I Call, or E-mail?”

Most journalists prefer you e-mail your pitches because they simply don’t have the time to speak with everyone who calls. As a result of too many calls, many journalists just don’t answer their phones. The majority of the media folks with whom I’ve spoken all say e-mail is still the best way to reach them, even if it is becoming more of a hassle to manage.

Target

How many times have you heard you shouldn’t e-mail a pitch to a mass e-mail list? It’s understood why it’s done – - reach many journalists at one time and hope that one bites the bait. It can sometimes happen, but it will most likely be a turn-off for the majority of recipients. There’s no exclusivity, obviously, and it gives the impression you don’t care because you’re just sending the same exact message to every journalist on that list. Do some research and determine who you want to reach specifically. Ask yourself, “What journalists cover my industry?” Read the articles and blogs of the journalists/outlets you want to reach. Get to know what the journalist likes and what he/she writes about most often. Journalists stress, time and time again, that you absolutely must know what beat or industry they cover. Make a pitch that corresponds to their interest(s). It’s detrimental to a PR professional to pitch a kitchen gadget to a health reporter, for example. (Yes, it happens.)  Once you know exactly who you want to target, make a list of their name, title, outlet and e-mail.

Customize the Pitch

When you know who you want to reach, customize your pitch to one journalist at a time. Familiarize yourself with that person’s work and mention an article they’ve written in the past and try to connect it to what you’re trying to pitch. Tell the journalist why it would be good for them to look at what you’re offering. Make the journalist’s job easier. Don’t forget that journalists always want to break news on a new trend or subject of interest for their readers. If you show you care about the publication and the journalist, it will come across in your pitch and the journalist will be more likely to work with you (if not now, then in the future).

“Why should I Care?”

Place yourself in the journalist’s position. Your pitch has to be interesting to the journalist, not to you or anyone else at your company. You’re already thinking it’s a wonderful product or a wonderful event, but why should the journalist or the audience they reach care? Tell them why it’s interesting and showcase how your pitch stands out from the others. If you can provide the answer to this question and show why your pitch is newsworthy, you’re ahead of the game.

Get to the Point

It’s a challenge to get your message across, no matter how you go about trying, but nowadays you must do it quickly and succinctly. Simply put, get to the point. Make the pitch short and sweet. Some PR professionals don’t understand that journalists can receive up to 1,000 pitches a day via e-mail. It’s impossible to read them all, so if you customize, target and make it short and to the point, you’ve got a much better chance than the person who sent a long email without any personalization. Also, avoid hyperbole or jargon that oversells.  Keep the message simple and don’t send any large files. Most journalists deal with an overload of information on a daily basis, so make it easy for them and for you.

Availability

Your goal is to get a reply from the journalist, but it’s amazing how often people aren’t around when a journalist does reach out! Provide a phone number where you can be reached after standard work hours. Also, if you’re in New York and you pitched to someone in California, make note of the time difference. Their afternoon is your evening, so if they like what they see, they may reach out to you while you’re having dinner. Be available.

Exclusivity

The media world is incredibly competitive, so you understand that exclusives are absolute gold to journalists. You need to think this out carefully, however. You need to pitch correctly and decide to whom you want to offer your exclusivity. This means that you will only give a particular journalist or outlet your story. It will make the outlet look good to its audience and make you look like a star.

Be an Expert

It’s vital that you – - or any person listed in your e-mail or press release as a contact – - actually have in-depth knowledge about what’s being pitched.  You must know the ins and outs of the product, the event, whatever it may be. Thoroughly understand what you’re representing. If you can’t answer a journalist’s questions, don’t put your name as the main contact. Journalists need the information when they contact you.

Listen

Once you finally get to speak with a journalist, listen to what they have to say and find out more about what interests them. Even if the journalist decides to call only for an opinion or is interested enough in you that they call you, become someone they can trust and don’t be rude if they tell you up front they’re not going to use your pitch. They very well could reach out to you in the future. Your goal is to get on their radar as a trusted source of information. This will help you build the important personal relationship.

DO NOT…

So, you say you have all of these suggestions down? That’s great, but there are also a few things you should never do.

•          Don’t send an attachment in your e-mail. Most journalists won’t open e-mail with attachments unless they know the person and trust them.

•          Send your pitch in plain text. Journalists will ask you for more details, including a photo, if they’re interested. If they do ask for a photo, please have one ready and don’t provide one that looks like it was taken by a child using a 35mm camera in a dark room without flash. Get the hint? It must be high-resolution and professional quality.

•          Never call a journalist on deadline, and don’t leave a long message. If you know a newscast airs at 6 p.m. and you know the health reporter you pitched is airing a series this week, don’t call them at 5:45. This is why knowing their deadline is so important.

•          One of the worst offenses, however, is calling a journalist immediately after you’ve sent them a pitch asking them if they’ve seen it. This particular “pet peeve” always gets mentioned by journalists. It’s one thing to chase, but if you become a pest and a nuisance, you’re guaranteed to get nowhere … like Tom.

Authored by Evelyn Tipacti, community editor, ProfNet
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