To connect with the world, you must first connect with a journalist.
by Logan Armstrong, on Sep. 4, 2019
In today’s world, social media serves many purposes — it allows us to connect with new friends, keep in touch with old ones, and maybe check an old flame’s profile one too many times. As a business, it provides your very own platform to put out information relatively easily and in real-time. The challenge is, unless you have the brand power and following of a company like Coca-Cola, Boeing or another business giant, odds are that the tweet you send out isn’t going to be reaching the masses.
In that sense, today’s media landscape is much like that of yesteryear, when the internet was but a mythical figment of the world’s imagination. Getting information out meant sending it to the press, not scheduling it on HubSpot. While there are other ways to get news out into the world (see SpinSuck’s PESO model), there’s nothing like a good ‘ol placement on Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times — and your client will love it, too.
However, it’s never guaranteed that the press will oblige you and share your release — that is, unless it’s an advertorial (something we can discuss another day) — so when it comes to pitching releases or story ideas, it’s enormously helpful to create relationships with the gatekeepers of earned media.
Creating and sustaining relationships with journalists, especially at major publications, doesn’t come easy. They’re busy people who are constantly being leveraged and schmoozed by every PR professional trying to score a quick hit. Luckily, there are a few tips that I’ve received straight from the horse’s mouth on building rapport and becoming acquainted with even the highest-profile of journalists.
“Journalists Tell All: What PR Pros Need to Know in 2019” was a webinar that a few of us WordWriters had the opportunity to sit in on recently. It hosted a panel of three prominent journalists — Tom Hallman (The Oregonian), Chris Elliott (USA Today, The Washington Post), and Megan DeLaire (Toronto.com). The webinar focused on building relationships with journalists and what PR pros can do to foster those relationships. It was an hour filled with informative, well-prepared content (they probably followed these tips on planning a killer webinar). Here’s what they had to say:
Keep it personal
Personalization is everywhere in the internet age. It drives the ads we see online, our social media feeds and even what our searches turn up on Google – but you don’t have to be using complex algorithms to personalize an email. Something as simple as a journalist’s name or publication in your subject line could make the difference, DeLaire said.
Take the time to do your research on who you’re pitching, what kind of stories they write, and if your pitch is truly something they would be interested in, or if it would be better suited for someone else. Look through their social media, and if you like a story they’ve done, share it on your own social channels. Don’t get too personal, though — everyone on the panel agreed pitching via social media isn’t a good idea.
Respect their time
Journalists are busy people, as are PR pros. It only makes sense that a mutual respect of each other’s time is part of the recipe for success. Hallman recommended a tactic that I’ve coined “incremental exclusivity.” In your pitch, let the journalist know that they have exclusive rights to the story, but if they don’t get back to you in a week, then you’ll have to move on. Their time is being respected by offering them an exclusive story, and your time is being respected by not having to wait on a particular journalist for too long.
Another way the panel indicated that they’ve felt slighted in the past is when they feel like they’re just a line on a media list, rather than a respected journalist. If you’re using software to mass pitch (which they, and I, recommend you don’t) and your email opening reads “Hi, [FIRST NAME]”, you can imagine the horror stories that ensue. Your best bet is to create a targeted and meaningful media list, no software necessary.
It’s all about the story
If you’ve watched Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on How great leaders inspire action, this should be no surprise. People are not sold on what we do, but why we do it. The same principle holds true for journalism and pitching. Journalists are bombarded with information. What they’re not bombarded with are stories that move hearts and minds and inspire action. If you’re able to serve a compelling pitch to their inbox that succinctly delivers the why, rather than a pitch that reads more like a thrown-together press release, there’s a much better chance for success.
This may mean that fewer pitches are authored over the year — and that’s okay. Focusing on truly newsworthy events, rather than putting together a paragraph or two on every little thing your client is doing, will free up your time to do more important things and save your pitching targets’ inboxes the trouble.
The panelists’ comments can be boiled down to a few core principles: authenticity, respect, and story – key tenets we follow here at WordWrite. These three things are also major components in what’s driven humanity since the beginning, which is no coincidence. Keep them in mind the next time you’re pitching and let me know how it goes!