Pitching 101: Minding your manners
“Please delete my contact information from your database.”
This is a request Vocus Media Research Group occasionally receives from disgruntled journalists. And it’s not always worded quite as pleasantly. But the reason for their request is understandable: they are weary of receiving untargeted pitches that have little or nothing to do with their coverage or demographic.
The media landscape may have become more dynamic in the last several years, but traditional pitching manners should still be observed. Although Shannon Baker, partner and director of public relations and social media at Gatesman Marmion+Dave Inc., and Menachem Wecker, education reporter for U.S. News & World Report, work in sometimes conflicting industries, the tips they offer on best practices for pitching are encouragingly similar. Here are some guidelines to live by no matter what the vehicle of communication:
Get to know your reporter
Baker: “No matter how you choose to pitch media, whether it’s email, phone or via social media, it’s crucial that you’ve done your research to know who you’re pitching, what they typically write about, and how your client’s story can fit their needs. Get to the point quickly, and be prepared to answer questions on the spot or in real-time. Know your client’s story in and out.”
Wecker: “Here’s another cliché, but read the reporter’s work before pitching. If a reporter is always looking at national stories, do you think she or he is actually going to break the mold just for you and report on the breaking news that you put out a new annual report? It’s important to manage expectations at your organization, and if you want to pitch a reporter who covers trends, maybe you should consider finding out how you fit into larger movements, rather than seeking profiles that just cite your company.
Get to know a reporter’s pitching schedule. If a reporter pitches [to an editor] once a month on the last week of the month, wouldn’t it be strategic to check in then and see if you can help identify trends or news?
Don’t send untargeted, mass emails
Baker: “Stop wasting everyone’s time. You’re wasting your client’s time, the journalist’s and your own.”
Wecker: “I know it’s tempting to have a large media list, but I’m assuming I’m not the only reporter who will recognize your name and email address if you pitch off topic and will create a filter to automatically send your emails to trash. I have to be protective of my email box so I can see the relevant emails, so this is the only strategy I can think of. That said, people whose pitches are on topic and helpful are names and addresses that I recognize and star and look carefully at.”
Relationships, relationships, relationships
Baker: “Too many young professionals make the mistake of not cultivating relationships with the journalists they work with, and they’re missing out. Once you place a story, follow-up with the reporter, thank them and check-in from time to time to see if there’s anything they’re working on that you may be able to provide resources for. Newsrooms are getting smaller, but the need for content to fill a 24/7 news cycle is not. PR professionals have an opportunity to provide targeted, compelling content that fits this need.”
Keep it short and sweet, no matter which vehicle you choose
Wecker: “I’d much rather receive a one or two sentence email that speaks about the story generally than something formatted as a press release. And if I have to sift through ‘for immediate release’ then a line break, then contact information, then further subheadings and indented text, that can make me cranky if I’m already pressed for time. When reporters pitch their editors they need to have a clear story that can be explained briefly, so if you’re in a position to help with that it’d often be appreciated.”
As news organizations scrabble to get the news covered with fewer resources and fewer journalists, PR pros are in a good position to help out. But breaking the above rules will only serve to bog down an already busy reporter.
–Katrina M. Mendolera