It’s easy to see why some communications professionals dread the task of pitching ideas to the media. Reporters can be brusk and impatient and often ignore emails, especially when they’re caught on deadline or being pressed to cover a story that’s clearly not in their wheelhouse. The PR pros who love pitching have a secret: they understand the journalist’s point of view.
The Reis Group has a strong record of getting media coverage for clients by finding that sweet spot between the story that’s good for our client and intriguing to the reporter. When I’m reaching out to media, I find it helpful to remember what it was like earlier in my career as an Associated Press writer to be barraged by unsolicited PR emails and phone calls.
Next time you’re reaching out to reporters, consider these three essential elements to successful media relations:
Target the Right Reporters
Just because a reporter is listed in a media contact database as covering “health” or “tourism,” that doesn’t mean they are interested in a story idea about a health-focused vacation locale. Consider media databases a starting place for building your outreach list. Sending the same pitch to hundreds of reporters who turn up in a search may seem like a good idea since it may reach a lot of journalists; but pitching stories that are irrelevant to most of the reporters on a massive list will only alienate you from the reporter who might be just the right match your next story. Take time to exclude reporters who obviously are not a good fit, then look even closer at names and outlets that remain. A quick online search of the reporter’s name and outlet will give you a sampling of what they’ve covered in the past and provide insights into what and how to pitch them. You can find reporters not in the contact database search by searching for articles on the topic and taking a moment to make sure the idea will be a good fit. Just because a city hall reporter wrote once about an education-related app mentioned at a school board meeting on her beat, doesn’t mean she would write about the homework helper app developed by a client.
Make Subject Lines Clear and Compelling
For any email communication, subject lines are key to getting your email opened. If sending a pitch by email, write a good subject line first. When you’re done drafting the email, look at the subject line again. The subject should be short and compelling. It doesn’t have to tell the whole story. Get the active verbs and engaging ideas into the first few words of the subject line. “Long Company Name is Pleased to Announce…” may get your company or client’s name in there first, but it doesn’t give the reporter a reason to open it. Reporters and editors skim their inboxes looking for good story ideas, and their eyes glaze over when they receive press releases and emails with that same headline and lead multiple times a day.
Keep the Pitch Short and Tailored
Journalists’ most common complaint about public relations professionals is that their pitches seem to indicate they don’t know anything about the reporter or the outlet. As you research reporters and create concise and relevant media lists, make note of each reporter’s specific beat and readership, and tailor the pitch accordingly. Pick out the angle that best fits the reporter and briefly say why you think they would be interested. A few well-written, well-targeted pitches are more likely to get results than mass mailings to reporters who would never write on your topic. When we do our job well, reporters see us as valuable sources and eagerly open emails from public relations professionals who have helped them identify and put together stories that are relevant to their audiences.
With a little imagination and some research, media pitching can be fun and productive for you and the journalist. Take some time to identify the right reporters, to create a compelling subject line, and to tailor the pitch so reporters can quickly see the relevance.
About the Author: Beth Casteel, a former journalist and veteran PR pro, provides communications counsel and hands-on delivery for clients, developing and helping implement media strategies. Read more from Beth here.