Ah, Public Relations.
But there is a dark side, one that many journalists will attest to – the act of pitching a story for coverage. The frustration is understandable. The incessant hounding, incoherently written press releases, and overfamiliarity, can be off-putting, especially if you’re on a tight deadline.
Let us understand a typical day of a journalist’s job – having to sieve through mountains of emails and pitches for a headline-grabbing story, research, fact checking, interviewing multiple sources, transcribing those interviews, and having to complete at least five to six stories at the end of the week (or day, in some cases).
How do they find their stories if not through contacts, and long, in-depth investigations and breaking news events? Often, it’s because a PR person passed it to them, helped them find the right people to talk to, and ensured they had the right images and interesting angles. Despite what we might say about one another, journalists do use press releases for content, the relationship between media and PR is symbiotic – we need each other to survive in the industry.
I was once the eager beaver obsessed about clinching the cover story. I would follow up (pester) aggressively, and had no qualms about being pushy; not realising that I may come across as insincere and unabashed.
So how do we pitch with grace? There is an art to the delicate craft, which is all about the finer details – picking the right words, and getting the across the right message in the press release, actually knowing your client or brand to be able to convince editors why they’re worth writing about, and giving alternative angles.
According to Social Media Today, and my fellow Mutants, there are a few points to bear in mind for an effective email pitch.
Know your brand, and the journalist or publication you’re pitching to:
Mutant Directors, Joe and Jacqui, used to be journalists from The New Zealand Herald, who affirm that there is nothing more annoying then an “irrelevant” pitch, “Don’t pitch a fashion story to a Food Editor or Foreign Correspondent. Save yourself a bit of time and do a little research to make sure that you are speaking to the right person.”
Keep it Short and Simple:
“Brevity is the soul of wit” – Keep to the point and get your message across clearly with minimum words.
It can’t get any clearer than succinct, concise, and factual bullet points – a journalist’s dream.
Nabeel, Mutant’s Communications Assistant, says that adopting a friendly tone when speaking with journalists on the phone helps, “Also be clear and stick to key points when explaining the reason of your call.”
This is where ‘relationship building’ comes to play – make it a little special and address them by their names. Writers know when it’s a generic cookie- cutter blast. Make an effort to know them, and make small talk about an article they wrote on this week’s paper.
Jacqui says that it helps if you sincerely get along with the writers. Meet them up for coffee or lunch, “I feel more compelled to read an email from someone whom I’m already familiar with. Don’t bribe, or be too needy – be natural, as you would with a friend.”
According to Hunter PR blog, they loathe the question, “So have you read my email?”, so try an alternative approach when following up – offer new and interesting angles, or try and tempt them with……
Giveaways and Freebies!:
You don’t have to force things down their throat for coverage, there is a more passive and effective way for them to relate with your product or client, and offer their readers a reward. Have them review it; send them samples, run competitions and giveaways for their readers.
Daniel, Mutant’s Content Manager, thinks that following up in a timely and tactful manner will do wonders, “Give it a few days before calling to follow up. Be confident and prepared for whatever questions that may be thrown at you.”
Pace your flow of information:
Going back to the first point, keep your message short and simple – don’t reveal too much and try to whet their appetite. Once they bite the bait, furnish them with more details.
Journalists everywhere will start thanking you for this. (You’re welcome!)
Need help with pitching? Drop a message to [email protected]