Do Not Reach Out to a Journalist Without Doing These 5 Things

Public relations, or simply put, “Getting press” is just another tool in your marketing toolbox. It is not a strategy, it should not be your goal, but it absolutely should be something to which you dedicate some thought and resources.

Unfortunately, however, too many entrepreneurs, and even PR agencies just don’t get it. Pitching a journalist should not be about convincing them to write, nor should it be about annoying them till they agree to write, or in most cases, tell you to go away. 

There are several things you can do before you even send that initial message or jump on that first call. Once you do have that initial contact, there are several things you need to do to increase your chances of coverage, which is the goal here. 

Know who you’re talking to.

This point is not unique to PR, it is true about all marketing and all communication, in fact. Do your research, come prepared. Who is this journalist you are about to pitch? What are her interests? What does she tweet about? What is she passionate about? 

This is important for one of two reasons. Either you can leverage that information to speak the same language and create common ground during that call or, alternatively, you can reach the conclusion that this is actually not the right person to speak to, thereby saving your time and theirs.

Know your audience. A good rule of thumb for life.

Know not just the person, but also their work.

Once you did your research and you are confident that you know the journalists areas of interest, now it’s time to do some more research, not on the journalists interests, but on their work.

Do they write about AI, fintech, autonomous cars, all of the above? Is this story even remotely relevant to their areas of coverage? 

I have to admit that not many things are more frustrating than having to respond to a pitch with “Why are you sending me this? Have you seen any of my work? Why did you think this is relevant in any way, shape, or form?”

Studying their previous work before pitching not only gives you a solid response when they say “This isn’t relevant for me”, but it also gives you a good starting point for your pitch. I saw you wrote about insurance last week, so I thought I would tell you about this new insurance story.”

Come prepared, or as my dad likes to say “Think ahead or get one.”

Don’t fool anyone.

If you think pitching without transparency is a good idea, you are in for a very painful surprise. I have gotten hundreds of pitches over the years and the person sending the pitch so conveniently forgot to mention that they are being paid by the company. 

“I thought you should know about this amazing new technology…”

I always respond “Do you work with them?” If the answer is yes, my immediate assumption is that I am dealing with a dishonest individual, and that is the end of the conversation, now and maybe in the future, as well.

Be transparent. People appreciate that.

Follow up.

If this isn’t important to you, why would it be to me?

Just this morning I sent an email to a journalist I was pitching along the lines of “I hope you had a good weekend, just making sure this didn’t get buried in your inbox” and I forwarded all the materials I had sent them a few days earlier and to which I received no response.

You know what he replied? “Yes, I did miss this. Thanks for sending again. I will cover this story.”

Had I not sent that follow up, this would have ended up buried and with no coverage. It took 20 seconds to send that follow up and it ended up accomplishing its goals.

Be systematic in your pitching and follow up on your initial message.

Be respectful and appreciative.

Over the years when I would get coverage for a startup, I would immediately contact the journalist to thank them for the article. In 98% of cases, they would respond with, “No, thank you for the story”. That confused me. Why were they thanking me?

Then it hit me. Just like I need the press for my startup, the journalist needs me for a story. Give them a good story and you are helping them do their job just like they are helping you do yours.

This is an important lesson to remember when pitching the press. Give them a good story and assuming they are not overwhelmed with stories, there is no reason they won’t cover it.

Once they do, do not forget to show tour appreciation both privately and publicly. Include them in your tweets and posts, and assuming you like the piece, let them know that. 

At the end of the day, the person on the other side of that keyboard is a person trying hard to do their best work. Just like you.

Hope Hicks Gives Public Relations a Bad Name. Here’s How to Keep Your Company’s Credibility in Check

Flacks. Spinmeisters. Yes-men (and women). That’s how the outside world perceives public relations professionals. Outgoing White House Communications Hope Hicks did us no favors this week when she admitted in congressional testimony that she’s told “white lies” on behalf of her boss, President Donald Trump. The next day she resigned.

But PR isn’t about spin or lies or smoke and mirrors any more than The New York Times is “fake news.”

Many times it’s the PR pros who are the conscience of an organization. We counsel senior leaders and C-suite executives to do and say the right things and be transparent not because it will make our organization look good, but because it’s the right thing to do. We push legal departments to let us say more than they’d like us to in public statements.

It makes sense if you think about it. Many PR professionals, myself included, are former journalists. We come into the profession because of our love of news and information sharing and truth telling — and, yes, because it’s a bit more stable than the news biz. Honest and the free flow of truthful information are core to the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics

study published in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics, showed that more PR professionals understand it’s their responsibility to champion truth and integrity for the good of the organization. That desire and ability to offer PR counsel in ways that honor truth and transparency have earned PR a “seat at the table,” right next to all the other C-suite execs. Companies have come to understand they need honest, frank, truthful PR counsel at all times, not just when there’s a proverbial fire to put out.

Look, I wouldn’t be in this business if I had to lie to do my job. And I wouldn’t be good at my job if I lied. See how that works?

That’s because PR isn’t just about information, it’s about relationships — with journalists, with stakeholders, with the public. And relationships aren’t built on lies.

I like how PRSA chairman Anthony D’Angelo put it in an op-ed published last month in the L.A. Times.

“We won’t lie or mislead. We play fair. Basically, we don’t do anything that we wouldn‘t want to have widely reported by the news media. Operating that way is the right thing to do, and it builds trust with our clients, employers and the news media–which is good for business as well.”

Companies should want to hire PR pros who value the truth. We know how to navigate crises without lying. We help executives be the best leaders they can be. We mitigate risk. We know there are many ways to tell a story, but it always starts with the facts. Most organizations get this.

After all, if lying was the way to get ahead in PR, perhaps Hicks would still have a job.

Don’t Quit Your PR Program Unless You’ve Considered These 3 Things

Whether you are looking to gain awareness, improve SEO, or increase sales, having great exposure can help you get there. But PR is not a band-aid for an overarching business problem–nor is it a get rich fast technique.

A great PR strategy can take many years to build. Over the years, I’ve seen many companies start their efforts, only to stop before they’ve given the program enough time to develop. I’ve heard dozens of marketers and founders explain that they quit their PR efforts after their pitch didn’t get picked up by enough outlets in the first few week. Gaining great coverage takes time, pitch optimization, and persistence.

Often times, if a brand could have taken a step back after a rejected story to tweak their angle and try again, the second story they pitch could have been widely successful. Here’s why you shouldn’t throw in the towel for your PR outreach just yet:

1. Relationships take time to build.

Imagine you are at a party. You immediately start talking about you, your business, and your news. Very quickly, many people will not want to talk with you.

The same holds true when you’re building relationships with the media. It takes time to get to know a reporter and what they are writing about and then creating relevant pitches that are helpful to them. When you build trust and rapport with reporters, they’ll be more likely to open your emails, which is the first step to gaining great coverage.

You can build a better relationship with reporters by becoming well versed with their past writings and looking for opportunities to tell them stories of interest. Take a look through their Twitter accounts and personal websites to learn more about what they’re covering and the news that is important to them.

When you reach out to a reporter for the first time, show them that you are knowledgeable about their area of coverage and that your story fits their angle. When we reach out to reporters we make sure to spend time reading their past work to ensure our pitch is the right fit for their area of expertise.  It can be easy to burn a press bridge simply by not personalizing an email enough–take your time, do your research, and get to know reporters for the long term. Slow and steady wins the race.

2. SEO is a long-term game.

When you receive a press mention, you’ll likely see a spike in traffic on the day it’s published–but don’t discount the future traffic. If you are a mattress company and you get listed as “The Best Mattresses Ever Made,” you’ll benefit from both the spike and also later from people who are searching for mattresses and come across the article. Traffic from press articles should be monitored for months to come, even after publication.

An authoritative link will not only drive traffic, but will also help your website in the search engine rankings. This boost will not happen instantly. With time and relevant inbound links, you’ll see not just your referral traffic grow, but also your organic search traffic from Google.

3. Press takes commitment–and a bit of luck.

It takes a while to learn about the best way to pitch your product. Each time you pitch, you’ll learn more about what copy and message resonates with reporters.

If you’re not seeing any success, it does not mean you don’t have an interesting story. It might mean you are pitching to the wrong reporters, your email subject line needs work, or you simply didn’t follow up.

By tracking your emails with a tool like SideKick or Yesware, you’ll be better able to see who is opening your mails, what they’re clicking on, and how many times they went back to the email. You can use this data to refine your pitch the next time. With the media always changing, it also takes a bit of luck to pitch at the right time to the right reporter with the right story.

Pitching takes a strong backbone and you’ll get a lot of rejections. If you haven’t had success yet, keep trying. And if you’ve been pitching for months with still no results, it might be time to call in a PR pro to help you optimize your pitch and press kit.

If you’re looking to reap the benefits of the press, start early, optimize often, and plan your strategy for the long haul. This time next year, you’ll be glad you stuck with it.