Straight from the journalist’s mouth: 10 tips to help you with your media outreach
I often write about how to reach out to reporters -- what they like and don't like. What works and what doesn't.
But, nothing is as powerful as when reporters tell you themselves what they prefer.
Here are the top 10 pieces of advice straight from journalists via Twitter.
While some of these sound as though they should go without saying, PR practitioners continue to make the same mistakes—so let these serve as a reminder.
1. Don’t have a “here’s what you can do for me” attitude
“I cannot tell you the number of PR pros that are constantly about the ‘here's what you can do for me’ shtick.”
Why is this a thing? After all, aren’t PR people asking journalists for something? Not the other way around. The idea that some of my PR brethren are out there expecting ANYTHING from a journalist when they pitch a story is truly eye-opening.
2. Don’t send them a “me, too” pitch
“Oh, another annoying pitch: You wrote about [a thing] last week. My thing is exactly the same, will you write about it? Uh. No.”
If they’ve just written a piece about a topic, the odds that they’re going be writing ANOTHER piece right away on that same topic are pretty low. It’s fine to keep these reporters on your radar, perhaps for future pitches, but the timing has to be right.
3. Do tell them why they should care
“Want a journalist's attention? Try to remember we're busy and you need to tell a story. We don't care until you do.”
Or: “YES. Tell me why I should care. Tell me why this isn't some boring company doing the same thing for the 10th year.”
If you don’t spell out a compelling story in your pitch, chances are, they WON’T care—and they’ll move on. Here’s an example of a pitch that might get their attention:
“One thing that gets my attention is case studies: Here's how [our thing] helped [x company] do [something]. That's meat.”
4. Do try to send pitches that align with what they cover
“That's the thing. Today I have pitches for yoga clothing, a children's book, something about roaming fees. I write business/tech.”
So, this can be easily avoided. Simply READ what they write or take a look at their social media profiles and feeds to get a sense of what they cover.
5. Don’t bother with the pleasantries
"Recent PR email: ‘Happy almost Friday!’ These notes take a small piece of my soul away each time.”
Turns out reporters don’t necessarily need you to ask them if they had a good weekend or wish them a happy Friday -- they’d rather you get to the point. Remember, they’re weeding through numerous pitches each day, in many cases.
Cut to the chase, already.
6. Do read what they write
"Another day, another pile of totally useless pitches from people too lazy to read my work.”
It’s a shame some PR people won’t take the time to review what a reporter writes before pitching them a story. This is why targeting your pitches is so important. It’s not necessary (and may be counterproductive) to pitch multiple reporters on each and every idea.
7. Do bother to check your work
“Being grumpy and correcting the spelling on an appalling product infographic a PR just sent me.”
Do you proof your pitches before you hit send?
It’s sort of like tasting your food before you serve it to the judges (yes, that’s a Top Chef reference). If you can’t bother to proof your own work or have no human editor to review it, there are programs that will do it for you, like Grammarly or HemingwayApp. No excuses.
8. Do make sure you have someone available when you issue a press release
“Lots of #PRfail today. Worst offender (as usual) is someone who put out a release then didn't anyone available for an interview. Hate that.”
Now, you may be wondering, WHO does this? But, it’s something journalists do bring up when asked for pet peeves about PR people.
It’s simple. If you issue an announcement, you need to have someone ready to speak THE DAY of the announcement. And probably, the day prior and a day or two after, as well. This shouldn’t be difficult but does take a bit of planning.
9. Do make sure to address pitches to the reporter by name
I can’t tell you the number of reporters who complain about this on Twitter -- just search #PRfail.
You’ll see multiple tweets about PR people who omit names, use a generic greeting (like, “Dear Reporter) or just plain address them by the wrong name—or misspell their name. C’mon. If we can’t get this right, how do we expect reporters to take us seriously?
10. Do have good timing
“I just got my first Christmas press release - let's talk turkey and tinsel. I'm still eating Easter eggs...”
So, it’s GOOD to plan ahead. But, it’s NOT good to pitch way too early -- or too late.
For print, you need to be pitching months out if it’s a monthly publication. But, keep in mind that many publications now have digital versions, and those have much shorter lead times.
You may be wondering how to find these “lessons” from real journalists. Just search Twitter using #PRfail or check @SmugJourno for real-world advice that can help you avoid making costly mistakes in your media relations efforts. Or, if you just need a chuckle.
You'll find Michelle Messenger Garrett at the intersection of PR, content marketing and social media. As a public relations consultant, content creator, blogger, speaker and award-winning writer, Michelle’s articles and advice have been featured in Entrepreneur, Muck Rack, Ragan’s PR Daily, Meltwater, Spin Sucks, Freelancers Union and others. She was named a Top 100 PR Influencer by Onalytica. Michelle was also recently appointed to the board of Women in PR USA.
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