The other day I read a blog post about things PR people do that journalists hate. Their list of pet peeves really wasn’t surprising to me, because I’ve heard or read the same basic concerns expressed a number of times throughout my PR career. I’ve also experienced some of those irritations during my days as a reporter.
Their advice to PR representatives when trying to interest a reporter in a story included:
- “Invest the time to understand a reporter’s beat and recent coverage before hitting the ‘send’ button.”
- “Tailor your pitch and have modest goals.”
- “Make every effort to know my readers and my style, be creative, and by all means please, please, please don’t bore me.”
In other words, make the right pitch to the right person at the right time.
One suggestion I didn’t see on the list but which I’ve found very useful is to ask a reporter for advice if you’re new to the industry and trying to get up to speed. I have to credit a former boss, John Van Mol, with first suggesting this simple yet savvy approach.
This is a tactic I use sparingly because it often isn’t appropriate. The more of a niche industry it is, and the more significant a player the client is in that industry, the better this advice-seeking approach can work.
After doing your homework (see the three bullet points above), I suggest starting with an introductory e-mail to the appropriate reporter, saying your agency is representing a client in the industry he or she covers. As someone new to the industry, explain that you’re trying to learn all you can to make sure the news releases and story ideas you send are useful and properly targeted.
You may also want to ask for input about the best way to learn about the industry and the best way to work with him or her. Ideally, you’ll be able to follow your e-mail with a scheduled call during a time the reporter is not on deadline.
Of course some reporters won’t give you the time of day if you make such a request, but some will and the upsides can be significant. Like everyone else, reporters enjoy talking about their work and what interests them, yet few people take time to ask these types of questions before making a pitch.