Having three decades of combined agency, journalism and corporation communications experience has enabled me to see public relations in action from a variety of perspectives. One of the lessons I’ve learned from interacting with reporters throughout the world is that making the right pitch to the right person at the right time is vital to publicity success.
It’s also important to know how the news media operate and have a good grasp of what constitutes a newsworthy story if you want to have effective working relationships with reporters.
Public relations and advertising are very different, and failing to understand these differences can be fatal to an agency’s publicity efforts.
The following are three mistakes advertising, digital and media agencies often make when dealing with reporters:
#1. Failing to do adequate research.
Whether you’re dealing with your local paper, an industry publication or The Wall Street Journal, you need to take the time to find out which person covers the particular area you are interested in pursuing. Sending media materials generically to “Editor” or “Producer” isn’t good protocol and probably won’t get you very far.
Finding the right person is an important first step, but it’s equally important to research the reporter’s previous stories. Learn all you can about what the reporter covers, his or her interests and reporting style, and follow the reporter on social media before making contact. The more you can demonstrate that you understand a reporter’s audience and story preferences—and how he or she wants to be approached with ideas—the better your chances of success.
#2. Wasting reporters’ time with irrelevant pitches.
In a major survey of journalists, nearly 60% said the relevance of the materials they receive comes up short, citing it as their top problem with PR. Reporters are busy people who work under constant pressure and deadlines; don’t waste their time with pitches that aren’t appropriate.
When presenting a story idea, the most important things you can tell a reporter are who will care about it and why. Get to the point right away because media people don’t have time to hunt through your pitch to get to the news. Be clear and concise, including all the necessary information but nothing more. Here’s a simple test to determine if your pitch passes the “so-what” factor: Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes and ask, “Would this story be interesting to my audience?”
A good story, from a reporter’s perspective, is one that:
- Is timely
- Fits the media outlet’s demographics and psychographics
- Ties in with a current issue or trend
- Is controversial or novel, or takes a contrarian perspective to conventional wisdom
- Has a local angle (if pitching a local reporter)
#3. Writing like an advertising executive instead of like a reporter.
Trying to get earned media by sending disguised advertising or editorializing your story idea is the quickest way I can think of to get your information trashed and lose credibility with the news media. In fact, in the survey of journalists cited above, their biggest concern was that the information they receive is written like advertising, not journalism.
Craft your pitch as objectively as possible emphasizing its news or human interest aspect, or your expertise to comment and provide insights. If you’ve done your homework, you will know the reporter’s audience and area(s) of coverage so you can customize your pitch accordingly.
The more you can provide reporters with relevant, factual information that is timely, meaningful and targeted to their audiences, the more likely they are to take you seriously and provide positive coverage that enhances your agency’s credibility and builds its presence in the marketplace.