These days, most pitching, the backbone of public relations, starts with an email. You spend hours fine-tuning a pitch with your team, before sending it off to a reporter with your fingers crossed. Often it’s a hit, but sometimes it falls flat.
No responses to your initial email doesn’t necessarily mean that you made a bad pitch or that your announcement isn’t newsworthy. Whether you get a response or not often depends on factors that are out of your hands: a crowded inbox, a misread subject line, poor timing, etc.
Clearly, you can’t solely rely on email, because it isn’t a perfect communication tool. You have to reach the reporters where they are (always keeping in mind that some reporters prefer email-only interaction).
Below, are some strategies from Highwire Walkers on how they like to get in front of reporters, and what to do when you get ahold of them:
Phone Pitching — Andrea Torres, SAE
Public relations and sales have one thing in common – phone calls. Just like salespeople, PR people need to be friendly and get to the point quickly to do our jobs well. When pitching reporters, keep the following in mind:
Do your research: Have you taken the time to dig into your contacts? Have you read or at least skimmed recent stories? If not, stop what you are doing – you are not ready to pick up the phone. Before dialing, spend the time to know whom you are calling and what they are writing about. This step will make sure you make a good first impression and that you are prepared should you have to think of news angles on the fly.
Have a plan: Researching your targets beforehand is one thing, but it won’t get you very far if you haven’t gotten your thoughts and key conversation points organized. This might mean creating an outline to guide you or writing out an entire script. The takeaway is here is to set yourself up for success so to that you can get your point across.
Get to the point: If you want to lock in that briefing, don’t waste a journalist’s time; make your point quickly and concisely. This step is easier if you’ve followed step 1 and 2.
Be Nice: PR is all about relationships, so be nice. When talking to journalists on the phone, ask about their day and smile. It might seem odd, but smiling helps you relax and sound more pleasant.
Twitter Pitching — Ben Noble, AE
Twitter is a high-risk/high-reward platform that can help quickly catch a journalist outside their busy inbox. Journalists who frequently use Twitter are likely to engage in conversation and/or acknowledge posts from their followers. I recommend grabbing the journalist’s attention online with an eye-catching message and then shifting the conversation to email.
Don’t jump headfirst into a pitch: Nobody wants unsolicited pitches clogging up their timeline. Instead, offer insight into an article or post presented on the journalist’s feed. Share your perspective, ask them for their thoughts and offer counterpoints to topics of discussion. Building Twitter relationships starts with a courting process. Once you have a proper cadence of back and forth, indicate that you may have someone who can further address the topic (your client) and offer to send an email.
Avoid pitching several reporters at once. Twitter is an open forum and your tweets are public. Spamming journalists will be noticed and frowned upon.
Follow up – but not the same way as you would through email. If a journalist doesn’t reply to your first attempt at conversation, don’t be dissuaded. Feel free to follow up by prompting another discussion. Don’t remind the journalist of your initial post. Instead, start a new conversation to show that you are legitimately interested in the journalist’s perspective. Again, Twitter relationships involve courting. Prove that you are a committed follower rather than a one-off attention seeker.
Pitching In-Person — Lauren Kido, SAE
For PR pros, seeing reporters in-person is like a celebrity sighting: you usually know so much about them, have the perfect conversation scripted out in your head and are a little hesitant to approach them at first. But, whether the sighting happens at a networking event, conference, tradeshow or at your local coffee shop, here are a few things to keep in mind when pitching reporters in-person:
Make it a conversation: Meeting in-person is an excellent way to build relationships for your client, but it shouldn’t all be business. Strike up a conversation about non-work related topics, and if you’re following a reporter on social media, now’s your chance to ask about the new puppy or how relaxing that beach vacation was (just be sure first to note that you saw their tweet).
Ask questions: You’ve emailed, called and tweeted and now you’re chatting face-to-face! Use this valuable time to get a better sense of what the reporter is working on by asking what they’re interested in covering, tired of hearing about and what thoughts they have on industry trends. It’s also helpful to understand how they might like to be pitched in the future so you can pass this information along to the rest of your team.
Have business cards handy: Business cards should always be kept on hand at any networking event. Make sure to write your client names and websites on your business cards so reporters can easily jog their memory when they are sorting through cards at the end of a long night.
Pitching on Twitter, in-person, on the phone — it can all be daunting. But, with some practice, you get the hang of it, and the coverage will start coming in.
Written by Ben Levine, an Account Associate in San Francisco, with help from Lauren Kido, Ben Noble and Andrea Torres