If you work in public relations, then you know firsthand how important relationships with the media are to a business’s success. Not only can quality media coverage bring in new customers, but it can also help organizations build their brand and reputation with existing customers. What’s more, studies have shown that 60% of journalists report that their relationships with PR pros are mutually beneficial.
With that in mind, here are seven ways to be the best public relations partner possible to members of the media:
Do Your Homework
The most successful and impactful media stories demand close collaboration between the public relations professional and journalist, as each attempt to meet their respective goals. Just like homework was essential to learning and passing your classes in school, studying the news and knowing what’s relevant, timely, and engaging is key when it comes to passing the smell test with journalists. In PR, doing your homework means you must follow the news and personalize your pitches accordingly. Reporters can tell a “spray and pray” email from a mile away. It’s fine to craft a general shell of a succinct media pitch before doing the legwork to send it out, but keep in mind you will need to personalize at least the first few sentences—and most likely the subject line—of every single pitch letter.
Before contacting a reporter, your research strategy should include looking into their interests and past work, as well as finding the angle of the news or feature story you’re trying to pitch. The story angle, also sometimes called a “hook” or “news peg,” is the story’s point or theme. Your job when pitching is to make sure your story idea is newsworthy to a particular journalist’s audience. For example, you generally wouldn’t want to pitch a health story to a sports reporter, unless you can find a relevant angle. In this case, a sports reporter might be open to ideas focused on sports injury treatment and prevention—especially if you can offer them a subject matter expert and a local athlete with a personal recovery story. Bonus points if the athlete is a baseball player and the timing of your pitch falls around opening day.
Keep it Interesting
Journalists will tell you time and time again they are short on time and long on deadlines. This means that even if they’re interested in a story, sometimes they’re too busy to cover it. According to a recent report from media relationship management platform Cision, “challenges around staffing and resources” are commonly noted as among the biggest industry challenges for journalists. In an effort to keep up with the never-ending news cycle, journalists are having to multitask on multiple levels: Nearly three in 10 journalists (29%) file 10 or more stories per week; 36% file anywhere from four to nine stories per week; 34% file between one to three stories per week.
Therefore, it’s a win-win for public relations professionals to keep things interesting, yet accessible, by neatly packaging potential stories with a little bow on top. Visuals and quotes not only make a pitch more appealing, but the easier it is for a journalist to write a story—or simply copy, paste, and edit—and the more likely they are to publish it. In fact, more than half of journalists (54%) say they would be more likely to cover a story if provided with multimedia.
Packaging a story requires PR pros to think through and share all of the information available on the topic that we’re pitching. These elements include:
- What spokespeople do we have on deck for interviews? Do we have their headshots?
- Do we have a central “character” with lived experience who can offer a personal perspective on the story topic?
- Do we have a press release with quotes and/or sound bytes that we can send in case the reporter doesn’t have time to do a sit-down interview?
- What are the visuals available for this story? Do we have any high-resolution photos, renderings, infographics, or b-roll video we can provide right away?
- If the story is being pitched to a reporter at a radio station, what background noise or sounds can we provide?
- Are there any recent studies, research, trends, or other statistics relevant to the story topic?
- Is there a call to action or service journalism element—such as a backlink to more information—that we can provide to readers?
Timing is Everything
Anyone who’s been in public relations for a few years knows Friday is the worst day to post a press release. That’s because news that’s released on a Friday, whether it’s delivered on the wire or in an email, generally gets buried or is ignored. By the end of the week, most reporters have already planned out or filed their stories. In fact, recent data shows that, in general, the later you pitch, the less likely a reporter is to pay attention. Bad timing was the leading reason for journalists rejecting pitches (24%).
According to Muck Rack’s 2022 State of Journalism report, most journalists not only want to receive pitches early in the week—Mondays or Tuesdays being the best options—but 67% of journalists also prefer to receive pitches early in the day—ideally between 5 a.m. and noon. That’s not to say you can’t ever deviate from these times/dates, but if you do, you’d better have a good reason and/or weekend reporters, editors, and producers on speed dial.
Be Persistent, Not Pushy
If there’s anything more nerve-wracking than crafting the perfect pitch and researching which journalists to contact, it’s deciding on the right follow-up approach. While the majority of journalists are amenable to hearing from you after an initial pitch has been sent (because they understand even good pitches can sometimes get lost in their email inbox), some may not be as receptive. According to that same Cision report, more than half of journalists (55%) say one follow-up is enough. As far as when to follow up on a pitch, most reporters say it’s acceptable to follow up within one week.
The trick to the follow-up balancing act is to present yourself as a liaison and resource for a journalist’s work—and mean it. It’s generally a good idea to wait at least two or three days after sending a pitch before reaching out again. Give the pitch some breathing room. An exception to this practice is if your story idea is extremely time sensitive and/or earth-shattering. For example, if Beyonce is making a one-day appearance in your city, and is offering interviews to local media, your follow-up strategy may warrant a friendly phone call or text message.
Under “normal” circumstances, when sending a follow-up email, it’s best to acknowledge that the reporter is busy and let them know you’re contacting them again in case your pitch got lost in the shuffle. If you can, offer a valid reason for the second touch point, such as a new development in the story or additional information or assets that might be compelling or useful. If you still don’t hear back within a week, it’s probably time to scrap the initial pitch and go back to the drawing board. But try not to get discouraged—just because a reporter doesn’t respond to your first pitch, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue pitching them with timely, relevant story ideas.
Whether the “yes” from a reporter is immediate or hard won, your response as a PR professional should always be as prompt and efficient as possible. If making sure your pitches are relevant to a reporter’s audience is the No. 1 most important way to be a great public relations partner to the media, reliability is No. 2. Just like we as PR pros want to be able to rely on the media to follow through with interviews and publishing client mentions, they should be able to rely on us to follow through on our promises to provide timely access to quality sources. This means staying mindful of deadlines, scheduling deadlines accordingly, and staying in touch with reporters every step of the way.
Say Thank You
While sending relevant pitches, staying mindful of timing, and being responsive are important ways to show respect for journalists, another way to show appreciation is to say “thank you.” Sending a short, sweet email to a reporter or editor after they’ve published a story you pitched or aired a broadcast piece mentioning your client, just to say “thanks,” and/or “good job,” is the simplest way to convey how much you value their work.
People also feel more motivated when they are acknowledged and praised. When you show gratitude, it not only makes you feel good, but it also makes the people you work with more willing and likely to do something for you again in the future.
Do you need help with your media or public relations strategy? Our team here at Bloom can help you determine which tactics might work best for your organization. Learn more about how we can work together.