This is a guest post by Andrew Grossman, senior account executive at Lewis PR.
If you work in PR, chances are that you know enough about storytelling to be dangerous. Maybe you studied journalism or marketing. But even the best story won’t land without the work that comes before the pitch, in preparation for contacting media, and afterward to build and maintain the relationship.
Ensure that the stories you share with media have the greatest possible chance of landing and ultimately positioning your agency or in-house clients for success with the below four tips for effective media relations.
Before the Pitch: Research Your Angle
Before you even think about writing the pitch or clicking send, be sure to take a moment to step back and research your angle. This is your opportunity to establish whether the angle has been covered before — and chances are it has — so that you can determine whether you’re trailblazing or adding a new insight to an existing storyline in the pitch.
Saturation of a storyline can vary between media groups, too. Just a little Google Search can go miles toward helping you give media the most relevant and useful information on behalf of your brand. Use insights to shape your angle, inform content and even media targets. Here are some goals to guide you in your research.
- Find the white space. Discover media who haven’t covered this topic, or a question left unanswered by existing news that only your brand can address.
- Show media that you’ve read their news and tailor. You want your reporters to feel like you’ve read what they’re writing, and that you’ve truly chosen them for this story based on what you expect they’d be interested in. There’s no need to lie. Actually tailor your pitch based on insights from your research.
- Create a more complete story. The “perfect story” sometimes isn’t good enough to get covered today, especially when it’s soft news. Find trusted third-party data points, trends and other insights you can weave into your pitch to make it easier and more compelling to cover you.
Before the Pitch: Anticipate Needs
So let’s say you’ve hooked a reporter on a great angle. The work isn’t done! Your media targets might come back to you asking for visuals, interviews, more information, data, background, etc. As PR pros, it’s our job to prepare for these possibilities beforehand and make sure — to the best of our ability — we’re being partners for media in telling a story we’ve pitched.
Quick list of things to sort out before pitching:
- Visuals. Does your reporter often use images? Video? If so, pull some great visuals together to save your media from having to hunt for images in addition to writing about your news.
- Spokesperson availability. What if your story is going to be slated for tomorrow? Are you prepared to get your spokesperson on the phone? Don’t let email or phone delays for pulling availability be the thing that keeps you from getting an interview.
- Quotes and press materials. Some media can write around a press release, or they’ll just want a simple quote from your team. Get your press materials prepared and approved beforehand, so you know what you have to offer and can click send right away.
- Your media may ask you about timelines and plans related to your news. If you’re so focused on the current announcement that you’ve lost track of what you can speak to in the future, you might get yourself into a jumble.
- Third-party experts. Most media will find third-party experts if needed, but if you can offer recommended partners who can flesh out your storyline along with interviews of your own team, you’re cutting out work for media, being helpful and having greater control of the message you’re conveying.
- Questions and answers. It’s always good to take a step back from your news and think critically about the types of questions someone might ask. Prepare your Q&A beforehand, if possible, so you’re ready to respond as soon as possible should questions arise.
Pitch: Introductions and Contacting Media
You’ve done all the work to prepare, but don’t forget that at the end of the day, we’re in the business of working with people! Take advantage of these quick tips whenever possible to ensure your emails or calls are well-received when it comes time to pitch.
- If this is the first time you’re reaching out to media, be sure to take a moment to introduce yourself and the brand you’re representing. Make it clear to the contact you’re pitching what kind of news you intend to share in the future, how you can help them and the resources you have at your disposal.
- Ask questions. Take the opportunity to ask if there’s anything that reporter is hoping to hear about specifically from you already, and if they’re open to discussing editorial interests. They may already have an idea of what they want from you. No need to blindly pitch if they’re willing to tell you what they’re looking for.
- Expressing your intentions. Taking a moment to state that you have an interest in sharing relevant, helpful information, can go a long way toward building a great relationship with media. Remember, there are good and bad PR pros. You want to make it clear that you’re one of the best and you’re not here to waste time.
- Connect on a personal level. Don’t spend so much time “working” that you forget to treat media like humans. It’s okay to wish someone a nice day, ask them how they’re doing and learn about them as people. Build a real relationship and forget about the work for a second. These kinds of genuine relationships extend beyond the beat that reporter is assigned to and can help both of you in your careers down the line.
- Social media. Most major media are required to amplify their digital news via social media. Help a reporter out! Share their news, read it, comment on it, etc. Take advantage of the opportunity to connect via platforms like Twitter, where it’s expected and even encouraged to interact with the wider public, not just close-knit friends. This can help you stand out in a crowded inbox.
- Ask yourself what’s vital vs. what’s interesting. When deciding what to include in your pitch, ask yourself if there’s anything you can save for follow-up. If something isn’t critical, you risk it standing in the way of the information you absolutely need to convey to media. Be the skeptic about your writing and get a second opinion if you need to.
Maintenance: Practice Good Habits and Earn Favor
Remember, reporters and editors don’t need to work with PR pros. At every turn, do your best to make sure it’s clear that the relationship is mutually beneficial. Do favors, be genuine and be helpful. Here are a few things to shoot for.
- Honor timelines or beat them. Work with your media to get them the information they need in advance of their deadlines, not right before them. Think about their schedule. Time is a fantastic gift — the more you give it, the better reputation you’ll have for coming through in a pinch and making their jobs easy.
- Offer and honor exclusives. An exclusive piece of news that’s perfect for one of your media targets can really make a reporter look good with their team, but be careful not to offer anything you can’t deliver on later.
- Amplify news. If you’ve received coverage from media — again — the job isn’t done! Show your appreciation by sharing across social networks, in email newsletters, and in the newsroom. Feel free to send a note of thanks. Do what you can to bring readers to that piece of news. Media are tracking engagement with online news, as well as traffic. If they see your news is getting great numbers, that’s a signal to keep covering it.
- Read and engage with news that’s not about you. Make it clear you’re interested in your contact’s news and that you’re following their beat. In the long term, you might find this kind of effort and understanding leads to opportunities for your clients to be quoted as a source. It also keeps you savvy for pitch writing.
- Bring your reporter in as an expert. Media are some of the most current and savvy when it comes to their beat. They receive pitches all day long about the latest in the industry. If you have an opportunity to conduct a roundtable, you’re participating in a webinar, you’re commissioning an e-book, etc. that fits in their space, look for chances to invite them into the fold and pull from their expertise.
- Stay in touch. Don’t just pitch once and drop off the map. Share relevant news and information about your clients as an FYI to reporters and continue to think of proactive story angles. Your goal is to build a reputation as a fantastic resource for that contact. There are lots of ways and reasons to stay in touch. So keep track of your budding relationships and nurture them!
The most important thing I can underscore is that half of the above tips come before the initial pitch. Taking time to follow necessary steps for preparing to contact media is vital for building great relationships, telling good stories, offering smart and helpful information, and ultimately maintaining a positive perception of the role PR pros can play in bridging media to clients in-house or on the agency side.
Andrew Grossman is a PR senior account executive based in San Francisco, California, where he represents clients from Fortune 500s to startups across technology and healthcare. Feel free to reach out to him on Twitter or LinkedIn, or search for his articles on PR and social media.