2020 is finally coming to a close. In its wake is a greatly altered media landscape. PR and journalism sectors have been hit hard, jobs have disappeared, and reporters have become increasingly transient. Even when people do stay put, it’s hard to know whether you can catch them at home, the office, or somewhere in between.
Maintaining good relationships with journalists is crucial to supporting your PR efforts. Having go-to sources you can use on a regular basis to give you feedback (and perhaps occasionally feature you) is valuable for your business.
So, how do you stay in touch with your favorite reporters without coming across as too pushy or annoying? Here are some tips on how you can improve those relationships so that they’re beneficial for everyone involved:
- Do your due diligence. When you want to connect with a new journalist, do more than a broad Google search for reporters according to their beat; read what they’ve written before. Find a theme, tone, or specific piece of writing that resonates with you and use that to make a genuine connection.
- Start a dialogue, without expectations. As in any new relationship, don’t set expectations too high: journalists are incredibly busy people. Reach out with a short, succinct, email that tells the reporter what you like about their work and why collaborating might be beneficial. You may not get a feature story (or even a reply) the first or second time around, but by being authentic, you can build a dialogue that will blossom over time.
- Support existing stories by becoming a source. Several years ago, a journalist connection of mine who writes for the Wall Street Journal mentioned that she was writing a piece about individuals in the number two spots in a company and whether or not they had aspirations for the top job. A client of mine had the exact situation she was looking for: a pair of brothers, one CEO and the other Senior Vice President. By providing a source for this story, I was able to generate press for my clients and further cement my relationship with this journalist.
- Take opportunities to be cited, mentioned, and give quotes. You don’t always have to land the cover feature. Even a simple quote in an article can give you high visibility. The two brothers who were mentioned in the Wall Street Journal got a significant publicity boost from the article—even though it didn’t focus solely on them—and it helped grow their visibility among key clients and suppliers.
- Check in. Every relationship takes time and care. Even if your initial pitch doesn’t end up materializing into coverage (which happens a lot), it doesn’t mean that the pitch won’t hit a home run down the road. So keep in touch with journalists, be helpful when you can, and let them know the relationship isn’t a one way street. Also keep in mind that sometimes your pitch is good but the timing is off. I’ve had journalists contact me 3-6 months after I pitched them who wrote a story when I thought my pitch was DOA.
Three “Dos” for Pitching to Journalists
Once you’ve connected with a journalist, you’ll want to pitch them sooner or later. But how do you throw a pitch that hits a home run? Here are some tips:
- DO modify your pitch based on the angle. Different publications approach the same topic from widely different perspectives. There’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” pitch. Do your homework and get a feel for the tone and angle of a specific journalist or the magazines they write for. And don’t be discouraged by rejection: a story that might not be a fit for one publication could be good for another.
- DO hook the fish, but DON’T overwhelm them. Journalists despise email attachments! Write your story pitch right in the body of the email. Get to the point immediately—a reporter has limited time to read it, understand it, and decide if it’s a good fit. Leave out the long lead-in or the huge file that they probably won’t download anyway.
- DO observe the “3 strikes bow out” rule. Are you allowed to follow up? Of course! Reporters get hundreds of emails each day, so it’s easy to miss one now and then. Here’s my rule. First strike: send the initial pitch. Second strike: send a follow-up email after a week. Third strike: wait 2-3 weeks and make a call. If you still have no response after that, let it go.
If you take anything away from this piece, I hope it’s that good relationships with journalists are not transactional. When you want to connect with a reporter, take the time to understand who they are, what grabs their interest, and even where they hang out (I’ve successfully pitched on Twitter several times). Show that you understand them and are looking out for more than your own interests.
And if you’re rejected? Don’t take it personally. As someone who pitches journalists for a living, I can tell you there’s plenty of rejection involved. But if you’d like some help making your next pitch more successful, let’s talk!