No relationship is discussed more openly and in greater depth in the Purch newsroom than that between a writer and her “PR people.” Writers here (and everywhere else) depend on public relations contacts for story leads and sources — just as PR folks depend on writers to spread the word about their clients. But like any worthwhile relationship, this one is… complicated.
Here to help us navigate the liaison between journalists and PR reps is Nicole Fallon, managing editor of Purch’s Business News Daily. As a writer and editor, Nicole receives 20 to 40 emails a day from PR people pitching their clients’ news and know-how. Many of those emails result in insightful business profile pieces or helpful tips for startups. Others miss the mark.
So what can PR folks do to ensure that their pitches are well received by journalists? Here are 13 pro tips from someone with a separate inbox folder just for pitches:
1. Don’t “re-pitch”: If I’ve told someone that we don’t cover something and they continue pitching it, I’ll likely just delete those emails.
2. Be flexible: We can’t always write a story exactly as it’s pitched, but maybe there’s a different topic that the client can talk about. When PR people are willing to think outside the box, it demonstrates that they really are interested in helping both the reporter and their client.
3. Listen: My favorite way to work with PR people is when they reach out to me and ask what my team and I are working on. Maybe they have a client who could offer a quote or an interview.
4. Personal is better: I automatically delete anything that looks like a mass pitch and isn’t personalized at all (i.e. no “Hi Nicole”). You can always tell when people just copy and paste one pitch and send it out to everyone.
5. Don’t send spam: I really don’t like “email newsletter” type pitches. I didn’t sign up for that. That’s when I look for the unsubscribe button at the bottom of the email. This happens a lot with company announcements or product updates.
6. Do your research: If it’s very clear that a PR person has no idea what our publication covers, and he or she sends me something irrelevant to small business, it’s unlikely that we’ll have a productive conversation. I consider that a sign that someone hasn’t done their research.
7. Details count: PR people are strapped for time, and journalists can relate to that — but if someone sends me a great pitch meant for another publication (or another journalist), I’m not going to respond to that.
8. Not sure where to pitch? Just ask: Ask a reporter how they prefer to be pitched. For example, do they like being pitched via social media? Some reporters are constantly checking social media and like being pitched on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Others, like me, are bad at checking their DMs and don’t want to be pitched that way.
9. Don’t go overboard: If I see the same person’s name more than once or twice in a week, I’ll be less likely to want to work with them. Every day contact is definitely too much. Aim to pitch a reporter no more than twice a week — preferably once a week or less. It boils down to this: throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks isn’t the right approach.
10. Make a list: Sometimes it can be helpful for PR people to send a list of clients over. I can see what their clients are really experts in, and when I’m working on an appropriate story, I can reach out to the PR person. This makes it a two-way street because now the PR person is available as a resource on the reporter’s timeline, not just the PR person’s timeline.
11. Don’t call us; we’ll call you: Calling someone on the phone may have been appropriate before email became the go-to workplace communication method, but it isn’t anymore. Phone pitches in the middle of the workday are disruptive. Follow up on an email pitch once first with another email before picking up the phone.
12. Treat reporters the way you want to be treated: Calling a reporter’s cell phone outside of office hours to deliver a pitch is almost never ok. Breaking news is a different story, but many reporters don’t necessarily cover breaking news.
13. Steer clear of informal communication: Like personal cell phones, reporters’ personal Instagram and Facebook pages, as well as personal email addresses, are (probably) not the right places to pitch. LinkedIn is different because it’s for professional purposes. But again, before trying one of these alternative pitching methods, check to see if the reporter is ok with that.
TL;DR? It all boils down to this, according to Nicole: “Be respectful of a journalist’s time and space. Try to find a way to balance what they need with what your client needs.”
Stay tuned for the next installment of the Purch blog, which will feature insights on how journalists can make the most of their PR relationships…from our PR team!