A year after COVID-19 effectively shut the world down, it’s clear the world and media landscape will never be the same. And while the news of effective vaccines sheds light at the end of the tunnel, we’re far from the end of the road. And we still have a job to do for our clients.
So how do we evolve press pitching for these in-between times? I spoke with a few of my favorite journalists for their advice on how PR professionals can land a client pitch in these uncertain times. Here’s what they had to say:
Read the Room.
With a troublesome news cycle that seems to shift every day, it’s essential to gut check your pitch at every stage of the process. Before reaching out to a reporter, ask yourself if your pitch is appropriate given the news of the day. If there’s even the slightest chance it could read as tone deaf, wait. It’s better to be silent for an extra day or two than to jeopardize an important relationship and potential win for your client with a questionable call or email.
Do a Topic Check.
Changing news cycle aside, mergers, acquisitions and layoffs in the media landscape mean there’s a good chance that your contact may have shifted their coverage focus in the past year. In addition to keeping up with contacts on Twitter and LinkedIn, do a quick archives check to see what the reporter is currently writing. And remember: Now is not the time to make jokes about the state of the world. A quick nod to the current state of affairs is OK, and then dive in.
Do the Work for Them.
To become a true, valuable resource for a reporter, you need to hand them a story on a silver platter. Don’t simply tell them about your client and leave them to figure out the angle for themselves. Think like a journalist so you can paint the picture and provide the resources (interviews, data) to make their job easier. A journalist can easily tell if you’ve actually read their work, because a strong pitch tells them you have taken the time to consider what they write about and how your client fits into that. Remember to focus on placing stories, not pitching them. Start off with “Here’s a headline I think might work for this story,” or “I noticed this trend, here are examples of it, and here is where my client fits into that.”
Think About Freelancers as Small Businesses.
If you’re working with a freelance reporter, consider the fact that they have to pitch the story to their editors and place it themselves to be paid. It’s hard to land pitches these days, and their ability to do so is predicated on knowing who or what their editors do not. They need to bring them something original. Before you pitch a freelancer you should think through whether the story has been pitched to that outlet or editor before. Has the story already been covered in the world? If so, has this client received coverage yet? Be transparent about where you are with the news. One reporter said her favorite PR contact went to the lengths of handing her a story as well as connecting her to an editor at a media outlet who would likely bite — a true win-win.
Bonus PR 101 Dos & Don’ts:
- Do tailor all emails to the outlet(s) and reporter you’re trying to reach.
- When a reporter sends out an email looking for specific information, read the email carefully, and only respond when you have a perfect fit and complete information. Don’t offer something else with the hope it will get selected.
- Don’t follow up on product pitching. A reporter I spoke with compared it to dating, if they don’t respond, they’re not interested.
- Don’t call or text their cell phone unless they tell you it’s their preferred method of communication.
- If you’re pitching something with a visual, include the visual in the email copy.