Media Relations 101

What I’ve Learned From Pitching Journalists for the Last 13+ Years

Photo from the March 27, 2016, press conference announcing Sacramento State’s new athletic director Mark Orr.

“No, my name is NOT Alyssa. And have you even bothered reading ANY of my stories?”

I remember saying that to a PR flack on the phone once, after receiving a poorly-delivered pitch for something wayyyy outside my beat as a reporter. Looking back on it now, I feel bad for being so irritated. With more than a decade of experience on the other side of the phone, I do know how difficult it can be to get a reporter interested in your story. But I find that if you follow these media golden rules, it will make your life a WHOLE lot easier. Here are a few of my tips:

1. Do your research.

Sounds easy enough, right? But many PR professionals don’t even take the time to learn about the outlets they are pitching or what individual reporters are covering. I do feel their pain though — when I worked at an agency, I was sometimes pitching a hundred reporters at a time. AND we had to get media coverage for our client, because they were paying good money for our services. However, it’s worth the extra time to pull together a well-researched media list and tailored e-mail pitches (e.g. “I saw your story about X, and thought you’d be interested in Y”), so that they know you’ve done your homework.

2. Anticipate what they may need.

Building off lesson #1, make sure to offer the right resources a journalist may need to do their story. For TV, lots of visuals. For radio, a great spokesperson or third-party expert. For print, photos, statistics and quotes. Reporters are busier than ever writing for different platforms, so as easy as you can make it for them, the better your chances are for coverage.

3. Choose a compelling subject line.

Make sure to include a brief and interesting headline in your pitch e-mail. Journalists get hundreds of e-mails a day, so if they don’t know you, they aren’t likely to respond unless you get them interested with a good subject line. If it’s an event, also include the logistical details (e.g. Press Conference to Announce X at 10 a.m Thursday). Try to avoid using words like “innovative” and “groundbreaking.” Chances are they’ve heard that a million times! If it’s true, make the case in your e-mail.

4. Don’t call us, will call you (with a few exceptions).

An e-mail pitch is preferred, but I find that it’s OK to make follow-up calls, depending on the circumstances. I usually send my e-mail first, and then follow-up with calls, especially if I am trying to get them out to an event. I find that the TV assignment desks usually don’t mind, as they often miss e-mails or don’t have time to pay attention to them until the day of. (However, try to find out the time that is best to call the desks in your area— for example, I usually shoot for 10–11 a.m., when I know they are in between their morning and afternoon newscasts). And don’t forget to practice your elevator pitch! I usually try to make a few warm-up calls to those I think will be the most receptive, because I find that my elevator pitch gets better as I go on. I usually wait until I have a few under my belt before I go after the ones that may be a little harder to convince (like a national publication that may not know me or my employer).

5. It’s a give and take.

As a Public Information Officer for a major university, I understand that my beat reporters can’t give me favorable news coverage all of the time (although I wish they would!). Building a good relationship with the reporters and producers you work with is key. I try to meet them at their offices, introduce myself around in person, and bring stories with me to pitch. I offer exclusives on stories when I can. I also try to meet with my beat reporters on a semi-regular basis to keep them apprised of what’s coming up on campus for the new semester, and find out their current story interests. I have a PR friend who refers to this process as “relationship maintenance.” Just like friends and family, you need to consistently work on your media relationships!

That’s my top five tips for successful media relations. What’s yours?

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