I remember myself when I started working at a PR agency and became responsible for media relations for two accounts from completely different industries. When I started I hadn’t had much experience contacting journalists. I had to overcome two challenges. As I said the clients were from completely different fields, which meant bothering unknown journalists twice more. Another difficulty was that I considered pitching media with a press release or a call as imposing. I took most of feedback personally. It would take effort to call or email the next person.
At the same time I saw my colleagues emailing and calling journalists all day long without any problem. They would finish outreach for one client and move to the next one. I thought I was doing something wrong – saying or writing something different that they did.
Time passed, I learned my lessons, made friends among journalists, gained more experience, and developed a feeling for who and when to ask. Now I love to look for new media sources to pitch and explore what new is out there.
First lesson that I learned back then working for a PR agency is to not take any media feedback personally. No one ever means to offend you. Everyone is doing their work. You do yours by pitching media; journalists – theirs by looking for an interesting angle for their next story.
Million of times I received “No”. Now, I never take it personally. Talk to a journalist, listen to what they say, be more persistent. If it doesn’t work, just move on. PR agency work helps in developing thick skin even for sensitive people like me. When I receive a rejection, I say: “Thank you, any feedback is appreciated.” A lot of bloggers would work with me, when I approached them again some time later. Now I have developed a workflow, when bloggers give me access to their blogs to publish news by myself. Isn’t it a great situation for a PR professional?
I remember when a very good design community ignored my message, I contacted five people and no one responded. I decided to contact their CEO, who helped me find the right person and since then they have been my strategic partner by helping me increase awareness and bring major traffic and community to the website.
The second lesson that I learned is to do homework before approaching a journalist. Sometimes info is not relevant, deadlines are different, or journalists are busy with other priorities. Read at least recent articles and see updates on the blog that you plan to reach out to. Think about readers – would you read your news posted by this website, would you go to read this particular news on the website that you are emailing. Think about website or blog, and which section is the best place to post your news. Very often I find a website or blog and it looks perfect to post my news there, but they don’t have sections for the news. In cases like that I would change my pitch and ask to post on their social media channels, as the audience is still relevant to my news. Find another way, which is not obvious from the the first glance.
Following up is as important as pitching media. After a follow-up very often “No” converts into “Yes.” There is always a way to either change mind or continue a conversation, which will help post your news next time. Even if I am told that a journalist is not interested in my news it still doesn’t mean that I can’t check with the same media outlet later. People leave or get promoted, another editor may react differently. It happened to me a lot of times. I had a good connection and blogger left, the person who took that position didn’t take my news on regular basis. I checked with the same website later and a new blogger responsible for interesting to me news section is willing to take my news now. I went though three stages with the same media outlet and it was always a different conversation. Currently I have a beneficial situation for me, but who knows when it will change.
After approaching a blogger or a journalist, another important task is to keep relationships, which is part of follow-up. They post once, but we want them to respond to all our email messages and to take our news on a consistent basis. It’s like keeping a network. I found it very useful to have an organized database in the place; I would call it Media Relations Management. In my current company we customized one of Customer Relations Management (CRM) systems that sales teams usually use. Of course there are expensive and very convenient tools, where everything is updated for you.
It doesn’t really matter what that is, the main idea is to organize your data well with all necessary details integrated. In this case you can keep all your notes and changes up to date. Excel spreadsheets work well too.
The system that I created can by used by multiple users. I update the data regularly by making notes when, with what news I approached a blogger; what they responded. It helps not only me, but also the team that works on the same news or someone who will replace me. My systematic updates help understand a communication flow with the media, the way media outlets operate – how often they post, how often they rotate their journalists, corporate policy, and etc.
I would never have had half of the results if I didn’t follow these simple rules:
- Don’t take it personally.
- Be persistent.
- Follow up.
- Keep your data organized and up-to-date.