Pitch Perfect: The Dos and Don’ts of Media Relations

Pitching is one of the most difficult thing we PR pros do. Many of us do it every day, but no matter how long you’ve been doing it or how often you’re sending pitches out to media, the rejection, or even worse, the radio silence, are still an unfortunate reality.

Pitching the mediaAs new pros, pitching stories to established media can be a daunting task. “Pitching 101” isn’t a course offered in PR programs – it’s a crash course you take in your first internship or job that requires you to have those skills.

Pitching and acquiring placements for a client is a huge part of media relations and is definitely worth a bit of attention and fine-tuning. Here’s a few tried-and-true tips to make pitching a breeze.

DON’T schedule a press release on a newswire service & forget it.

Sure, PR Newswire is a great way to post a press release and get it mass reposted on some news sites. That shouldn’t be confused with a press placement or earned media, though. It’s an OK way to get the your news out there, but it’s certainly not the kind of placement clients have in mind when they sign up for media relations.

DO try to build relationships with the media.

Everyone is more likely to do someone a favor if they know them. Reach out before you have a client dying for media attention and introduce yourself. Find out how your new media contacts prefer to be reached. Know what they cover and talk to them about what they might be working on in the future. If you can offer yourself as an expert for something already in the works or put them in touch with a good source, you’ll become a valued contact for them.

DON’T send a mass email pitch.

Almost as bad as scheduling and forgetting is sending a mass email pitch to editors and reporters. Think about the general, boring emails that end up in your inbox. Unless they have a super catchy headline or are offering your something exclusive or special, they’re going directly in the junk bin, right? Journalists think no differently. There’s plenty of news out there to cover. If you can’t give a writer a good reason why he or she should be writing about what you’re pitching, what’s the point?

DO your research.

Nothing is worse than irritating a journalist with an email they consider junk. Your pitch may have been perfect, but did you send it to the right contact? If you’re sending out pitches to just any media contact, you’re wasting your time. Make sure pitches aren’t going directly into the garbage by only sending them to people who might be interested. Got a great new fashion brand that you represent? Awesome, but a tech reporter won’t care at all about your pitch or your client.

DO personalize your pitch.

Right along with doing your research and not sending out mass emails, do make sure you personalize each pitch. Make sure all names and titles are spelled correctly and that all other information is correct. Bonus points if you can mention other pieces by the author that are similar to what you’re pitching.

DON’T pitch “just because.”

There’s nothing more irritating than people who subscribe to the idea that there’s an ideal frequency for pitching. There’s no magic formula for how often you should be pitching media, but you should never send out a press release just because you haven’t for a while. There’s nothing newsworthy about saying “Hey, we still exist.” If you don’t have anything newsworthy to say, there are better ways to keep yourself or your client relevant and in the forefront of people’s minds, such as a strong social media presence, blogging, guest posts, offering expert input on other stories your journalist friends might have in the works… the list could go on.

DO pitch stories.

Pitching should really be wrapping the whole story package up with a bow and presenting it to the writer. What’s your angle? How does it tie into other things? Why is this important or newsworthy? All of these are important items to keep in mind and communicate in your pitch. The better you can pitch a story, not a brand or product, the better your pitches will be received.

DON’T exaggerate.

No matter whether you’re pitching, promoting or explaining, it’s never a good idea to exaggerate. If you’re claiming to be the best, the top, the only or any other claim that makes your client stand out, you better have the facts to back it up. If you lie about something and are found out by a journalist, you’ll quickly be blacklisted.

DO keep it short and sweet.

Long emails are difficult to read and retain no matter who you are. When you have hundreds or thousands of emails flowing into your inbox every day, your attention span is that much shorter. Make your point, make it quickly and include a clear call to action. Be friendly and professional, of course, but leave the long flowery prose at home.

DON’T pitch a story the author has already written.

If journalists could recycle stories they’ve already written, their jobs would be so much easier. Pitching something nearly identical to what your contact has already written says one of two things: you didn’t bother to do your research or you don’t know how media works. Offer a new angle or idea that will transform your pitch into something a journalist can work with, instead of tired, recycled content.

DO playback your coverage.

Your work isn’t done just because you secured a placement. Your client or boss needs to know that the effort has a real ROI! Playback your coverage by linking to it, sharing it across social media, including it on your website’s press page or “featured in” section. Get statistics on how many pageviews the story got and how many retweets, mentions and new website visitors the placement generated. If possible, see if you can find a connection between increased web traffic, social media following, content shares, or sales and the placement. The ROI for your media placements will depend on what your goals were from the beginning.

And finally…

DO definitely say thank you.

Those manners your mama taught you are still so applicable. It’s important to remember that pitching is essentially asking a favor. Don’t make it painful by being pushy, rude or indignant. It doesn’t matter how great your client is, unless you have your own media outlet to offer coverage in, you don’t necessarily get to call the shots. It’s important to be gracious and just taking a few minutes to let writers know how much you appreciate their hard work can be the start to a great, long-lasting relationship with the media.

RobynRobyn Rudish-Laning is a graduate of Duquesne University, with a bachelor’s in Public Relations, a master’s in Media Arts and Technology, and currently works as a PR Associate with Pretty Living PR, a boutique firm based in Pittsburgh. Find her on LinkedIn or Twitter or read her PR-focused blog.

Throwback Thursday: Michael Smart on Media Relations

Editor’s note: This is part of our monthly #ThrowbackThursday series, which features a prominent, successful PR pro taking a look back and sharing tips from his/her days as a new pro. Thanks for helping us out, Michael!

Ask almost anyone in PRSA who the “go-to” expert is on media relations, and you’re bound to hear Michael Smart’s name mentioned more than once.

Michael Smart | Media RelationsHe has the inside scoop on all things media, blogger, and influencer relations, and he shares that expertise through presentations, guest posts, his Inner Circle coaching group, speaking engagements and more.

Today, he’s also participating in Throwback Thursday to share that expertise with us! So let’s get started.

Question 1: What is one mistake most new PR pros make when first working with media? 

Being authentic and real comes naturally to new pros when they communicate through social media or when they email each other. But when they start emailing journalists, it’s like they flip this switch in their heads and turn into stuffy-corporate-robot-mode. They start dropping jargon and business buzzwords every other word.  Probably because they have seen bosses and others do the same. Just write to journalists how you actually talk. Well, how you would talk in a professional meeting 🙂 Save the slang, “bros” and “dudes,” and emojis for friends, obviously.

Question 2: As a new PR pro, how did you start building relationships with media?

“Back in my day . . .” ambitious new PR pros used to just call the media. That’s admittedly tougher now. Use social media to get them familiar with you and prove that you have valuable ideas to contribute. But use that as a means to warm them up so that you can actually have a phone conversation. You make such a bigger impact and it lasts so much longer.

Question 3: Many new PR pros – and young journalists – communicate almost entirely via digital. Do you still recommend picking up the phone to follow up on stories?

Oh, I jumped the gun on the phone question. In general, use the phone as much as you can. As for following up specifically, lots of journalists don’t like follow up, and they profess not to like the phone, so that can be a tough combination. HOWEVER, when you have a story you know is good and you know is relevant to a target journalist, and you’ve already emailed her twice, you owe it to yourself to make sure she at least knows about it. So in those special circumstances, yes, definitely call.

Question 4: And, speaking of the digital age, how do you recommend new PR pros interact with journalists on social media?

Generally speaking, journalists say that social media is okay for initial getting-to-know-you, but they still prefer to be pitched via email. That keeps their audiences and competitors from seeing those interactions out in the open. So the best way to interact with journos on social is to react intelligently to their work. Sharing it is a given – to stand out, add a comment or question that demonstrates your knowledge of the space. That’s how move from “random social media reader” in their mind to “potential source.”

Question 5: If you could go back in time and give advice to yourself during your first year in PR, what would you say?

“Younger self, all that stuff you learned in college about communications strategy and planning was great. Hold on to that knowledge for the day when you’re running the show. But right now, your job is to execute. Get the results your boss wants you to get. Build a track record of success. THEN you can start to influence the strategy.”

More about Michael: 

Michael Smart is the media pitching coach PR pros turn to when they want to boost their positive media placements. He’s trained more than 6,000 communicators from agencies large and small, from Fortune 50 companies to regional non-profits. He shares lots of tricks, including suggestions for subject lines that get your emails opened, with people who sign up for his weekly media pitching tips emails.

Three Alternative Methods for Identifying the Right Media Contact

As new PR pros, you’ve likely sat through a webinar or listened to some sort of training for PR software and services such as Cision or Vocus.

Three Alternative Methods for Identifying the Right Media Contact While an extremely useful tool for building media lists and identifying media contacts to reach out to with the awesome story you have to tell, don’t fall into the trap of letting these portals be the be-all and end-all of how you determine who you’re going to pitch or share your news release with.

As an entry-level PR pro at my first job right out of college, I was asked to build a list of media contacts that might be interested in sharing details of the large-scale art installations at an upcoming music festival. Of course, my list included the likes of the local weekly alternative publications and those already who had shown an interest in the music festival.

But it also included Rolling Stone, and Forbes.

My supervisor – and mentor to this day – immediately questioned me on this. Why would Rolling Stone, let alone Forbes, write about a collection of art installations? That doesn’t exactly fall into their realm of the publications’ typical coverage topics.

But I stood my ground because I knew I had done my research. Sure enough, Rolling Stone was the first-ever national placement of my career on the art installations of an electronic dance music festival.

What’s the lesson here? I didn’t use Cision to find these contacts.

Here are three alternative methods for identifying the right media contact for your pitch or news release:

Use the outlet’s search function.

Admittedly, this is easier when you know what outlet you’re hoping to see your client’s story featured. For example, you know you have an excellent finance story.

Head to Fortune.com (or whatever outlet you’ve identified) and search for topics similar to your client. Is the pitch on the state of the economy? On an innovative payment system? Search using these terms to identify who has covered this type of story for the outlet in the past and go from there.

Take to Twitter.

More times than not, you will find a reporter using the method above and find that their email address is as elusive as the golden snitch. This is where social media can be an excellent tool to identify a media contact’s info.

A simple tweet to the journalist giving them a quick synopsis that you want to reach out to them with a story idea and a request to have them DM you their email address can work magical wonders.

Additionally, consider using Twitter to cross-check that the journalist is the right fit. Often times, you’ll find that their designated beat / what they cover is referenced in their Twitter bio.

Ask another reporter. 

Read: this is not to say email or call a random reporter and ask them who you should pitch.

Rather, this is a recommendation to never take no for an answer. As part of pitching or sending a news release, there’s the follow-up phone call. If a reporter turns you down, don’t let that be the final word. Ask them, “Do you think this might a better fit for someone else at the outlet?”

Remember that the person on the other end of the phone is in fact a person. They are likely willing to help you and point you in the right direction.

And if not, the worst they can tell you is no.

These are just a few tried and true methods I’ve found to be helpful when Cision or Vocus just doesn’t have the answers you’re looking for. Do you have another tool or route you’ve taken to find a media contact? I’d love to hear it! Share with me on Twitter at @shandihuber.

Shandi HuberShandi Huber is a senior account executive at Wordsworth Communications, a public relations agency in Cincinnati, Ohio. An enthusiast for all social media platforms, you can often find her pinning her dream closet on Pinterest or posting photos of her new puppy on Instagram. Connect with Shandi on LinkedIn and Twitter(@shandihuber).

How to Build your Media Contact Network

When I started working in my current role at a strategic communications agency, the company encouraged me to find my passion and become an expert in it. My love of writing and a good challenge drew me to media relations.

How to Build your Media Contact NetworkI attended webinars, met with specialists at the company and networked with local public relations professionals to learn more about the art of media relations.

The most important strategy I found in my research is that media relations should be a two-way relationship with the press (Click to Tweet!).

As public relations professionals, we have a responsibility to provide a service to the media, acting as a resource by providing relevant story ideas and assets.

Sure, this is great in theory, but as a new professional—how do I start building these relationships?

1. Only send relevant pitches.

Be respectful of your media contacts by researching what they cover before sending your pitch. Establishing this trust early on will help build strong relationships with your contacts.

 2. Network whenever possible.

Look for opportunities to reach out to media contacts in your community and build those relationships. Get to know them and find out how you can work best together. I met a local news producer at a PRSA luncheon, and set up a coffee meeting with her the following week. She shared her perspective on working with public relations professionals, and we discussed the types of stories she’d like me to send her. (Check out your local PRSA chapter for similar media networking events in your area!)

3. Connect on social media.

Much like the other relationships in your life, social media can be used to communicate with the media contacts you work with. You can use LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social channels to build relationships with the media.

4. Be patient.

It takes time to master the art of media relations and build your network.

 Media relations is not an exact science. It’s all about finding out what works for you, and for your contacts.

What steps did you take to kick-start your career in media relations and build your network?

 About Callie Turgeon

Callie TurgeonCallie Turgeon graduated from Gonzaga University in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations, with a concentration in promotions and entrepreneurial leadership. She is currently an account associate at MSLGROUP, where she works mostly with commodity food accounts. Connect with her on LinkedIn

Five Tips to Fine-Tune Your Media Relations in Sports PR

#NPPRSA - The Edge (1)Good communication skills and strong media relationships are essential for any PR professional to be successful with those they work with, but with the different public relations industries becoming more and more niche these days, there are some keys things to keep in mind depending on which media outlets you are pitching and working with the most.

For those working in the action-packed and non-stop sports and entertainment industries (or looking to get into these areas), here are five tips to keep in mind to help you fine-tune your media pitches, break through with key media contacts and more to further develop your media relations:

Timeliness & Relevance

As the old saying goes, “timing is everything.” In the sports and entertainment industries, this is even more important to remember when it comes to PR and pitching specific media reporters whether they are with long or short lead outlets.

More often than not, unless something is breaking news, it is best to tie your media pitches into something timely occurring that the outlet and reporters are covering (or could cover) whether it a large sporting event (such as the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, US Open, etc.), the start of a new sporting season (like golf and tennis season swinging under way each summer or football season and college sports getting started again each Fall) or anything else that’s relevant so that there is a direct tie-in to the media reporter and their upcoming editorial calendar an outlet.

Keep the Competition in Mind

When working in the sports and entertainment industries and with the media coverage surrounding them, to say it is a highly competitive space for coverage would be an understatement. When pitching various media try to keep in mind everyone else they are being pitched by and those who work with leagues, teams, events, brands, athletes, etc. and try to determine what your best pitch angle is to make you stand out from the rest and break through to the media contact.

In addition to the timeliness and relevance of what you are pitching, think of creative ways to enhance your pitches by determining the best subject line (and one that isn’t over the top or misleading), including images with your text or bullet-pointing information so your pitch helps you get straight to the point.

Don’t Get Discouraged if You Don’t Hear Back

Sometimes I like to think that “PR” more accurately stands for “persistency = results.” Like when sending out a press release announcement to a large database of media contacts (or on a newswire), you don’t always receive a lot of immediate feedback from those you sent it to.

If you don’t hear back on your pitch within an appropriate amount of time (of which there is no magic rule of thumb for), make sure and send a follow-up email or give them a call to see if they received your information. As for cold call media pitching, it seems more media prefer to receive email pitches first before being cold-called with pitches but that once you have established communication or a relationship with them that they are more willing and likely to talk on the phone with you.

Making Sure You Manage Expectations

For those of us who work in sports along with a lot of us who work in public relations, the phrase “under promising and over delivering” is very important to remember.  This applies not only to those you work with/for, but also the media you’re building relationships with and collaborating on coverage opportunities.

When it comes down to things like determining how much time a media reporter can have in an interview or how much time they need to schedule photo shoots, it’s important to be aware of tight timelines and deadlines. It is in everyone’s best interest to be honest and forthcoming about what you (and who you work with/for) can and cannot do so that you are appropriately managing the media’s expectations.  By doing so, this will help you with building lasting media relationships for both the short term and long term.

Keep up with What the Media are Covering

With the integration of social media into our daily lives and almost every move we’ve made in the past five or six years, this has become both a blessing and a curse at times for those of us who work in PR. Social media demands our constant attention (not to mention that sports related coverage consumes about 90% of twitter and all tweets produced daily).

However, social media also provides us an opportunity to follow key media reporters, see what they are covering and determine better pitches to add a more personable touch to connect with them and develop our relationships. While it is impossible to follow every media contact you want to get through to and see what they are covering, for the ones you do follow it allows some extra insight on events they are planning to attend, products they like, things they are passionate about and any other tidbits of information you might not have known otherwise that can help you determine a good tie-in when getting in touch with them.

I would also keep in mind that social media channels are NOT the best or recommended way to pitch key media contacts, but that it can’t hurt to respond to their posts and engage in conversations that potentially could help make you stand out to them when they do receive pitches and emails from you at another time.

About the PRSA Entertainment & Sports Section

Practitioners working in the high-profile worlds of sports and entertainment face unique challenges. PRSA’s Entertainment and Sports Section offers great opportunities to connect with peers who understand your issues and are willing to share solutions. Through in-person and virtual networking events, newsletters and other resources, the Section helps practitioners develop public relations and management skills directly relevant to their entertainment and sports environments.

Natalie MikolichNatalie P. Mikolich, is the 2016 Chair-Elect of the PRSA Entertainment and Sports Section and the Founder of npm|pr (www.npmpr.com).  Natalie has worked with a variety of national businesses in different industries ranging from sports, fitness, health, beauty and luxury lifestyle to non-profit organizations and special events in addition to world class professional and Olympic athletes. Along with this, Natalie has provided public relations services for some of the leading global sports and entertainment agencies. Follow her on Twitter @npmikolich.