Inside the Mind of a Millennial Reporter: The Art of Pitching

Inside the Mind of a Millennial Reporter: The Art of Pitching

An Interview with Inc. Columnist Jeff Barrett

By Heather Harder

We all know the stat: For every five PR people, there is one journalist. With the fast pace of news development, pitching has become both easier and harder in different ways. Contributors have become even more essential to help news rooms fill content.

I spoke with Jeff Barrett, an Inc. columnist, PR and digital consultant and Shorty Award winner to learn more about how he became a successful top-tier contributor, as well as his advice for PR pros who want to pitch contributors.

How did you become a top-tier contributor?

This wasn’t something I stumbled into. Inc. approached me because I’d written for Mashable many times over the course of six years. I never thought of myself as a journalist.

When I first started as a PR professional, it was really difficult to make a phone call, send an email and try to make someone cover something in the business. I needed to be able to create a name for myself and have an opportunity to get myself covered more. So I made a bigger social platform, and places started becoming pretty interested in my writing.

I kind of used the column as an opportunity to build up a name to where I’ve taken a different path to being able to help get coverage for my clients.

How does being a contributor make it easier for you to get your clients coverage?

I don’t write about clients. It’s about credibility and visibility, getting a leg up and a having a talking point when pitching reporters. And it goes both ways – doing an interview for Inc., for example, I understand what the PR person needs and wants.

What are some things to keep in mind when pitching a contributor vs. a full-time staffer?

A full-time staffer is going to be a little more rushed. I would say a contributor is more PR friendly. They’re going to be looking for all kinds of things to talk about.

Ask yourself how you can create reciprocal value. How are you providing value to a staffer? Do you have clients who are good sources? In both cases, it’s more about developing a relationship than it is about developing your pitch. You want to be able to say, “Here are the people I work with and the things I hope to get covered.” Then hope they’ll think of a way to create something. The time spent trying to cultivate the perfect pitch is not as advantageous as trying to create the perfect relationship. It’s the same with full-time staffers.

What are key things millennials like/don’t like when it comes to receiving pitches?

It has certainly become less and less formal. There is greater need to tap into social influencers. It really does just come down to building that relationship.

Pull away as far as you can from press releases. A press release is the owner’s manual. If you bought furniture from Ikea, you kind of need the manual to put things together, but you wouldn’t sell someone the owner’s manual. My process is to build the relationship and have a quick discussion. That discussion might end up being via text, Facebook message or Snapchat until we get to a point where something makes sense. It’s finding people in the channels that make the most sense to them.

You just start to adapt your message and speak in quicker soundbites. If you send someone a novel, it might be a little intimidating and they might just not know what to do with it. You almost start speaking in 140-220 characters. Plus with that approach, that’s less work on your end, then you can build out the release.

The worst thing to do is take three hours writing a release and crafting the perfect pitch. Every client is going to think that all their stuff deserves all the attention in the world. You have to believe in your clients.

When first making contact, do you think it’s better to be overly professional or to show your true personality?

A bit depends on how the relationship started. If it started on Twitter, it can be more goofy and casual. Over LinkedIn emails, you have to be professional. Go with your gut. Generally speaking, I try to get to casual as soon as I can. It’s way more beneficial.

How are changes in storytelling affecting how we need to package our stories?

Everything has a shorter shelf life now. It used to be that you could run things down. I received about 50 pitches with people wanting to talk about United a day or two after the big incident 2017. It was too late. Yes, it takes time to come up with the pitch and the angle. But if you have a relationship, tell the reporter you can talk about United now. You have to be able to capitalize on the first 24 hours. If you see something emerging, make sure you have three to four people in your back pocket to help you out. It’s really like a speed game – it’s like day trading versus investing in stock. Pitching is faster now.

Heather Harder is a communications specialist at RSE Ventures, a New York-based investment and incubation firm. She was formerly PRSSA National President and PRSA New Professionals Board Member. Follow her on Twitter @HeathHarder.

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 (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