There’s nothing like the feeling of reeling in a big hit. Hits, after all, are one of the primary measures of success in our field, and some hits—depending on your measures of success—are better than others.
Let’s face it, when you send the email announcing positive coverage in The New York Times
, The Wall Street Journal
or Bloomberg Businessweek
(or insert your high-profile publication name here), your stakeholders take notice.
These high-impact hits are the elusive Holy Grail for most PR folks, and are often perpetual “brass rings” for many PR programs. The kicker is that most non-PR stakeholders think these should be easy to secure even though obtaining these hits is hard, time-consuming, and often quite frustrating—especially if the brand you’re pitching is not already well known.
High-profile journalists for well-known publications—from top-tier national business press to top-tier trade journals—are busy. With changes in the publishing world and economic pressures, they are writing more and facing a barrage of communications from PR folks.
The key is getting heard above the din.
Pitching the “big fish” reporters is more art than science. If you’re tasked with securing a high-impact hit or motivated to capture one on your own, here are some tips that may help you along the way:
1. Do your homework.
You will not secure a big hit by pitching to any editor@ email address. Know exactly whom you are pitching. This means reading what a specific journalist writes or researching which reporter covers topics specific to what you’re pitching at key publications. Then find out all you can about them by all sources at your disposal—from the publication bio to media databases, personal blogs and all social media outlets.
2. Stay on target.
Make sure you’re pitching something that falls squarely in the reporter’s beat, otherwise you’re wasting their time and yours. Your “news” probably isn’t going to cut it. If your target reporter doesn’t cover news and only focuses on in-depth pieces, pitching your brand’s latest innovation is a waste. Instead, look for big-picture trends that seem to be important to them.
3. Remember the reporter’s audience.
Ask yourself which topics are of interest to this journalist’s readers. Put yourself in their shoes. Look at “most read” and “most emailed” articles for clues.
4. Show them you know who they are.
You’ve read some of their articles, and that’s why you’re targeting them. Pitches that start out with a compliment or a comment about a past article, and offer an idea for a related subject or a knowledgeable source, can go a long way.
5. Pique their interest, but leave them wanting more.
Find the fine line between just enough information and too much. That’s the sweet spot. You may think you’re being helpful by providing all the possible information you can think of in your first email, but it’s useless if it’s deleted because it’s too long.
6. Offer them something they need.
Reporters are always looking for stories. While they get more than their fair share of “flak” pitches, they occasionally look to PR folks for story ideas. They need information and knowledgeable sources that can educate them and provide rich sound bites. If you’re not providing them with a valuable resource, then you are basically just asking them to cover your brand. Don’t offer them resources you don’t have; it’s a recipe for disaster.
7. Every second counts.
Because of the sheer volume of email that these reporters get each day, you only have a tiny window of time to capture their interest. Don’t waste it. The subject line is the knock on the door; it needs to tell them exactly what’s in your email (for example, “Story Idea: The Voting Machine Security Threat in the Presidential Election”) and avoid being vague or generic (for instance, “Story Idea”).
8. Be concise.
Once they open your email, you’ll need each line to capture their attention. Don’t waste words—cut as much as you can. If a line doesn’t add value to the story, cut it. Add links; there is no need to recreate content. Point to it, and shorten your pitch.
9. Always be cordial, leaning toward formal.
While they may not correspond with you using perfect grammar, spelling, and punctuation, they are professional writers and appreciate good writing and professionalism when they see it. Avoid emoticons, multiple exclamation points, informal expressions, etc.
10. Revise, revise, revise.
You only have one chance to make a first impression. Draft your initial email and let it sit in your drafts folder for as long as it takes, revisiting the email until it’s perfect. Ask someone else read and edit it.
11. Be persistent.
They may have missed your first email, so after a few business days, resend it with a nice note. Know when enough is enough—forwarding an email twice is probably enough for a single pitch. If they haven’t responded after that, move on to the phone.
12. If email fails, call them.
There are quite a few journalists who still use the phone. It may be old fashioned, but it’s a great way to pitch. There are a few keys for phone calls. The first is knowing exactly what you’re going to say. Re-read your pitch right before dialing, and know the product, service, and/or company you’re pitching—after all, this one’s going to be live.
Don’t hesitate when you get on the phone and ask them directly if they have a few seconds for a quick pitch. They’ll let you know if they don’t. Listen and get off the phone quickly, especially if they’re on deadline.
13. Never be snarky or rude.
It is not their job to cover your news or story idea, nor are they doing you a favor if they do. It’s a business relationship, and you need to treat it like one. Always take the high road—even if they’re nasty or short with you. You’ll catch more flies with honey.
14. Be patient.
Scoring big hits does not happen overnight. In fact, it can take years to materialize, but when a years-in-the-making hit materializes, the reward is sweet.
Remember the “R” in PR. This job is all about relations—with clients, peers, bosses, journalists, publishers, analysts, partners, customers, salespeople, and others. Your interactions with these “publics”—your stakeholders—is your personal brand.
If you’re going after top-tier journalists, start strong by presenting your best writing with researched information in a concise and professional manner. You will stand out from the crowd—and that’s the first step.
This article was originally published on the Publicity Club of New England’s blog.
Mark Daly is a PR team lead at the Davies Murphy Group and a member of the Publicity Club of England’s Board of Directors. Follow him on Twitter @MarkGDaly.