10 media relations essentials

Connecting with reporters and editors can be challenging no matter how long you’ve been at it. To keep you on your game, consider these adjustments to your approach.

This article was originally published on PR Daily in July 2016. An unsolicited marketing email can feel like a bad pickup line.

There you are, minding your own business, when out of the blue an unwanted, awkwardly worded email appears in your inbox.

Perhaps you feel obligated to respond politely, but often it feels more like an imposition than an opportunity.

Don’t be that guy (or gal) when it comes to connecting with journalists. Improve your media outreach with these simple—but often overlooked—tips.

1. Remain relevant.

Do your research; then target and personalize your pitches accordingly. Make sure your information is relevant to the outlet or person you’re contacting.

Don’t send a press release about a new app to a fashion publication (unless it’s the next Polyvore) nor promote a book to a movie review site.

Once you’ve selected media outlets that are a good match for your pitch, identify the individuals who would be most responsive. This will probably not be the CEO. Hunt their website for a “submit news” link, editorial calendar or masthead identifying where to send which types of inquiries.

2. Follow the rules.

If the outlet you are reaching provides contact guidelines, follow them to the letter. The rules are there for a reason, and not following them could result in your information being misplaced or thrown out entirely.

3. Be interesting and personable.

Spend time refining your text to make it shine. Media contacts get the same boilerplate press releases and emails over and over, so make your text stand out from the crowd.

Play to your strengths. Share facts that are unique or compelling or that prove there’s a viable hook to your story. If you have gotten previous coverage, include links. When appropriate, find a (genuine) human interest element to your information.

Make sure your text grabs attention without any images, attachments or other bells and whistles—these are often stripped from emails by overcautious spam filters.

4. Simplify it.

Make your email as easy for the reader to process as possible: Use bullet points, concise language and short paragraphs. Remember that your email or submission is only one of many your contact will receive—keep it short and sweet. WORKSHOP: Become your own media outlet and apply journalistic practices within your organization.

Put your most important information in the body of your email, and minimize attachments. Not only is your recipient unlikely to open a bunch of attachments, they may trigger their email security system and relegate your email to the black hole of the spam folder.

5. Build relationships over time.

Follow industry leaders and journalists on social media before approaching them with a pitch. Cultivate a relationship by sharing, liking or thoughtfully commenting on their social media postings or content.

Make this process even more convenient by creating a narrowed-down list of industry-specific profiles you can check and engage with in just a few minutes a day.

6. Cast a wide net.

Find contacts at a variety of outlets by exploring a wide range of networks. LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter are great places to start. Tools like Klout, Klear, BuzzSumo and Topsy can help you identify key figures in your industry. These are good accounts to follow to keep up with news in your field, whether or not you eventually reach out to them.

7. Don’t Facebook-stalk.

Private lives are private. Stick to work-related accounts rather than seeking out personal social media profiles and sending messages there. Messaging a media contact at their non-work profile is intrusive (and a little creepy). Remember your manners and professional boundaries.

8. Follow up thoughtfully.

A follow-up email or phone call, particularly if you have something new to add to your story or an additional resource to offer, can improve your story’s chances of being picked up. There is such a thing as too much follow-up. At a certain point, you have to accept that your recipient isn’t interested in your news (or perhaps your contact info is out of date). Don’t be too pushy.

If an outlet doesn’t respond this time, that doesn’t mean it won’t be interested in the future. Journalists may be swamped, or your story may not be the right thing at the right time. The next time you have a press release or other information to share, try again. You can also reach out when a good opportunity—a related anniversary or holiday, a relevant current event—arises.

9. Have patience.

It takes time to cultivate fruitful relationships with contacts. In the best-case scenario, your relationship with a media contact is symbiotic, with both of you benefitting: You gain visibility, and the journalist gets a great quote or story. That type of dynamic getting develops with time and dedicated effort, and ideally, you will be building many such relationships. Put in the time, and plan for long-term results.

10. Be realistic, but plan to scale.

When you begin to publicize your company or product, start small: Try industry blogs, local newspapers and broadcast channels, and the like. Big-name, national news outlets are unlikely to be interested in your unknown product or service.

As you research appropriate outlets, make note of any that would make a good secondary step. Every little bit of coverage will help you to gain the exposure (and experience dealing with members of the media) needed to scale up your future efforts.

Skip bad pickup lines. Play to your strengths. Be polite considerate of boundaries. Don’t be pushy. Have realistic expectations.

What other techniques have you found effective when reaching out to reporters, PR Daily readers?

Deirdre Breakenridge is CEO of Pure Performance Communications. This story first appeared on her blog.

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