Last week, I wrote a story detailing common habits among public relations professionals that make journalists’ eyes roll. Now that you know what not to do, I want to point out what you should be doing.
Good PR delivers real news and develops real relationships. Sometimes we all need to dial back the hyperbole, tone down the spin, and get back to the basics of media relations.
Here are 10 tips that will keep your pitches out of journalists’ digital trash cans and will help you become a journalist’s ally, not an annoyance.
Start with a strong pitch. Just like a good news story, a good news pitch takes a little research and legwork. Every day journalists see a slew of mass-emailed, off-topic, long, error-filled pitches with no news hook. Be clear, concise, and customized, add bullets and links that support a current news angle or trending topic, and you will offer something of real value.
Make a localized national pitch. Every morning in newsrooms across the nation, editors ask reporters to get a local angle on a national story. A public relations pro with an eye for research and a knack for sniffing out a good news angle can capitalize on this by getting their clients into local news reports when a national event or trend hits in a client’s area of expertise. A good example of this would be the recent Paula Deen debacle. Take that nationally trending news story; pair it with a local doctor, a university professor, and a local Type 2 diabetic; and pitch it to your local news outlet as your community’s response. Provide statistics (local and national if possible), along with interview information.
Deliver a pitch that’s full of facts. Of course your client thinks his or her product is “innovative, exciting” and my favorite “one-of-a-kind,” but chances are it’s none of those things—at least to journalists. What might interest a reporter is supporting information. We work with a Facebook application that creates custom tabs, and we often use infographics created from surveys and back-end user information. We are not just telling the journalists how many people use our platform, we are showing them why and how and putting an actual number to it.
Read a journalist’s work. This is PR 101. Read before you pitch. Better yet, go back a year or so and make sure the journalists you are pitching didn’t already do a round up on cloud computing services six months before you pitch it. This enables you to start the conversation with:
“I read your roundup on cloud computing six months ago, and I’ve been using SugarSync ever since. Since your last article there have been some great cloud computing apps developed for the iPad. Is it OK if I send you a quick email with some of the apps that are easier for the non-techie businessperson to grasp?”
Try infographics. I’ve received a great response from infographics as supporting press material. Our attention spans are so short these days that it’s easier to get your message across in pictures—or maybe 140 characters.
Start a conversation on Twitter. We all love our Twitter accounts. I practically fall off my seat when I get retweets, direct messages (not the spammy kind or auto responses), and a good conversation going among my peers. Journalists feel the same way. Most of them like a good Twitter conversation about a story they wrote. They like to know you actually read their stuff. They enjoy engaging with and responding to fans. I think it’s OK to pitch via Twitter as well; just don’t overdo it.
Schedule desk-side visits. I live in Nevada, which isn’t exactly a hot bed of top-tier national journalists. As a result, I have to hustle off to New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles a few times a year. I’ve found that journalists appreciate this effort and are open to a quick 15- to 20-minute in-office visit. I never leave press kits; I always know the sections that my clients fit into, and I’ve read the editorial calendars.
Show some personality. This is my favorite. Journalists are people, too—and most are snarky, witty, and well read. They are bombarded by PR people who are always towing the company line and trying to stay on message. It’s OK to crack a joke and show some personality. That’s what helps develop relationships.
Give them good—and original—content. We keep hearing that good content is king—and for good reason. I’m not talking about a well-written press release, but rather a strong, succinct video, an expert column that targets a national issue, or even a high-resolution set of images that tell a story. Bloggers don’t want the same content that everyone else does, but many of them have other jobs, and they appreciate strong supporting material that enhances the story.
Go out for drinks. Here’s another favorite. After a few drinks, personalities really shine through. Some (though not all) journalists like to drink, and they like to eat. Some (though not all) don’t mind meeting for a quick drink after work. Don’t view this as an opportunity to pitch, but rather as a chance to listen, observe and get to know what a particular journalist covers and why. Never expect anything in return.
Abbi Whitaker is the president of Abbi Public Relations in Reno, Nevada, which represents technology, government and business-to-business clients across the nation. You can follow her on twitter @abbijayne.