13 ways to get on a journalist’s good side

There are many, many ways to annoy reporters, but if you respect their time constraints and treat them well, you may just make them happy you’re around.

Pitching journalists can be difficult for a novice or even a seasoned PR pro. One wrong move can kill a burgeoning relationship, but that comes with the territory. Speaking from my own journalistic perspective from having received hundreds of PR pitches over the years, here are 13 ways to pitch your product or service to a reporter in a way that just might get you a mention:

1. Before you approach a reporter, you should know what the reporter’s expertise is, and ensure that your story is related to her or his field. Roxana Baiceanu, Point Homes communication specialist, says, “When we have a story we think will be of interest to the media, we already have a list of real estate journalists who follow this kind of news. Whether or not they use our story, they are grateful to be kept in the loop.”

2. You must always respect the reporter’s power to reject your story, or postpone working on it. Don’t be a pest and bother her or him with follow up requests or demands for further contact. If the reporter is interested, he or she will contact you. Make sure you give the reporter clear and precise contact information so they won’t have any problems getting hold of you when necessary.

3. Cultivate long-term relationships with journalists that respond positively to your story ideas. When a journalist uses one of your pitches, you should to make him or her a contact for life. Keep in touch, and not only with more pitches. Keep those reporters in mind during holidays and try to learn a little bit about them personally. Don’t ever treat them like the proverbial one-night stand.

4. In-person meetings are the best, so, if possible, invite the reporter to meet you for coffee or lunch. If the reporter insists on paying her share, don’t get offended. Her organization may have strict ethics policies against accepting gratuities.

5. Look for the “teachable moment” with one eye trained on today’s breaking news and, better yet, what will be in tomorrow’s news. Target your story on what your organization is doing that impacts breaking news (including sports), rather than simply reporting on activities without context.

6. Try sending a postcard. You may not hear back for a while, but the reporter will likely read it and keep it around as a snail mail curiosity. Make sure to sign it personally. I got a postcard once from a PR rep. On the front was an image of one of my tweets, which coincided with what the rep was pitching me about. I’ll never forget it.

7. For journalists, speed is everything. Most journalists work on deadlines, so getting to a quality source fast is important to them. Also, there is a lot of competition among sources, which is why the first to reach the journalist often makes the story.

8. Don’t waste a journalist’s time. They operate on tight schedules and want to talk to well-informed sources, not someone who is mostly second-guessing.

9. Never give false or exaggerated tips. If you do, the reporters you pitch will never have any reason to trust you again, and you won’t be able to approach them later.

10. When a journalist is looking for sources, he likely has hundreds to sort through, so make yours personal, brief and interesting, to stand out from the crowd.

11. A well-written, personalized and targeted response to an email or phone call will get you noticed. It shows you were paying attention to the journalist’s requirements, and not just your own agenda. Make your subject line as compelling as a headline. It should grab attention.

12. Keep your communications short, sharp and simple. If your pitches are written poorly or are unclear, the reporter won’t have time for you. Always have a second party proofread your pitches before sending them. The extra time it takes will pay off in positive replies.

13. Editors select stories for newspapers, magazines and other venues that help sell more issues and attract more traffic. When you can show a journalist that your story is attractive to the same demographics his or her media outlet caters to, you have a better chance of it getting printed or posted.

Melissa Thompson is owner of MediaTrainingForCEOs.com.


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