Whether you’re new to public relations or a 20-year veteran, pitching media contacts can be a tall task. Even the best-written and most timely pitches don’t guarantee earned media.
When Ivy Ledbetter Lee sent the first press release in 1906, it was a revolutionary concept—so revolutionary that The New York Times printed Lee’s press release in full, with no changes. In 2021, thousands of press releases are sent every day.
Quantity alone isn’t a predictor of media coverage. Fewer than 10% of pitches become stories. Even the PR world’s top performers fail over 90% of the time.
So how do you stand out in a crowded marketplace? Focus on quality.
Here are two tips for 2022:
1. Do your research.
The first step of media outreach is neither content creation nor distribution. It is media research.
While databases like Cision make it easy to build media lists with thousands of contacts, convenience and quality are not one and the same. The key is personalizing your media lists to include contacts who are most likely to find your content relevant to their news coverage. Brace yourself: This may require hours of research.
For example, if you’re pitching an education-related news story in Arizona, make sure to include all of the education reporters who have covered news directly or tangentially related to your content. You could do so by tracking education-related stories that were published over the last six to 12 months, and include all of the media contacts responsible for them. You might find that Cision and other databases fail to “catch” certain media contacts who are indeed relevant; you can avoid that problem by consuming plenty of news yourself. Research what was already covered and by whom, then do it again.
Here’s a rule of thumb: Your media research should take more time and effort than creating content or distributing it. But, it will make your media outreach more efficient in the long run, since you won’t be scrambling to follow up with contacts who were not included in your first round of outreach.
2. “Become” the reporter.
When your media research is done and you’re ready for the content creation phase, try this exercise: Forget about yourself. Forget about what your organization wants or needs. Forget about what you’re pitching.
Instead, remember who’s buying it. Remember your target audience. You need to “become” the reporter for a minute. What would annoy you? What would you find relevant?
Do you want to be pitched content that isn’t relevant to your beat or timely, useful information? Do you want to read a pitch that’s short and sweet, or one that doesn’t get to the point? Do you want to receive one follow-up email or five?
For instance, a one- or two-paragraph email pitch is often more effective than a one- or two-page press release. Even three sentences of truly relevant content may stand out more than muddled, redundant press outreach. Media contacts are inherently experts on pithiness, adjusting their reporting to reach people with fleeting attention spans. Their headlines are meant to be eye-catching for a reason, so you should pitch media contacts the same way. Identify the most eye-catching content and run with it.
Here’s one last tip for your next pitch: Don’t get discouraged. You’ll probably be rejected. A “no” is more common than a “yes,” even if you pitch the right way.
That’s what matters most: Pitch the right way. Trust the process, not the outcome. Hang in there, and that “no” will eventually turn into a “yes.”
Luka Ladan, APR, serves as president and CEO of Zenica Public Relations in Portland, Maine.