11 tips for pitching reporters

Guess what? The simple, informative print press release still has the power to catch the eye of a journalist. But you are not the friend of that journalist.

Keep calm and pitch on

One of the most valuable resources at the Media Relations Summit conference in San Francisco was listening to what journalists say about how they interact with PR people. I attended several panels with reporters from publications ranging from The New York Times to CNET. The reporters were candid about what works and what does not. Some tips I gleaned:

  • Reporters still hate PR spam and irrelevant pitches. Such tactics don’t generate coverage, it turns out. Shocking, I know.
  • The press release is still important. Despite all the talk about new media, I was surprised to hear virtually every reporter sing the praises of the good old fashioned press release, which they use to ensure accuracy and to organize information.
  • Print journalists no longer break news. This is a major change in the last several years. More than ever, journalists look for stories that analyze recent news trends. Online media, on the other hand, fiercely compete for breaking stories.
  • Embargoes frustrate journalists. Some media won’t even honor them, which makes me wonder why they are still in common use. In today’s media, I think the embargo needs to go the way of the dodo.
  • Pitches with visuals go to the head of the line. But firewalls often stop high-res images, which is probably why reporters don’t see them as often as they would like.
  • You are not my friend, you are my resource. Old news, but it bears repeating. The best PR professionals are not the ones who make friends with the reporter, but those who act as a resource. Your Rolodex is meaningless. Your ability to provide compelling, accurate information is your calling card.
  • Multitasking reporters. Print reporters increasingly arm themselves with video cameras. They train to take good video footage. So make sure your spokespeople comb their hair for an interview.
  • Keep it simple. Reporters appreciate succinct information. They hate hyperbole. More than ever, I understand this complaint. One of the reasons people turn to new media is their perceived authenticity, and yet pitches seem to get louder and louder. If a sentence requires an exclamation point, get rid of that sentence.

  • Layoffs have changed newspapers. Calling a reporter who was recently dismissed is a perfect way to make the reporter you actually reach hate you. It’s also almost unavoidable.
  • Pitching more than one reporter at a publication is OK, so long as you ‘cc’ all the reporters you include. However, the consensus is that this practice deprives you of your right to follow up with a phone call, since your email phishing does the work for you. I prefer to just target one reporter. If my pitch makes sense, they’ll gladly refer me to the right person, and then I have a reference.
  • A few reporters address the 800 lb. gorilla in the room. Simply put, reporters are inundated with so much useless crap from PR pros that they often miss good, relevant pitches. PR shops respond in one of two ways: They shorten their lists and try to target the right reporters, or they send more crap to take more shots on goal, probably with more exclamation points.

Lee Odden is the CEO of TopRank Online Marketing and a long time digital marketing and PR professional. A version of this article first appeared on TopRank’s Media Relations blog.

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Topics: PR

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