Working with journalists takes skill, patience, speed and creativity, and it takes years to master.
Pitching is one of the most difficult things to do, because it takes a careful combination of those four attributes—along with a bit of luck.
After you’ve worked at media relations awhile, you understand the process and the nuances. You have ups and downs, build relationships along the way, gain expertise and discover patterns.
Here are seven ways journalists respond to pitches—if they respond at all:
1. “Sure, that works.” You have an expert in town who’s looking to build relationships with beat reporters or those who cover his or her field. You identify the reporters who are most relevant and receive the confirmations. It’s a win/win situation: You’re building relationships and helping reporters to source stories.
2. “No, thanks.” You pitch a reporter and he/she acknowledges your email, but the timing is off. Not bad.
3. “Actually, I’m working on…” This shows you’ve reached out at a good time, but the reporter is working on a different story and is looking for sources. This allows you to work with your company or client and see how you can contribute to this story ahead of the reporter’s deadline. Your outreach could be a success.
4. “Is that this week?” If you’re pitching experts for a timely topic and the reporter asks whether that event is happening in the next few days, nice job. You’re a step ahead, and he/she will probably appreciate that.
5. “kjhgjb sdlegbg,sdpa” Translation: something snarky. I think we’ve all gotten these responses. The bright side? At least they read your email.
6. “Hey! How was your weekend?” A response like this means you’ve built a relationship with this reporter. It’s important to have friendly contacts in the news industry for several of reasons: to stay relevant with what’s going in their world, to keep yourself grounded, have a potential sounding board for non-confidential work, and to know some generally cool people.
7. “How did you know I was working on a similar story?” It’s the unicorn of responses. When you pitch a reporter and he/she is actually working on a story for which your expert could provide insights, it’s an amazing feeling-one of those moments when everything falls into place.
Julia Sahin works in corporate communications for financial services at one of the largest PR firms in New York. She was the first to publish academic research about regulation, reputation and banks. Connect with her on Twitter. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.