8 ways to make reporters love you

You know you’ve got a great story if only the media would open that email pitch. Here are some ways to prove you’re a pro worth listening to.

This story is in partnership with NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions.

When it comes to pitching a story, journalists’ advice to PR pros is similar no matter what the medium is.

Reporters and editors are swamped. Their inboxes are overflowing. They don’t have time for off-topic pitches or information-choked emails. Cut to the chase.

Says Mark Jones, Reuters‘ global-communities editor in London, “The thing that really gets journalists’ goat is the kind of unsolicited and irrelevant media release plugging up their inbox. … You can see from Twitter what [journalists] are interested in. It takes a few seconds. It allows you the option to focus your distribution list on people who are most likely to run with the story.”

It can be a humbling experience to promote a story angle you know is great but can’t get a sniff from reporters. You’ll get a leg up if you act like a pro.

Here are some tips for reaching the media, drawn from a new best practices guide, “What Journalists Want: How to build relationships, deliver remarkable content, get journalists to cover your organization, and ace a tough interview,” by NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions and Ragan Communications.

1. Make your Twitter or LinkedIn feed a go-to source

You’d love to be a go-to source for your industry, but do your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media accounts reflect that? Are you tweeting a string of “hooray for us” product announcements? Why would a reporter follow that?

How about your personal Twitter account? Is it all foodie photos or lamentations over that epic failure by your sports team? Or are you making yourself a source in your industry?

The most successful communications professionals use social media to provide information that interests journalists, says Drake Martinet, head of platform for Vice News and a former associate editor at The Wall Street Journal’s “All Things Digital.”

2. Engage with journalists on social media

“The most reliable way to reach a journalist is with an @ mention on Twitter,” says Zach Seward, senior editor of Quartz. “You may or may not get a response, but you’re pretty reliably going to be seen.”

When reporters work a story, they often throw out a question on Twitter, such as, “What are the most important breakthroughs in the medical industry?” Follow reporters—and make lists of your most important targets—so you know what they’re talking about. Be the first responder. If you dawdle, someone else gets the mention.

Be helpful in little ways, too. Jones, the Reuters editor, recalls how, when his wife was out of town a few years ago, he spilled red wine on a new kitchen surface, staining it. Yikes! Luckily, his wife wasn’t on Twitter, so he tweeted seeking ideas to help clean up. A PR pro replied with a solution. (It involved lemon.)

“A few days later, the same person rang me up and came on to me with an exclusive of some social media research,” Jones says. “And I just thought it was a fantastic way of public relations people behaving. Help journalists in trouble out. Find out what he’s interested in, and then serve up a little exclusive.”

[Download the free guide, “What Journalists Want” for many more proven tips and tactics.]

3. Target the right reporter

Off-topic pitches have annoyed journalists from time immemorial, and many PR pros still aren’t familiarizing themselves with specific journalists’ interests. Before pitching reporters or bloggers, read their work. Twitter makes this easy nowadays.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it bears restating. Beth J. Harpaz, a travel editor for the Associated Press, is swamped with emails announcing hotel openings, even though the AP doesn’t cover such events.

If the AP assigned a reporter to every opening, that would be all it writes about. Rather, the wire service does big-picture stories, such as the start of ski season, or a piece on Jackie Robinson destinations in Brooklyn, pegged to the release of the movie “42.”

4. Choose a good subject line

Email’s not dead—certainly not in pitching—but you do have to grab journalists’ attention right away.

A few years back, a political reporter at a major U.S. daily was delighted by what was then a new feature on Outlook Express: Those little pop-up windows announcing incoming email included a delete button. Now he could trash irrelevant or off-beat pitches and press releases without opening them.

It’s harsh, but the battle for journalists’ attention starts with your subject line. Don’t miss this chance to grab the reporter, editor, or blogger.

Successful subject lines follow rules similar to those of headlines. The good ones:

• Thrive on brevity
• Demand strong verbs
• Omit needless words
• Leave out unessential detail
• Force you to think, “What am I sharing?”

5. Be specific

Be specific. Larissa Hall, digital content manager at 13WHAM in upstate New York, gets floods of emails with vague subject lines, such as, “Mother’s Day is around the corner!” (Sure is. Delete. ) Better: “100-year-old grandma to run Mother’s Day marathon.”

“Just tell me what you want,” she says. What’s the event? What are you asking her to cover?

Explain “what’s in it for me?” That is, what’s in it for the journalist and the media outlet’s readers or viewers? This is essential for the body of your pitch, as well.

Keep it short. Many sources advise you to keep your subject line to 50 characters or fewer. Bear in mind that the last few words of a long subject line may not display unless the recipient opens the email.

6. Avoid fluff

The ideal email is a short paragraph explaining what you’d like the reporter to cover. There’s no fluff to wade through. Journalists instantly know the gist of the pitch.

Holly Zuluaga, a former reporter who is a senior account executive for Raffetto Herman Strategic Communications, writes that you must answer these questions:

• Why should I care? Journalists are looking for stories that affect their readers.

• Why now? A news story must have “today value” and demonstrate urgency.

• How is this new? If there’s not a new angle, it’s not enough to say, “I saw your story about X, you should write about my company, too.”

• What can you offer? Sources? Visuals? B-roll or photos?

The question of what you can offer is an important one. Whether you’re pitching a gadget or an interview with your executive, video makes the point that something is visually interesting or a source will be articulate on camera.

7. Don’t forget the essentials

Great. You’ve interested the press. Reporters are opening your email. They want more, and they turn to your press release. Make sure it’s written in a jargon-free voice that answers the same questions your pitch does (i.e., why should I care?).

Link to a landing page with all your rich media content on the topic. Also, link to your video content. (You did produce a video, didn’t you?) While you’re at it, always list contact numbers on press releases. You’d be amazed how many organizations don’t bother.

One reporter for a major New York daily asks, “Do companies or government agencies think news organizations will just print a press release without asking any follow-up questions?”

8. Be candid

So you’ve got an interview scheduled. Maybe this is great news—a chance to promote your product. Or maybe you’re dealing with a crisis. Either way, manage expectations candidly.

YouTube is the second-most-powerful search engine on the planet. Want your spin on that refinery fire to turn up in a search?

Don’t “corporately sanitize” the title of your video, says Gerard Braud, a media coach and former network TV reporter. Call a fire a fire, not “an event in which something got warm and caused flickering images,” he says.

[Download the free guide, “What Journalists Want” for many more proven tips and tactics.]

Topics: PR

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