Follow up right with journalists: 5 golden rules

Often it isn’t your pitch that maddens a reporter, it’s the follow-up that triggers a red, angry face and yelled expletives. Here are tips on the art of the gentle reminder.

You have the perfect pitch for a big-name journalist at a blog or media outlet with a huge national following. This story would be perfect for the audience and your client has provided awesome photos for the pitch. The problem is, this journalist won’t get back to you.

We’ve all been there. There’s nothing as frustrating as radio silence on the other end after sending a terrific pitch. If you really want your story out there, you have to follow up.

Here are the five rules of circling back on a pitch—if you want your story to be published.

1. Be nice. Sounds obvious, right? The cliché “you catch more flies with honey” was coined for a reason. But you wouldn’t believe how many PR types get downright nasty when a journalist doesn’t get back to them right away. Yes, it’s maddening to be ignored. But don’t get snappy, mean or offended when someone doesn’t reply. Instead:

  • Stay polite
  • Offer the person the benefit of the doubt
  • Acknowledge that they are very busy and may have missed your pitch

Journalists will not be bullied into printing your piece. They’ll be so annoyed that they will file all future pitches from you and your client in the trash.

2. Make it easy. You wouldn’t believe how many times a PR person sends out an interview offer, but the person to be interviewed is no longer available. Guess what? The journalist will never believe that PR person again. When you pitch, make sure it’s as easy as possible for the journalist to follow up. As soon as they get back to you, serve the story on a platter. This will make them more likely to take your pitches seriously.

3. Keep it short. Don’t write “War and Peace” when you just want to see if the blogger read your first pitch. There is much to be said for the one-line follow-up. It’s quick, to the point, and easy for your target to read and comment on. Big-name journalists and bloggers are inundated by so many pitches that they miss a few or forget to reply. A one-line follow-up brings the issue back to their attention in a simple, straightforward way.

If you write more than one line, keep it as short as possible. Show that you respect the time of the people you target. A short follow-up proves it.

4. Offer something enticing. When you follow up, tweak your pitch so that you offer something better than the first time you sent it, perhaps an exclusive with the company president, or new statistics that have popped up since your first pitch. This could be the thing that draws in the journalist or blogger.

For example, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was the rage this summer. My client, CJ Pony Parts, completed the Challenge and donated $1,000. In my follow-up, I mentioned that CJ Pony Parts pledged to give another $5,000 if their YouTube video about the Challenge got 10,000 views—and hey, Mr. Journalist, it’s pretty close now. Don’t you want to help make that happen?

5. Give it some time. You may be impatient to get your client’s message out, but that’s not the big-time journalist’s concern. They’re busy. They may be working on dozens of stories right now. Don’t send a pushy follow-up 24 hours after the initial press release. Worse, don’t follow up a few hours after the initial release lands in their inbox.

Give it some time, at least a few days, but preferably more. Let your target work through her inbox. If it’s been four days or more and you’re pretty sure the release was ignored, then it is okay to follow up. But if you do it too soon, you risk ticking her off.

The bottom line

Patience, pluckiness and politeness will get go a long way in following up a pitch. And don’t forget to use his or her right name—you fight an uphill battle to convince a blogger named Jon to write about your client if you refer to him as John.

What follow-up strategies do you swear by?

Adrienne Erin is an outreach specialist at WebpageFX who has pitched (and followed up with!) thousands of bloggers and journalists. She writes for SiteProNews, Search Engine People, and Socialnomics. Follow @adrienneerin on Twitter or visit her blog, Design Roast, to see more of her work or get in touch.

A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists by searching their bios, tweets and articles, and pitch them to get more press.

Topics: PR

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