Must PR pros have established relationships to pitch reporters?

Though it’s often maligned as a crap shoot, cold pitching can, in fact, work.

I recently wrote a piece for PR Daily about how PR practitioners can foster better relationships with reporters. Whether or not PR pros and reporters should be friends is a tough ethical question.

On the other hand, must PR pros have a relationship with a reporter to get his attention?

While we often see stories like this that say yes, the answer is no, you don’t have to have a relationship with the reporter to find success.

Why do I say this? I was recently talking with a reporter who agreed that not having a relationship is not a non-starter. As Greg Sleter, editor of HomeWorld Business, explained, “Some of my best PR relationships started with an initial cold pitch.” He went on to suggest that if the topic is relevant, story ideas can absolutely come from what’s known as “cold pitching.”

To further illustrate the point, I asked another reporter I know and respect this question: “Do you open/read email pitches from PR pros you don’t know?” Her response: “Of course I open and consider cold pitches! It would be rude and unprofessional otherwise. I might miss a story; they can’t all come from people I know.”

Based on my own experience as well, there are many times when I’ve received a reply from a reporter with the first pitch out of the gate. Really, it stands to reason that being “friends” with a reporter shouldn’t affect whether or not your story idea is picked up. It should depend on if the story idea is relevant (as noted above), solid and timely. If it’s crafted wisely and timed right, there’s no reason to think it can’t work for you.

What having a relationship can help with is getting them to notice your email. After all, you may be more likely to open and read an email from someone you know versus someone you don’t, right? In that way, it stands to reason that getting to know reporters can work in your favor.

However, the rate at which reporters are changing jobs, being laid off or just plain leaving journalism altogether suggests that your “relationship” may be fleeting. If someone leaves, you must start fresh to get to know his or her successor.

Another pet peeve some PR pros have with the whole “relationship” question is that some practitioners try to use this as a way to win business, even to the point of namedropping regarding who they know. Again, if reporters are truly objective, it shouldn’t matter, but it happens.

Let’s recap. Is a relationship necessary to pitch a reporter? No. Does it help get your message heard? Yes, it can, but if you don’t have a relationship, should that keep you from pitching? Absolutely not. With a well written, relevant, timely pitch, you still have an opportunity to land a story working with a reporter with whom you have no previous ties.

What do you think? What are your experiences?

Michelle Garrett is a PR consultant and writer at Garrett Public Relations. Follow her on Twitter @PRisUs or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Topics: PR

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