Media relations is a lot like dating.
During the early stages of a romance, too much contact simmers the sizzle.
In media relations, why would you reach out to someone, then slam him with a pitch? That isn’t reaching out at all. It comes off as unnatural, insensitive and forced. When you think about it, cold pitches are basically one-night stands.
I chatted with a few food and beverage pals who were more than happy to set the record straight. Their key takeaways about pitching were:
1. Don’t ever call—ever.
2. Don’t “pitch” per se. Just include useful information and tips without a gimmicky story idea. Exclusives have a much better response rate than spam. It’s important to be respectful, resourceful and genuine.
Here is a collection of tips from writers Lauren Bloomberg, Angel Antin and Amy Cao; and editors Jenny Miller (Grub Street/New York Magazine,) Maggie Hoffman (Serious Eats), Andrea Bartz (Whole Living), and Jacqueline Wasilczyk (Zagat.com).
Media relations dos
1. Do understand the types of stories media outlets look for, and what an editor’s needs are. You will immediately lose the writer’s trust if you don’t tailor your pitch.
2. Do send products, if the publication doesn’t have a policy against accepting gifts. Staff will happily bust open those samples and, if they really like them, the product will score a placement.
3. Do meet up with media. I spoke to an editor once who told me he never responded to pitches, unless he knew the PR person.
I prefer to take an organic approach and attend as many industry events as possible. Make sure you’re networking, not working. I’ve heard of PR folks who got blacklisted from gatherings because they were always “on.” Remember, you need to prove you are a resource to journalists. This is earned, not granted.
4. Do offer exclusives that reflect the publication’s need.
5. Do email instead of call. There is never a good time to listen to a pitch over the phone. But, feel free to call a publication’s main number to find out who your best contact might be.
6. Do keep emails brief. Writers love it when you mention how you came across their article, whether through a friend or via Twitter. Demonstrate you’re genuinely interested and share at least one authentic reason for working together. It will go a long way.
7. Do go through connections if you have them. You will get a better response rate.
8. Do include the date on every document you create. Nothing is more frustrating than reading about the rollout of a new product, only to find out it happened eight months ago.
9. Do let a writer know if you pitched her editor. If your pitch catches the writer’s attention and she turns it in to her editor-who heard about it from you two weeks ago and told you no-then you just turned a potential contact into a seriously unhappy camper.
10. Do consider the types of sources the outlet requires. Never assume a news outlet accepts PR pros as spokespeople.
11. Do understand a journalist’s obsession with accurate reporting, especially in the wine world. Angel Antin elaborated further on this:
“Misspellings of crème brûlée keep me awake at night. I write a great deal about the wine industry, and thus have to deal with all those pesky accents on imported wines. I’m indebted to a PR pro who conveys a wine’s correct spelling (with accents), vintage and suggested retail price to me faster than I can spell Gewürztraminer. And I can spell it really, really fast.”
Media relations don’ts
1. Don’t make the pitch too specific.
2. Don’t send images unless the reporter asks for them.
3. Don’t send packages without checking first. Addresses change, and so do editorial calendars.
4. Don’t contact media via Twitter. It makes the message receiver feel like he’s being attacked from all sides. Follow-up emails, however, are encouraged. They show you are persistent and that the reporter is not the recipient of a mass email. Do, however, use Twitter as a relationship-building tool.
5. Don’t include large attachments, period. Top-tier media receive 500 emails per day, most of which are pitches.
6. Don’t suggest a quick meeting before you give information. Most journalists are too busy and prefer all the information up front.
7. Don’t be afraid to email the reporter to ask a quick question such as, “What types of stories do you look for?”
8. Don’t pitch made-up holidays like “hamburger week.” The reporter will forward your press release to colleagues, and they will mock you.
9. Don’t target the same person more than three times. If he doesn’t respond, he’s probably not interested. When you don’t hear back, it’s time to move on.
10. Don’t show up at the writer’s house with a pitch. True story.
If you adhere to these tips, you will be a champion.