The art of the perfect follow-up

Your press release email didn’t bounce back as undeliverable, but you’re not getting any response. Here’s how to follow up and, more important, how to proceed before you do so.

You’ve emailed your press release to your list of targeted journalists—not mass-blasted, but sent to a carefully built list of only those who would find this particular release news of interest.

Your news is obviously the best thing since sliced bread, so you are baffled why they aren’t knocking your (virtual) door down in their haste to cover your story.

What the heck? Now what?

How to follow up with journalists once you’ve distributed a press release is something most of us learn through trial and many, many errors.

It is a skill rarely taught in-house at agencies or employers. So we learn by getting blasted with journalist ire for screwing up and, for the more progressive thinkers, by asking for help from our peers, by reading about best practices, and by constant testing to see what drives improvement:

  • Should I pick up the phone and call?
  • How many times should I send an email?
  • Would sending the press release again help?
  • How can I do my job and maximize pickups of the news without being a total pain in the butt?

I can tell you how many times I usually follow up: I don’t.

Not always. It depends on what kind of news I’m announcing in the press release. A fair number are corporate news items that do not require follow-up, so why waste everyone’s time?

When I follow up with a journalist about a fresh piece of news that I feel is truly important—not fluff like a new hire, board appointment, financial earnings, or an award—I send the release once. Sometimes I’ll follow up with a short tweet mentioning it is in their inbox, or email them highlighting the one thing that is likely to interest them the most. Then, I stop; I’m done.

Instead of follow-up, it becomes about pitching

If I’m confident my press release is newsworthy, I assume a journalist’s lack of response means the press release didn’t grab his or her attention, so I buckle down to write a fantastic pitch. I’m still using something related to the news outlined in the press release, of course, but other than a quick hyperlink to the release, it’s a fresh pitch transitioning my news into their news.

It translates the release into something useful for them, so they don’t have to spend time they don’t have to connect the dots. It’s packaged appropriately for them so they can just run with it.

I also include three ideas. Not one pitch idea, but one pitch that includes several story angle ideas revolving around the primary story. All three ideas are relevant, all are carefully crafted to suit their readership and focus area (not just the idea I want to promote), and all fit in with the news announced in the press release.

I also look at their most recent story to identify what resonates with them. Invest time in doing it right. Give each journalist something of value.

That’s the difference between a seasoned PR hound and a newbie. It’s also a way to identify the budding rock stars at an agency or company. If they are making a strong effort to build a relationship or truly connect with journalists one at a time, keep them. They are gold. If your mid-level management is not regularly reviewing follow-up tactics and pitches to fine-tune their skills, make it a requirement and/or increase training.

If your skills aren’t quite there yet or you are newer to the profession, here are a few ideas to help you along in becoming that rock star (and seasoned veteran).

1. Look at the news outlet before you follow up. When a reporter says, “We covered it already,” you look like an idiot. If that publication isn’t something you normally read—especially a daily newspaper or other news outlet that publishes continually—check before you follow up. If they already ran it, send them a thank-you instead of a follow-up.

2. Adjust your timing to fit their publication cycle. Is it a daily, television, or radio? Follow up within 24 hours, or immediately if it is truly breaking news (this is rare for a press release, though). Don’t follow up with a TV station right before your targeted show is going on the air—do it first thing in the morning, before the daily production meeting. A monthly publication? Give it a week or two, or even longer if it’s a magazine with a four-month publication cycle. Is it a business journal that is put to bed every Wednesday? Don’t follow up on a Wednesday.

3. Verify what you sent was relevant to that reporter or editor before you bother them. This is especially important if someone else built the media list or you blasted out the release without going over that list to ensure it fits that particular release.

4. Don’t be a stalker, asking if they received it and/or sending it more than once. If you sent it, trust that they got it and it was ignored or dismissed as a bad fit. Act accordingly.

Your job isn’t to shove a release under their nose a gazillion times so that they block your emails and dismiss you as incompetent. It is to get it in the hands of the right people and make sure they don’t overlook a great story in their nightmare of an email inbox.

5. Understand they won’t figure out how to make it fit into their needs. Figure that out for them, and then showcase it with a great subject line and headline, supported by just the right amount of detail to capture their interest. Don’t write them a novel; keep it short.

6. Make sure you are thoroughly following best practices before you reach out on social media. The last thing you want is to be flamed on Twitter for not doing your homework. Don’t be afraid to do it, but be certain you’ve covered the basics.

Carrie Morgan is a digital PR, social media, search, and content marketing consultant. A version of this article first appeared on RockTheStatusQuo.

Topics: PR

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