According to the Pew Research Center, there has been a 23% decline across the media in newsroom staffing over the past 10 years, with newspapers experiencing the greatest reductions. With budget cuts continuing to plague American newsrooms, reporters are increasingly tasked with expanded coverage responsibilities and multiple beats.
While the need for journalists to cover more news provides an opportunity for PR professionals to serve as trusted providers of content, the sheer number of media pitches and story suggestions that end up in a reporter’s mailbox can make it challenging to break through with them on behalf of your client.
Reporters are bombarded daily with requests to write about a range of individuals, companies and products – so how do you cut through the noise and increase the odds that a journalist will open, read, and (*gasp*) respond to your outreach? While there is no 100% guaranteed approach that will result in a “yes” from a reporter, here are three best practices that help to increase the likelihood of a response from journalists:
Personalize the pitch – Take the time to research the reporter to whom you are reaching out. Make sure that the subject matter of the news you are pitching is generally aligned with the reporter’s article history and coverage focus. This doesn’t mean that you need to comb through their social media accounts to demonstrate your knowledge of their personal life or work history – there is a fine line between coming across as a well-informed professional and a professional stalker.
Highlight the ‘newsworthiness’ of what you are pitching – Much like parents with their children, many PR professionals firmly believe that all of their clients are ‘special’ and inherently interesting to the rest of the world – and that may very well be the case! But you need to remember that a reporter may not immediately share this view or understand what in particular makes your news compelling. Don’t just rely on the press release to speak for itself – highlight exactly what the news angle is, and why the reporter (and their readers) should care.
Proof, proof and proof again – While reporters are constantly working against newsroom deadlines and often in a crunch for time, that doesn’t mean they are in such a rush that they need to receive your email before you give it a good proof. Misspelling a reporter’s name, misidentifying their news outlet, or other errors can have a major impact on whether or not you get a response. That’s not to say that an innocent typo will automatically have you branded a public relations persona non grata. However, against the backdrop of an overflowing inbox, otherwise avoidable embarrassing errors will likely generate eyerolls and headshakes rather than a response.
This is by no means an exhaustive list – PR professionals need to think strategically about everything from email word count to subject lines when engaging reporters – but personalization, positioning and proofing are three critical components for successful pitching.