A basic tenet of public relations is media relations: the process of outreach to blog, magazine, newspaper, television and radio journalists with story ideas or interview opportunities. The objective of this outreach is to secure news coverage for our valued 70kft clients and get them the most exposure in their target audience.
Working with the media can be nerve-wracking, especially when a client’s story is on the line. Journalists are often under tight deadlines, inundated by requests and hard pressed to report the latest news accurately. For these, and any number of other reasons, they are not always happy to hear from PR practitioners about our client’s press release or event.
To help ensure 70kft media outreach success, below are a few essential Dos and Don’ts the agency keeps top of mind prior to phoning media:
DO the homework.
Before the 70kft team contacts any journalist, we always research what they have reported on recently. This effort lends insight into their interests and any topics they have already covered. We often follow target journalists on social media, too. They will post articles they’ve written or about topics that pique their interest. It’s truly embarrassing to get someone on the phone and they say, “We covered that in last month’s issue” or “That’s really not something I would write about.” It is every PR practitioner’s responsibility to regularly read the news, especially in the outlets where clients want placements, and then cater to their needs.
DON’T email the wrong contact.
There is no faster way to show a practitioner hasn’t read the publication, or is mass pitching a media list, than sending an email to the wrong contact (or to several contacts at different publications on the same email). If we send a tech story to the real estate reporter, we will never hear back. If we send one email to two competing dailies, we’ll likely never hear back. And a general rule of thumb at the agency: never email a Publisher or Editor-In-Chief (they are not the ones who make final editorial decisions—they pay other people to do that).
DO be succinct in email outreach.
Journalists are constantly on deadline, so they have mere seconds to scan the hundreds of emails they get each day. 70kft’s approach is to make sure the most important, newsworthy aspects of our pitches are close to the top and that we are specific about our requests (morning show interview, event attendance, etc.). Also, we spend time developing catchy email subject lines—that is often how we break through the email clutter.
DON’T send paragraphs of information in an initial communication.
In being succinct, there is no need to send all of the details of a client’s product or event in an initial outreach. Our team baits them first with the important, newsworthy basics. If the journalist is interested, we share additional info in subsequent correspondence to not bury the initial hook.
DO send story ideas or experts to build on recent news or trends.
When breaking news hits (the latest court ruling/sports development/celebrity happening), journalists usually want to report on it while its fresh. If 70kft’s client is an expert and can provide insight on the issue, we offer them to journalists as a readily available resource to comment. This tactic also positions us as credible practitioners, and our clients as thought leaders. (Another example of how PR is about “mutually beneficial” relationships.)
DON’T be oblivious to breaking news.
It is critical to be aware of the latest breaking news when contacting the media. I promise, no one wants to place a follow-up call to a news station while a natural disaster/plane crash/school shooting /riot is underway. No journalist will have time for our soft news story, and they may even write us off as being out of touch. We always wait to reach out again when the issue has settled later that week. One of our best practices is to resend the original email, citing it may have gotten lost in the shuffle.
DO follow up call.
With the avalanche of emails journalists receive, it is very likely an email could get overlooked. After sending an email, we typically wait an hour and give them a call to see if they are interested. We do not pretend to be “following up to ensure [he/she] received it”—we live in a digital age, and email rarely fails to deliver. Instead, we draw their attention to our email, give them a brief elevator pitch and see if they want to learn more.
DON’T assume he/she is available when you call.
When we succeed in getting someone on the phone, we always ask if they have a moment. Chances are they are racing to meet a print deadline, about to head into a morning meeting or are otherwise in a hurry. The team is diligent to not be the reason a journalist is late for something, as that is the fastest way to ensure our client story will not be picked up. Being considerate can go a long way.
DO get to know journalists.
The best way to secure coverage for a client is to actually know the reporter. Whether we are friends or just worked together on previous stories, journalists are more receptive to our ideas because they can count on us to follow through. It doesn’t hurt that we send hand written Thank You notes afterward. Again, being considerate can go a long way.
DON’T bribe them.
While just about any newsroom appreciates a box of doughnuts or two, many outlets are not allowed to accept gifts valued at more than $10. That number varies by publication, but we know that flowers, lunch or most client products will not reach our target journalists.
I'll leave you with this. Ask yourself these two questions: Is my story newsworthy? Why? If you can't easily answer these questions, in 24 words or less, I advise hiring a public relations media expert.