When I started in public relations, media pitching was the most challenging aspect of my job. It wasn’t a process that came naturally to me. Tedious and time consuming, I’d sink hours into cold emailing, and if I did hear back from a journalist, the answer was generally ‘no.’
My first week with Novitas, our client, an education nonprofit, needed to generate publicity for an upcoming event. “We’d love to see coverage in some major regional outlets,” they told us. “Do you think we could get an interview with the Colorado Sun?”
My boss seemed optimistic, and she asked if I’d take the lead on pitching. It was one of my first assignments, and I was eager to get it right. I wrote the pitch, drafted a media list and started reaching out to local reporters. I must have sent more than 50 emails, and over the next 24 hours, I didn’t receive a single response back.
The next day, my boss checked on my progress, and she could tell I felt discouraged. She recommended I call our agency’s senior advisor – an industry veteran – and ask for advice. That afternoon, I reached out, explaining my struggles with pitching. She asked who I’d emailed and offered to make a few phone calls. The next day, we had an interview set up with the Colorado Sun; our client was thrilled.
Amazed, I asked our advisor for feedback on my approach. “Relationships are important in this industry,” she said. “Demonstrate your value to journalists, and they’ll come to trust and rely on you.”
Those first few weeks, I underestimated the importance of relationships to impactful media relations. I thought a strong pitch and interesting story was enough; it shouldn’t matter if anyone knew who I was. Watching Novitas’ higher-ups, I learned quickly that building a rapport with the media was essential to our agency’s success. Journalists receive dozens of cold emails every day. If I wanted to stand out, I’d have to prove that my pitches were worth reading – that they were reliable, thoughtful and newsworthy.
I’m still no expert in media relations, but over the last six months, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to build effective professional relationships with local reporters. Here are a few of my key takeaways:
- Introduce yourself. It’s easy to overlook the value of a short, personal introduction, but getting your name and face in front of a journalist goes a long way toward making your outreach efforts feel genuine and memorable. If you see a journalist at an event, go up and introduce yourself. Before you pitch someone, send them a casual email, complimenting them on a recent article. These small, personal touches are an effective way to separate your name and face from a crowd.
- Research their beat. If you pitch a housing reporter a story about education, they’ll think you haven’t done your homework, and they won’t be inclined to speak to someone with a history of wasting their time. Research journalists’ backgrounds, areas of interest and audiences. Be accordingly thoughtful with your pitching.
- Personalize your pitch. Robotic or vague language is never a good way to capture a journalist’s attention. A successful pitch should demonstrate why its recipient, specifically, should be interested in learning more. It’s often useful to reference a recent article of theirs, explaining how an idea you’ve pitched could build on their previous work.
- Pitch selectively. After just a few weeks in public relations, most PR professionals develop a strong sense of what’s newsworthy and what’s not. If a story isn’t worth a journalist’s time, think carefully about how and when to pitch it. If your pitches are reliably interesting and newsworthy, journalists will quickly recognize that an email from you is always worth reading.
- Avoid buzzwords and flowery language. It’s tempting to include marketing materials in a pitch. Marketing language – laden with adjectives, corporate jargon and colorful descriptions – entices customers, but it does little to capture the attention of a seasoned journalist. Keep your pitch straightforward and logical, and journalists are much more likely to take your outreach efforts seriously.
The time and energy I’ve invested in my relationships with local journalists have transformed my perspective on media relations. I don’t dread pitching anymore – and when I have a good story on my hands, it can be a process I genuinely enjoy. Good relationships between PR and news media professionals take work, but the rewards are well worth it.