5 PR Pitching Tips from a Former Journalist (Who Now Works for PR Firms)

I worked as a freelance and staff journalist for about eight years before I launched Lightning Media Partners. During that time, I learned a lot about the important — and ideally, symbiotic — relationship between reporters and public relations professionals. I learned what good and bad PR looks like, and I also discovered that, for some reason, most journalists don’t answer emails from PR pros.

While I still don’t know the secret to getting a reporter to politely reject a pitch (rather than flat out ignore it), I do know what it takes for an editor to say “yes” to a story idea. Many of my clients are independent PR agencies that hire me to write the very same pitches, blog posts, and bylines I once received on a daily basis as a journalist.

Based on my past career experiences and my current PR-focused projects, here are a few things that will make your pitch more likely to receive a response.

1. Be informative, but concise. 

Make sure your pitch isn’t too long or too short. Journalists don’t want to scroll through half a dozen paragraphs to know what you’re pitching, but they also don’t want to be left wondering what exactly they’ve just read. A good rule of thumb for what to include in your pitch: who your client is, what their area of expertise is, and why they’re a good fit for the publication. If a reporter has to do their own research just to find out what the company does, they’ll be less inclined to want to write about it.

2. Give some options. 

Narrow pitches are a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the journalist will know right away if the topic is something they can or can’t cover. But if your client sounds interesting and just can’t be used for that particular story idea, reporters may want to feature them in something else. I always appreciated when a PR pro let me know upfront that a client could speak about a few different things, based on the type of coverage we were looking for at the time. Your clients have a much better chance of coverage if they’re flexible.

3. Ask reporters what they’re working on. 

Journalists absolutely cannot accept every pitch they get. It’s just not possible. That’s why I always found it incredibly helpful when PR reps asked me for a list of upcoming topics I was working on. This way, you can look through your list of clients (who you already know very well), and tell the reporter who might be able to add to a piece they’ve already got in the works. It’s a rarely-used but highly effective tactic for getting your client quoted.

4. Stick to email pitches unless you’re told otherwise. 

Every reporter has their own preferred method of being pitched, but it’s always best to proceed with caution and stick with the email pitch at first. Although pitching via Twitter DM or LinkedIn message is becoming more common, some journalists (myself included) prefer not to receive pitches through their personal social media channels, so don’t do it unless they clearly indicate that it’s okay to to do so.

5. Give journalists the same respect you want in return. 

You’re busy, they’re busy. The client you’re setting them up with for an interview is not the only one that you have to deal with, but the story you’re working on together is not the only one they’re currently writing. We all have lives outside of our jobs and other things we need to worry about, so if you can extend a bit of patience and understanding to a journalist, a good one will do the same for you.

Image credit: Pixabay via Pexels

writer typing on laptop

Want to Be a Journalist? Here’s How to Get Hired

A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack.

Somewhere around middle school, I decided I wanted to be a journalist when I grew up. Whenever I discussed my chosen career path with well-intentioned family and friends, I was often met with skepticism.

“You’ll never make a lot of money as a journalist.”

“Don’t you want to do something with more stability?”

“It’s really hard to get a job in the media industry.”

They weren’t entirely wrong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has been reporting decreases in journalism jobs for years (the current prediction is a 9 percent decline by 2024). Major news organizations like Huffington Post, the New York Times, Yahoo and VICE Media have all suffered rounds of layoffs this year alone. These facts, combined with the ever-changing media landscape, is enough to make even the most talented journalists fear for their careers.

Though it can indeed be difficult to find quality journalism jobs, it’s not impossible. I’ve applied to my fair share of reporting jobs over the years, and when I worked as an editor, I hired a few reporters of my own.

Whether you’re looking for a full-time staff position or an ongoing freelance gig, here are a few tips for making yourself irresistible to an editorial hiring manager.

1. Create a portfolio website

In addition to your resume, most editors will ask you for “clips” (published samples of your work) when you apply for a journalism job.

Make it easy for them to find and view your past work by collecting it in a digital portfolio. Sites like Muck Rack and Contently make it simple to build a portfolio by adding URLs to your page. You can also create a personal landing page via WordPress, Squarespace, Wix or other website building platform to house other digital assets, such as video clips or PDF scans of printed articles you’ve written.

Don’t have any work published yet? Start self-publishing. You can create a personal blog or vlog about the topic of your choice, or simply write and publish content via platforms like Medium or LinkedIn. These can serve as your clips until you start getting writing gigs with media outlets.

2. Maintain a public social media presence

Many of today’s journalists have established a personal brand for themselves across their social media platforms. Some choose to promote themselves and their work via every available channel, but at minimum, you should have a public LinkedIn and Twitter account (after all, a lot of journalism happens on Twitter).

Here, you can connect with other journalists and editors, follow news outlets you’d like to write for, and share your own thoughts and articles on current trends and events. Networking is also hugely important for landing a job in any field, so it never hurts to get on the radar of successful players in your industry.

Bonus tip: Add links to your public social media accounts to your portfolio page to encourage potential employers to follow your work.

3. Learn basic photo and video skills

Modern journalism is no longer just about being a good writer. Outlets large and small are placing an increasing emphasis on “visual storytelling” – in fact, a 2016 Poynter article cited this skill as an essential one for landing a job in journalism. Basic photo and video editing skills will go a long way in an age when video clips, infographics, social media images and other visual assets serve as the primary vehicle for telling news stories.

Of course, not everyone is going to be able to master (or afford) software like the Adobe Creative Suite, so start by playing around with the free tools available to you. Most devices – PC, Mac, smartphone, tablet, etc. – come pre-loaded with photo and/or video editing software (or at the very least, there are plenty of free options available online for your desktop or on your mobile device’s app store). Teach yourself what you can, or better yet, take an online course if you have the time and resources to do so.

Another key component of visual journalism is being on camera. Although aspiring broadcasters know they’ll have to appear on-screen, many outlets now have their writers star in recorded clips and live video streams. Practice this by recording your own videos. Whether you decide to share them online or not, just getting comfortable talking to a camera can help you considerably if your dream journalism job requires it.

4. Write as much as possible

You may have heard the phrase “publish or perish” used to describe the pressure to produce academic work. It applies to the journalism industry, too: If you’re not continually sharpening your writing and editing skills, they’ll languish.

Additionally, editors want to see that you’ve been actively publishing work. If the last thing you wrote was for your college newspaper (and you’ve been out of school for months or years), you might want to think about getting back on the horse.

You don’t have to wait for a writing job to land in your lap, though. As mentioned above, you can start your own blog or self-publish articles. Find outlets that are looking for contributed content (preferably paid, but there’s nothing wrong with writing the occasional unpaid article if you’re passionate about the topic and it builds your portfolio). Write in a journal just for yourself. Regardless of what kind of writing you choose to do, it just matters that you do it. Like anything else, practice makes perfect, and practicing your craft every day can only help you when you’re looking for work.

Image credit: Startup Stock Photos via Pexels