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.
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