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Before You Pitch a Journalist on Social Media, Read These Tips

A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack.

It’s hard to imagine the modern news cycle without social media. In addition to serving as a real-time resource for breaking news and trending topics, these digital channels provide valuable insights for PR professionals looking to learn more about reporters and their media outlets.

The prominent role of platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn in professional communications also affords you a unique opportunity to reach journalists through the apps they probably check more often than their inbox. But just because you can pitch someone via tweet or direct message, doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

There’s an art to connecting with journalists on social media: Do it well, and you’ll start a memorable conversation about your story idea. Do it poorly, and you risk not only stepping far beyond the boundaries of a professional relationship, but also ending up on a journalist’s blacklist.

If you want to pitch story ideas via social media, here are a few basic guidelines for successfully engaging with your target reporters.

1. Consider the nature of the network.

As any social media marketer will tell you, every site is different and has its own set of unspoken rules and guidelines for using it. Think about how you use your accounts on various social networks: You might participate in industry Twitter chats or group discussions on LinkedIn, but you probably wouldn’t leave a business-related comment on someone’s Instagram post of their weekend brunch. Though they may not always seem like it, journalists really are human, too — most of them don’t want to get bombarded with professional requests on their personal blog, YouTube channel, or Instagram any more than you would.

That being said, many journalists are happy to connect with PR pros on LinkedIn and Twitter (I certainly was when I worked as an editor). Those who are will often put “DMs open” or something similar in their profiles to indicate that pitches are welcome through these channels.

2. Gauge interest instead of outright pitching.

If you’ve determined that a social channel is appropriate for pitching, the idea is not to copy and paste your standard email pitch into that medium. The most effective social media pitches are those that simply gauge a reporter’s interest in the topic or client. For example, you could send a journalist a direct message saying something like, “Based on your work, you seem to cover employee productivity a lot. Are you looking for sources? I have a client who would be perfect!” or, “What are you working on these days? I’d love to be a resource for you if my clients are a good fit.” You’re much more likely to get a quick response to these low-pressure, easy-to-answer questions.

3. Move it over to email.

Inefficient as it may sometimes be, email remains the primary mode of communication in the professional world. The reporter you just messaged may not want to learn about your client and set up an interview through their DMs, so once you’ve gotten their attention on social, ask for an email address where you can send more information about your idea. This means they’ll be looking for your message (especially if your subject line references the original social network you used) and will be much more likely to respond since you’ve already started a conversation.

4. Build relationships first.

Before you go into full-on pitch mode on social media, why not use it to establish a relationship with the reporter first? A great way to start is by sharing or commenting on journalists’ articles that are relevant to your clients’ expertise. If you tag them, they’ll most likely see it, and if you haven’t worked together before, this will put you on their radar. Most importantly, follow and pay attention to what a reporter posts about their work and professional life. It could hold the clues you need to make a smart, effective, and lasting impression when you do eventually send that pitch.

Image credit: Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

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.

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