Relationships with journalists are like gold in public relations. They let you get the word out about your company through earned media -- which can be way more powerful for developing your brand than advertising.

But you shouldn't just write a journalist and ask for press... or have your publicist do that for you. Here are some tips from me and some of my favorite journalists on how to get more and better press for your brand.

Get (actually) personal.

Here's the thing about personalizing an email: You can't systematize it. I know that trick of mentioning something I've published recently, and I'm not buying it anymore. You need to spend a lot of time reading and genuinely understanding a journalist's interests if you want to develop relationships.

"Yes, it definitely takes time, something we all wish we had more of these days," says Jessica Lawlor, founder and CEO of the content development and PR company JL&Co. "But yes, you still have to do it."

Find an angle no one's thought of.

You're not likely to catch our attention with just a description of your business or news of its launch. Give a reporter something they need: a unique story.

To find it, Lawlor recommends seeking angles readers will care about:

  • Is it related to news?
  • Is it super local?
  • Does it involve research that impacts a lot of people?

The subject line is your first chance to hook us with your story (or end up in the trash bin).

"I always aim to write creative and honest subject lines that make a journalist want to open the email to find out what's inside," says Lawlor, whose work as a business owner, PR pro and journalist means she's experienced the PR pitch from every angle.

Her trick? Brainstorm multiple subject lines to suss out the strongest one.

Be humble.

"Carrying a tone of expectation or requirement in a query can be a big turnoff," says Stephanie Bolling, a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

Your input can be valuable to a journalist, but the exposure a story offers you is also valuable. Be kind, and show your gratitude when we respond to your cold pitch or use your quotes in a story.

Don't follow up so darn much.

Remember: This isn't urgent to us just because it's urgent to you.

"The worst emails I get from publicists and business owners are the cold-contact follow-ups. Especially when they use cutesy or gimmicky subject lines like 'whoops -- did I do something wrong?'" says Nicole Dieker, a personal finance blogger.

If you email once and don't hear back, try again after a week. If we don't respond after that, consider this pitch rejected. Any more than that, and your emails feel like spam. It's not a great way to make friends of the press.

Send a short pitch first.

We don't have time to read a whole press release, yet this is what most pitch emails launch into. If your subject line hooked us into opening the email, your pitch should quickly tell us why to care about your story.

Lawlor says she keeps her pitch to less than 200 words and asks if the writer wants more information -- I challenge you to be that concise.

Include alternate reasons to reach out to you.

If we're not interested in your pitch, what do you want us to do next?

"Instead of leaving it at that [pitch], offer some other examples of how your expertise might be helpful," recommends Carson Kohler, a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. "This increases your odds of me reaching out."

Let us know your expertise and interests, and we can reach out for future relevant pieces. If you stop with the current pitch, we'll just delete your email and probably not think of you again.

Be honest about your goal.

Help us help you by being clear about what you want.

"A lot of these pitches try to slide in the product placement, but if you're just outright, I'm more likely to respect that," says Kohler.

It'll also keep you from wasting your time. If you want a link to your company site, ask for it upfront. If it's useful for the reader and consistent with our publications guidelines, we'll do it. If not, we'll let you know, and you can bow out if the link-less press isn't worth your time.

Remember: We work with digital media, so we understand what you're after. We know the value of a link or a brand mention, and we also know and respect the value of your time.

Published on: Feb 25, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.