Lots of businesses want to get attention from the press. There are practices that make it more likely you will, and the best of these are based on what journalists do and how they do it.

Over at Ragan.com, which covers PR, a good practitioner I know by the name of Frank Strong pulled together a set of surveys that looked at the current state of PR. It's getting harder for PR people to place stories, which makes sense. The number of working journalists has been dropping, the number of people in PR mushrooming, and the ratio of PR to journalism means inundation. (I can personally testify to the hundreds of emails I get every weekday, many of which are story pitches and most of which, although I look at them, are zero interest.)

Using the data from the surveys he referenced, here are 17 tips in three categories that should help improve your chances at coverage (although by no means are you even close to a guarantee).

Get to know journalists

No, you're not going to ask them all to sit on the phone with you or get a cup of coffee. There are too many offers and too much deadline work that takes precedence. But try to get a sense of what interests them and the types of topics they cover.

Twitter is, by far, the most favored platform. From my own observations, there are a number of reasons: ease of stumbling across interesting ideas, topics, and colleagues; quick engagements; and the chance to be clever. If you're not on Twitter, go there.

But--again, my experience--avoid trying to "develop a relationship" online. Just learn about the reporter. Yes, this can be time consuming if you want to talk to a lot of reporters, but the automated tools that suggest you can push a button and have everything work are terribly lacking.

Also, figure that journalists will check out your business social media presence.

Pitch early and short

Most journalists want pitches early in the day, as in before 11 a.m. After that, we're interviewing people and meeting deadlines. And make it short--200 words, max--and via email. Use a descriptive subject line and forget being cute in it, because deleting a message is oh, so easy.

If someone wants more information, they'll get back to you. That brings up a point not in the survey: Be sure you are responsive. If you pitch and hear back, be sure to reply right away. Allow it to sit, and the reporter will likely decide that if you're not interested, they aren't either.

According to the surveys, a lot of reporters don't mind follow-ups. Some, like me, do. Check before assuming you should do so. And if you do follow up, don't send a series, one day or week after another. You'll achieve the goal of sticking in someone's mind, only not in a good way.

A majority (57 percent) of reporters don't like embargoes, probably because it smacks of someone trying to manage them. Some do, and that might be because they have time to locate sources and do some research before writing something. One personal thought: If you want to use an embargo, make sure there's a reason that sounds good.

And only 5 percent of reporters like phone calls. Don't do it unless you know the journalist well enough to know when it might be appreciated.

What to include

The best advice for what to include in a pitch is to figure out whether to send it at all. If you don't know what a reporter covers, don't email. Most likely you're suggesting something they have no professional interest in.

And, again a personal observation: Don't believe what the big and small databases of journalists say about them. Often the data is wrong. For some reason, a lot of people pitch me stories about New Jersey, which is I'm sure a fine state and the home of many relatives of mine, but a place I don't live or work and have no particular interest in covering.

Avoid screwing up. More reporters than not will blacklist sources of pitches, whether a PR professional or someone seeking publicity, if they don't get things right pretty quickly. I'd say it's business, not personal, but honestly it becomes both.

Published on: Sep 30, 2019
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