Public relations, or simply put, "Getting press" is just another tool in your marketing toolbox. It is not a strategy, it should not be your goal, but it absolutely should be something to which you dedicate some thought and resources.

Unfortunately, however, too many entrepreneurs, and even PR agencies just don't get it. Pitching a journalist should not be about convincing them to write, nor should it be about annoying them till they agree to write, or in most cases, tell you to go away. 

There are several things you can do before you even send that initial message or jump on that first call. Once you do have that initial contact, there are several things you need to do to increase your chances of coverage, which is the goal here. 

Know who you're talking to.

This point is not unique to PR, it is true about all marketing and all communication, in fact. Do your research, come prepared. Who is this journalist you are about to pitch? What are her interests? What does she tweet about? What is she passionate about? 

This is important for one of two reasons. Either you can leverage that information to speak the same language and create common ground during that call or, alternatively, you can reach the conclusion that this is actually not the right person to speak to, thereby saving your time and theirs.

Know your audience. A good rule of thumb for life.

Know not just the person, but also their work.

Once you did your research and you are confident that you know the journalist's areas of interest, now it's time to do some more research, not on the journalists interests, but on their work.

Do they write about AI, fintech, autonomous cars, all of the above? Is this story even remotely relevant to their areas of coverage? 

I have to admit that not many things are more frustrating than having to respond to a pitch with "Why are you sending me this? Have you seen any of my work? Why did you think this is relevant in any way, shape, or form?"

Studying their previous work before pitching not only gives you a solid response when they say "This isn't relevant for me", but it also gives you a good starting point for your pitch. "I saw you wrote about insurance last week, so I thought I would tell you about this new insurance story."

Come prepared, or as my dad likes to say "Think ahead or get one."

Don't fool anyone.

If you think pitching without transparency is a good idea, you are in for a very painful surprise. I have gotten hundreds of pitches over the years and the person sending the pitch so conveniently forgot to mention that they are being paid by the company. 

"I thought you should know about this amazing new technology..."

I always respond "Do you work with them?" If the answer is yes, my immediate assumption is that I am dealing with a dishonest individual, and that is the end of the conversation, now and maybe in the future, as well.

Be transparent. People appreciate that.

Follow up.

If this isn't important to you, why would it be to me?

Just this morning I sent an email to a journalist I was pitching along the lines of "I hope you had a good weekend, just making sure this didn't get buried in your inbox" and I forwarded all the materials I had sent them a few days earlier and to which I received no response.

You know what he replied? "Yes, I did miss this. Thanks for sending again. I will cover this story."

Had I not sent that follow up, this would have ended up buried and with no coverage. It took 20 seconds to send that follow up and it ended up accomplishing its goals.

Be systematic in your pitching and follow up on your initial message.

Be respectful and appreciative.

Over the years when I would get coverage for a startup, I would immediately contact the journalist to thank them for the article. In 98% of cases, they would respond with, "No, thank you for the story". That confused me. Why were they thanking me?

Then it hit me. Just like I need the press for my startup, the journalist needs me for a story. Give them a good story and you are helping them do their job just like they are helping you do yours.

This is an important lesson to remember when pitching the press. Give them a good story and assuming they are not overwhelmed with stories, there is no reason they won't cover it.

Once they do, do not forget to show your appreciation both privately and publicly. Include them in your tweets and posts, and assuming you like the piece, let them know that. 

At the end of the day, the person on the other side of that keyboard is a person trying hard to do their best work. Just like you.

Published on: Mar 6, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.