At Hillenby, we have a proven track record of generating media coverage that helps our clients tell their positive stories. It’s a hard-won feat, especially when today’s newsrooms are understaffed, building relationships can be challenging, and “good news” is harder than ever to come by. When we set out to secure reputation-boosting coverage for our clients, there are five drivers we keep in mind, including one that might surprise some.
1. Create a story you could see a reporter writing before you begin outreach.
Reporters and PR professionals think differently. In our industry, people often focus on the headline they’d like to see written as a result of their outreach, but reporters need more than just a big idea to sell a story to their editor. They need to understand what a complete story around your pitch would look like. That means PR professionals must think like a journalist and craft a story that you could envision a reporter writing. What will the different angles be? Who will the reporter want to speak with – even people beyond your client – and are they prepared to be interviewed? What elements can you add to make the story more colorful and relatable to the reporter’s readers? Having all of these components together before you hit send on your pitch email will make it a lot easier for the reporter – and his or her editor – to say “yes.”
2. Make reporters care about your pitch.
A compelling story can get lost in a boring pitch, so be sure that your email leaves a good first impression on its recipient. Avoid being long-winded or using flowery language, although that doesn't mean devoid of emotion. Reporters – and their readers - respond to emotion, so don’t be afraid to pull on some heartstrings if it’s appropriate.
When I build a pitch, I try to cut to the chase as quickly as possible and include bold key sentences throughout to help scanning reporters capture my key takeaways. I also recommend bulleting out what the interview opportunities will be and, if working with broadcast, what the visuals will be (if they aren’t obvious). Anything you can do to help the reporter visualize the story and ultimately sell it to his or her editor will be instrumental here.
3. Be easy to work with and minimize the back and forth.
There are only a few times in a PR professional’s career where you have a story that absolutely nobody else does. Relish those opportunities. Otherwise, chances are that there is a similar issue, product or spokesperson out there fighting for the exact same coverage as you. One of the best ways I’ve found to stand out from the competition is to be easy (and if possible, fun) to work with. Depending on the situation, this can mean everything from being flexible and accommodating, to helping the reporter do research on his or her story.
I also strive to keep the number of emails sent on a given story to a minimum. That means being organized and thoughtful, as well as making sure all of the necessary details are communicated at the same time in a concise manner. You’ll also need to do a fair bit of troubleshooting – try to anticipate the reporter’s questions and concerns and address them before being asked.
4. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone.
I’m constantly reading articles about pitching that quote reporters asking PR professionals to stop calling them. “If I’m interested, I’ll respond to your email,” they often say. To that, I just smile and pick up the phone. In today’s media environment, newsrooms are short-staffed, and reporters are being asked to develop more content on a wider array of subjects than ever before. Part of that change means more emails for each reporter to sift through and less time to do so. Writing a strong subject line will help grab the reporter’s attention, but in my experience, nothing works as well as a quick phone call. During that call, you can also address any questions or hesitancies that the reporter might have about covering your story.
It’s important to know when to call. Reporters I work with tell me there’s nothing more annoying than the PR professional who calls immediately after hitting send on his or her email. Instead, wait a few hours before calling. Hopefully, that will give the reporter the opportunity to at least see your email, and will make you seem less impatient.
Additionally, it’s important to call the right reporter. The challenge for many agencies is they just have a person emailing multiple people from a contact list pulled straight from a media service. These services are a great starting place, but it’s incredibly important to do your homework and research the reporters you are targeting before you contact them. Reporters will actually be happy to hear from you if your pitch is interesting and relevant to their beat.
5. Send thank you notes and regular correspondence.
After your coverage runs, take a moment to send an email to the reporters you worked with thanking them for their time. Then keep in touch. Send emails when you read or see other pieces of their coverage or hear their name associated with good news (promotions, awards, etc.). Doing this builds a relationship, which will lead to more frequent and better coverage in the future. One recent example of this working in our clients’ favor involves a Texas-based energy company and NPR. After regular correspondence with the outlet’s lead energy reporter for about a year, that reporter recently got in touch with us for inclusion of the company in a story. If I had only been “pitching” her, I likely wouldn’t have known about the story until after it had run, and my client wouldn’t even have been on her radar!
As all good public relations pros know and should admit, there is never any guarantee of media coverage. But following these steps will help you get on the right path and, over the long term, increase yours odds of landing the great story that makes your clients happy.