I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a couple of friends who work in today’s ever-changing media landscape (it’s a small world indeed) and pick their brains about media relations best practices and opportunities for improved communication between PR pros and reporters. While there isn’t (and will never be) a one-size-fits-all media relations approach, a few nuggets of information in particular stood out to me:
1) Be Brief, Be Intriguing
Our clients have a story and we want to tell it—sometimes too much of it. Reporters work on tight deadlines and in an ever-changing, around the clock news cycle. If we don’t have the time to read a three page email, then they certainly don’t. Value intrigue over volume. Craft a succinct, enticing email (a couple of paragraphs at the maximum) and aim to pique their interest. “Some of the best pitches I’ve received were three, maybe four sentences,” one contact told me. So what does that mean? It means the pitch should be direct, it should get to the point quickly and it should have a clear benefit to the recipient and to his or her audience. “Think of it like telling your elevator speech to someone you are dating. Do you immediately tell your whole life story? No,” says Mandy StadtMiller, a contributor to New York Magazine and the editor-at-large of xoJane.com. “You get them hooked with something that captures their attention. Keep your pitches under five sentences when possible.”
2) Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
Building a relationship takes time and effort. But that time and effort can be invaluable. No matter how a relationship is sparked—at a client event, from a past interview, through a mutual friend—it’s up to us to maintain it. Again, there is no universal approach here. Maybe you comment on a recent article or send a tweet, maybe you grab coffee when they’re in town, maybe you connect with them on LinkedIn. The point here is that once you ignite that spark, you never let the fire go out. “If you have a pitch to send us and you don’t have a personal relationship with the reporter who covers that beat, send it my way and ask me to pass it along. They are more likely to open it if it comes from me, particularly when it comes with the caveat that I know this person, I’ve worked with them before and I trust them,” says my friend. This is an approach I have found to be incredibly fruitful—tone is key here—but sometimes it’s all about who you know. As Jim Dougherty states in a recent Cision.com article, “Although many PR practitioners are understandably sensitive about journalist’s schedules, some of the most important relationships grow through face-to-face interaction. It may be coffee, drinks or dinner, or attending the same industry events. Whatever the opportunity, face-to-face offers a depth and context that email and social media lack…. if you can pull it off.”
3) Hook Me
One of the easiest media relations traps to fall into is pitching an evergreen story. No matter how interesting a certain story may be—no matter how important—if it isn’t timely and doesn’t have a sense of immediacy, its chances for seeing publication decrease tenfold. Reporters receive hundreds of pitches a day; help guide them to yours. Research is key. Dig up a relevant stat from a recent survey, glom onto a holiday or observance, tie your pitch into a larger story dominating the news waves. As Mark Renfree states in a recent PRNewswire online article, “Timeliness is key when trying to generate publicity. Sometimes it helps to connect your story with another item in the news, but make sure not to take over news that isn’t yours.” The point is that sometimes an intriguing story isn’t enough. It needs to have a sense of immediate relevancy. If that isn’t inherent in the story, then help manufacture it (or at least manifest it).
4) Help Me Picture the Story
Creative or visual assets can often serve as the boost your story needs to push it across the publication finish line. Today’s audience is dominated by visual learners and reporters love to tell stories in unique and nontraditional ways. Infographics, high resolution photos, links to YouTube videos and MP3 audio files can all help round out and differentiate your story. “Above all, you should regularly be thinking, ‘Can I communicate this topic visually for readers of the target media outlet?’ If so, provide that information with your pitch – or at least offer to produce multimedia content as part of your pitch,” says Jeremy Porter in his Journalistics article, “9 Media Relations Tips for 2016.”
So what does all of this mean for us as PR professionals? It means that media relations is a craft and like any great artist, we are always looking for ways to evolve and improve. The human element of media relations is far from dead—it just takes a little more effort from our side to keep it alive. And most importantly, it means that our stories are there to be told—it’s up to us to figure out how.