Pitching The Media, Channel Basics

Posted on April 3, 2014. Filed under: Media Commentary, Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public Relations Pointers, Public relations practices, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Reporters even today, in this most post-modern of post-modern worlds to date, prefer to get their pitches from PR people under cover of email. Or, get this, they’ll even take a story idea by telephone — yes that strange little talking device that pre-dates even the VCR, microwave ovens and the use of the designated hitter in baseball — over getting hit up with an idea by, say, a Tweet.

Not to say that all reporters, news producers and the like eschew the social media avenues for pitch contacts. TV reporters and program producers seem to get an abundance of their story ideas from social media sources, according to the 2014 Vocus State of the Media Report. This makes sense, since television news is particularly keen on reaching out to viewers for news tips and just generally more open to engaging with viewers via social media.

Best Bet – Email!

Email emerges as the favorite medium for story pitching for a number of reasons. One, it’s private. Two, it’s fast and also because people pay more attention to what’s happening in the email streams than they do to what’s being beamed at them on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and the like. Three, it’s easier to keep track of pitches sent via email versus the social media circuits.

Keeping things private, Edward Snowden aside, is pretty much a given when working with the news media. Some news people — outside the aforementioned local TV news realm — are receptive to receiving tips via openly public media such as Twitter. But putting a story idea up on a public Twitter feed also cues competitors in to what a reporter may be doing. It’s no way to pitch an exclusive story, that’s for sure. Most reporters that I know and work with seem to work under the assumption that whatever story they’re doing is their own private business — and they just don’t want other people outside their organization to know what they’re working on until they’re ready to reveal it themselves. This makes email a better choice than a public Tweet, especially if you’re pitching a particular story angle to a particular reporter. Using the private DM channel on Twitter to contact a reporter is a better approach – assuming you have that option – but again, there’s the chance that the reporter isn’t checking the Twitter feedline that often.

By Any Means Possible

A nice option is to use Twitter as a story-pitch alerter – signaling the reporter that you’ve got a newsy idea to discuss, with a note that you’ve sent an email – if that’s the case or left a voice-mail message if that’s the case. Use it as another tool for getting a news person’s attention, in other words.

Reporters often use Facebook and LinkedIn as means of tracking down sources. LinkedIn has its advantages with its built-in InMail feature, which allows users to send private emails to others in the LinkedIn system.

I find Twitter to be of immense use as a media relations tool, less for direct pitching of stories than for staying informed about specific media outlets and reporters. In fact, I often find myself browsing through my list of people I’m following on Twitter to find reporters and media outlets that might be interested in stories I’m currently pitching. The list changes all the time, depending on what I’m working on.

Personal Contact Is Essential

But for pitching story ideas – when you’re the pitcher – the best approach still seems to be a combination of email and followup telephone contact, perhaps supplemented by contacts on Twitter and other social media outlets where the news person maintains a presence. The unsettling thing about email is that you’re never sure if your pitch has been seen by a reporter who probably gets bombarded by email all day long. (There are unobtrusive email tracking systems that you can use to see if your emails are being opened; they just let you know if and when someone’s clicked open your email. (I’m not real familiar with the technology, although I’m interested in hearing from anyone who does know how effective such systems are and so forth.)

And yet, there are no absolutes — whatever works best with individual reporters and news people is the best approach.

Active media relations is very challenging work. The digital age has made it all the more complicated and demanding. People who do media relations work well tend to live and breathe the media world. Many are former journalists — more of them now than say 10 years ago. Now I’m speaking of media relations as the practice of reaching out to the media to generate coverage for clients. This goes beyond the idea of simply pumping out a press release, throwing it out on a paid distribution service, and sitting back to see what happens. Many companies do this for quick-fix SEO – search engine optimization reasons. Nothing wrong with that. But if you’ve got a good story to tell, one that you believe should be of interest to the media, then it’s worth taking the time to personally pitch the story to the media as well. The keys to great results, as the Vocus study shows, are persistence and using the appropriate means of contact.

Good Stories Buried With The Bad

Let me finish with a quote from a reporter at a national news media outlets in Southern California, as identified in the Vocus report. The reporter responds to the question of whether she is open to receiving pitches via social media. Her response appears to indicate that she isn’t currently receiving many pitches via social media.

“Yes, I think. It is hard to say what the long-term effect of my social media experience will be if my Facebook instant message or Twitter Direct Message box becomes packed with pitches like my email box is now. I routinely miss important emails as it is now because they are buried within the stack of “story ideas.” I think a more elegant solution is ahead of us, I just don’t know what it is yet.” – See more at: VOCUS State of the Media Report.

She sums up the crux of the matter, from a media relations perspective, very well when she says that a lot of important emails get buried under the stack of story ideas in her email box. That’s where good media relations people earn their keep – by finding ways to call pitch-saturated reporters’ and editors’ attention to their clients’ good story ideas. (Because a good story is a terrible thing to waste, damn it!)

Hats off to VOCUS for doing the report.

Got a media relations story to share, commentary on my commentary, etc? I’d love to hear from you.

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Email Pitches From Public Relations Agency Go Plunk, Plunk Plunk Into The Night

Posted on July 22, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , |

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in P...

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a good reference piece about pitching stories into a highly competitive news media market Email pitches went unnoticed.

The writer – Alyson Shontell of Business Insider — indicates she deliberately ignored the 3 – count ’em, 3 – email pitches sent to inform her about a new Internet startup.

As it happened, the news about the launch of Rally.org would of interested Shontell. She might have written about the launch, had the PR firm — or more specifically, the “PR Lady” pitching the account for the firm — tailored its pitch to Shontell more adroitly.

Startups Clog The Email Pipeline

As Shontell tells it, she gets an “absurd amount” of email about startups daily. So to cut down on the information overload, she screens messages by looking first, to see if she knows the sender; secondly, by what’s in the title line; and thirdly, by what’s in the first sentence of the release as revealed by Gmail’s preview tool.

One of the pitches failed because the title line indicated the attached news was embargoed until a certain release date and time. No no no, Nanette or whatever the PR Lady’s actual name is, this didn’t work because Shontell doesn’t want to be treated like a commodity. She wants exclusives, like every other reporter! (It’s actually refreshing to hear a reporter say that’s how the game is played.)

Another pitch failed because of a weak title line, something about some company named Rally.org — not yet on the national business radar screen — pointing out a flaw in rival Kickstarter’s formula for social fundraising via an Internet-based technology platform.  Fair enough. Subtlety is not a virtue when pitching stories into the national media maw.

Stranger In A Strange Email Inbox

All of the pitches had one strike against them with this reporter by virtue of the fact that the sender was unknown to her. That’s an absurdly common problem in PR, since most PR practitioners, especially in agencies, deal with a wide variety of companies and industries and can’t know everybody who’s anybody in the news business – else why have media list services? It’s also a bit of a canard, and good PR people know it’s ultimately the newsworthiness of the pitch that will make or break the selling of the story to a reporter and his or her news organization. Shontell actually acknowledges this, noting it was obvious that the PR Lady did not know her – meaning she didn’t know what made Shontell’s news detector screen go on full alert.

How so? Because the pitch was not well-tailored enough to grab Shontell’s attention. The news, the really interesting part of the news, as she notes, was buried in the news release somewhere (the really interesting news was that some big nationally known investors were backing this unknown company). Use of those names as calling cards in the title line of the email or at least in the lede sentence, would have piqued Shontell’s interest and caused her to read on — because she knew those investors’ names, had probably written about other investments they had made (something that the PR person could have discovered in advance) and so was inclined to grant the all-important credibility factor to any startup company backed by such financial luminaries.

Hold That Cursor, There’s More To The Story

Shontell seems to be just telling it like is is. As a reporter for a digitally based, breaking news-focused business news site, she probably has little time for idle chit-chat or investigating every little news release that comes  her way.

Exclusive angles, sharply written title lines in emails, powerful lead sentences, and an approach hand-tailored to each reporter and outlet – especially the majors, however that is defined on an individual client basis — all are important considerations. None of this is to say that Atomic PR failed its client, Rally.org, in getting news out about the startup. Shontell only thought to write about what went wrong with the pitches that the PR agency sent her way after seeing news about Rally.org elsewhere. Something must have gone right for the PR Lady.

More to the point, Shontell provides a warts-and-all look at what it takes to separate the wheat from the chaff in email pitching. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just about who the public relations practitioner knows in the media world but what the PR pro knows about crafting messages that attract media attention. Why warts-and-all? Shontell’s anatomy of why she missed the Rally.org story has a bit of a mea culpa feel to it as well. She did miss the Rally.org story, after all – while others got it.

A followup telephone call might have helped clarify things, but it’s not clear whether that’s even an option in this case.

PR people continually face the obstacle of getting past the various shields that people in the media put up to keep from becoming paralyzed by info overload. It’s a never-ending job. Every reporter is different. As Shontell suggests, it’s the PR person’s job to get to know them.

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