Reporters get dozens of emails a day, which can easily turn into hundreds of emails a week. It should come as no surprise then that reporters often ignore press releases or media pitches altogether.
While I hate to admit it, I know this all too well, as I was often one of those reporters. Before recently making the switch to PR, I worked in TV news for more than six years. I spent two years at WAGM-TV in Presque Isle, Maine (DMA 205) and then jumped up more than 150 markets to TWC News (now Spectrum News) and then WIVB-TV, both in Buffalo, New York (DMA 53).
Working in news means juggling several tasks and assignments at once, which means there just aren’t enough hours in the day to respond to every single email and media pitch. Simply put, unless your pitch is catchy, captivating and timely, it is bound to get lost in the shuffle. This was recently affirmed by former TODAY Show Producer Katie Buckley, who joined us here at Greenough for a lunch-and-learn to share similar tips for pitching national broadcast media. After a successful 13-year career at TODAY, she’s also seen her fair share of the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to pitches.
So how can PR practitioners grab the media’s attention?
The key is to make a connection to the reporter. Reporters and producers are more likely to respond to your pitch if you personally know each other, have worked together on a previous story or have a mutual connection. In news, I had a few go-to PR contacts who were always able to deliver on a great story – and make it happen quickly. It was a two-way, mutually beneficial relationship. They delivered a compelling pitch, complete with strong interviews and assets, and I built that pitch into a visually and emotionally pleasing story.
When conducting media outreach, do everything you can to find a connection to the person you’re pitching—and make that connection clear in your subject line. Did you work together on a previous story? Did you go to the same college? Did your sibling’s friend’s brother intern for that TV station at one point in time? Seek out any connection and then call it out in your email. Instead of putting “story idea” in your subject line, go for something that will cut through the noise, such as “We met at XX” or “We worked together on XX.” This is far more likely to garner a response.
Another tip: target a specific person. Never send a pitch to a generic newsroom email. No one will respond. Take the time to research and target reporters who have covered topics related to your client’s story. It will pay dividends and increase your chances of securing coverage.
Reporters are busy and often on deadline. Therefore, they don’t like phone calls and voicemails. Email is the preferred method of communication, and it’s best to wait until at least one week has gone by before following up a second time. After sending three emails with no response, it may be time to walk away from that pitch and find another angle, story line or target.
Based on my years in news, I also learned that timing is everything. When there’s breaking news, reporters are acting fast and on aggressive deadlines. Therefore, you need to do everything in your power to make sure you’re the first email in reporters’ inboxes when news breaks, offering them a resource or expert they can quickly utilize. If a story isn’t time-sensitive, consider a 6-week lead time to start planting the seed. TV is a visual medium, so it’s always helpful to include photos and links to video clips of the client when pitching broadcast media—anything to show your client has a great television presence and will be worth the producers’ time to put on television.
What’s the takeaway? It’s all about building relationships with reporters through timely and thoughtful storytelling, and then nurturing those relationships over time. If you secure coverage, send a handwritten thank you note to the reporter, or even bagels for the newsroom. It serves as a token of your appreciation for the time the reporter took to tell your story, and it will make your next to pitch to them that much more successful.
To learn more about Greenough’s approach to brand journalism, click here.