How to be a Journalist’s Best Friend

Before pitching journalists as a public relations professional, I was one. Between interning as a reporter in local and national news and reporting in local broadcast news for half a decade I received thousands of pitches during my career. Some I automatically deleted knowing they weren’t tailored to me and were mass pitched nationwide. Others I could jot in my planner upon noting the correct geographic location and if the topic piqued my interest. Catchiness and newsworthiness were the biggest intrigue. Being on both sides of the pitch email or phone call, I’ve learned best practices that create win-win scenarios for journalists and PR pros. 

Research Reigns Supreme

Before sending a pitch, first research the best journalists and outlets to cover the topic. Often there can be multiple angles to one story. For example, a story about forest bathing in an older adult community in the U.S. would include nature and outdoors journalists as well as older adult and senior living writers and publications. A third subset is regional journalists who may want to highlight something unique in a geographic location for their audience. 

Once you have a media list hyper-focused on the journalists and outlets you want to target, research their pitching preferences. In pitching software, some journalists indicate they like to be pitched during a certain time frame, be sure to make note of time zone changes. Indicate those hours on your media list sheet so you’re respectful of their wishes.

Don’t Bury the Lead

What makes the pitch, media release or media advisory worthy of coverage? Lead with that. If there’s a key interview, interesting or particularly unique aspect to your client’s work - highlight why a journalist should do this story. Don’t make them work for that information. Make an effort with each part of your email pitch. If a journalist only read the subject line, would they open it? 

Whip Up a Silver Platter Pitch

Having been in a newsroom and working on the other side there are plenty of times where a pitch is fantastic but there’s not enough staff to come out and cover it. Or maybe news of the day takes priority over your pitch. Do everything you can to make your story easy to cover. There’s a chance someone could add it to a newscast or write up a story online, even if no one is available to come out to cover in person.

As a PR pro, give the journalists everything you have. Utilize bullet points and pictures in the body of the email when you can. If you have a variety of pictures or videos, link to them via Google Drive, Dropbox or WeTransfer. Journalists want everything in one place–that includes the pitch, additional research and data, who they could interview and when, visuals, and how to get in touch with you, the PR pro. Make it easy and make it make sense.  

Cut to the Chase

Research, and our experience, show that journalists prefer pitches under 200 words. Keep it short and simple. If you are confused by your own writing, the journalist reading your email will be too. If the story warrants more, you can always write a blog or byline article in addition to the media pitch.

Phone a Friend

An oldie but a goodie is picking up the phone. Unless they specifically indicate no phone calls, there’s no harm in trying to talk with someone on the phone, especially if the journalist has a phone number that is easily accessible in an email or on a journalist database. While it’s not recommended to pitch by phone first, if you’re looking to get in touch with someone you think would be a great fit for a specific pitch, try calling. If they don’t answer, leave a voicemail with your name, email and cell phone number so they can reach out at their convenience. This may sound outdated, but it can still be effective in some cases.

Act Quickly

Deadlines and details - two words that journalists live by. If your pitch doesn’t have enough details you will get asked questions. Journalists often have deadlines and may email, text or call you quickly to get the story set up and covered. Be flexible, be understanding and most importantly be available. One of the worst feelings as a journalist is attempting to work with a PR team only for their response time to be slow or their answers unhelpful. It causes a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. Anticipating a journalist’s needs in advance makes for a streamline process later on. 

Nurture the Relationship

Just like with a friend, you wouldn’t reach out to them only when you need something. You check in on them and care about the challenges they are facing. You may not remember every journalist’s out-of-office message, but a good way to connect is to remember what they do share. Maybe you get an OOO when the person is on parental leave - when the allotted period has ended, throw a line in your next pitch that says “Congratulations on your new chapter!” It’s also nice to check in with journalists who you’re regularly pitching. By asking them if they have any assignments they are working on you may realize you have a pitch that is a perfect fit. 

Take Feedback Seriously

Every PR pro hates receiving an email that reads “remove me” or “unsubscribe.” But this is important feedback. For example, I was pitching car enthusiast journalists on an experience gifting option for riding in a sports car. The journalist wrote back saying while he focuses on luxury cars, he writes about the interior, exterior, and performance rather than the driving experience. His profile didn’t distinguish that in the online journalist database so I was grateful he took the opportunity to clarify in his response. 

Becoming a journalist’s best friend or preferred public relations contact doesn’t happen overnight. There isn’t a potion to drink to become the most likable PR pro or zestiest wordsmith. Like many things in life, it takes time, research, understanding and a unique combination of patience and persistence. Ultimately, building relationships will help you and your clients succeed and help the journalist with ideas as well.