Posted by Beverley_Distilled
As part of the promotions and online PR team at Distilled, I spend the majority of my time trying to get the attention of journalists. If you’ve ever worked in PR you’ll know that this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Journalists are busy. They’re on a deadline, they’re knee-deep in an article that’s exponentially more timely than whatever you’re pitching to get coverage for. That email you spent half an hour perfecting? It’s getting scanned for something newsworthy, for surprising facts, for data that’s going to make an interesting story, and something that’s going to make their readers hit the ‘share’ buttons.
When I’m not working at Distilled, I run a travel blog and I’m a freelance writer. Consequently I find myself on the receiving end of the kind of emails I send out in my day job. More often than not, I hit the archive button and move on. Why? Because a lot of the pitches I get are totally irrelevant to my readership and, honestly, if you can’t take one minute to visit my site ask yourself whether you actually want you client in front of an audience of travel-lovers, then welcome to my trash folder.
That’s not where you want to be; the trash folder. You want to be in the yes folder, if there is in fact such a thing. You want your email to be so compelling, so full of the little details that make a journalist’s job easier, that their mouse doesn’t even hover near the delete button, let alone actually press it.
So how do you make it easy for a journalist to say yes to you?
Stop with the flattery
Flattery might work when you’re doing blogger outreach. Or, should I say, genuine flattery works; as a blogger I’ve received way too many emails where the the first sentence reads like a random positive adjective generator’s been used to say some nice things about my blog so that the sender, seemingly too busy to visit my site for a few minutes, doesn’t have to do any actual research.
Genuine flattery works with bloggers because it’s our site, our hard work, our money being poured into site design and hosting every month, our bedside lamps burning until the early hours as we write, and promote, and plan, and pitch.
Journalists are doing their jobs. You don’t need to tell them that the article they wrote for The Atlantic back in 2013 really resonated with you. You don’t need to try to make them like you. You don’t need to make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. So stop. Stop with the flattery and get to the point.
‘CC’ is a big no-no
I get it, OK, you’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy. You know what you shouldn’t be too busy to do if you really want journalists to cover your story? You shouldn’t be so busy that you don’t have a few minutes to send a separate email to each journalist you’re pitching.
Unless you’re pitching an exclusive story journalists know that you’re probably going to be pitching to more than one publication. That’s OK, that’s what you should be doing to try and obtain the maximum amount of coverage for your company or client.
What you don’t want them to think is that you’ve sent the exact same email to every single journalist with the exact same information which, if you send a blanket email, is basically what you’re doing.
When you do that you’re almost saying ‘OK, I’ve done no research into your publication, no research into the kinds of articles you’ve written in the past, and I haven’t tailored any of my pitch to appeal to you or your audience’ which is exactly what you don’t want.
Write some of the story for them
Imagine if you told your friends you’d cook them dinner anytime they wanted. They wouldn’t have to give you any notice. All they had to do was turn up at your door with the ingredients.
Except word gets around and, one day, you’re facing the prospect of cooking 20 different meals for 20 different friends. I don’t know what your culinary skills are like but can we all just agree that this would be a somewhat stressful and annoying situation?
Now imagine that those 20 people turn up with their ingredients again, except this time they’ve done some of the work for you. Onions have been diced, garlic’s been crushed. Everything you need to make the meal is there, you just need to bind them together.
How much better do you feel? How much more willing are you to forgive your friends for turning up unannounced?
That’s kind of what you need to do for journalists. No, not invite them around for dinner; do some of the work for them so that they can write the story around the facts.
In practical terms, I tend to take the stats that are most relevant to their audience, the parts that I want them to focus on, and include them in my pitch email on separate lines. This way, the journalist can see the most important details at a glance without having to dig through data, or read a huge press release. Help them write the story you want them to write about your client and you’re much more likely to get a ‘yes’ out of them.
Don’t Be a Tease, Be Proactive
Do you have images that the journalist can use should they choose to run the story? Do you have a press release with more information in it? Do you have contact details for your company or client’s spokesperson?
Maybe you have an awesome interactive graphic the journalist can feature, or an iframe they can use to host it on their site fully. Maybe you have all the things.
So why are you only teasing the journalist in your first email?
‘I have some photos of the product if you want to use them’
‘I can also get your the details of our expert on this.’
‘Let me know if you need anything else.’
Seriously? If you have these things available, give them to the journalist now. Be proactive. If you think they’re going to be useful include them in your email. Attach the photos, copy the press release underneath your pitch in the body of the email, include the iframe code.
Journalists are under more pressure than ever to get stories published. They don’t spend all day working on one article, they’re writing multiple articles each day. This is why it’s so important that you give them everything you think they could possibly need so that they can get on with writing the story instead of replying to your email.
Build a relationship
Good news: you did your research, you sent a pitch, and a journalist covered your story. But your relationship with that journalist doesn’t stop there. In fact, what you do after they’ve hit publish on their article is almost as important as everything you did before you hit send on your pitch.
A couple of weeks ago, I got a piece of creative we’d built for one of our clients some coverage on the site of one of the UK’s largest national newspapers so, afterwards, I emailed my contact to say ‘thank you’ and shared the article on my social media channels. It literally took me all of 10 seconds.
I mean, sure, I didn’t get another email back from my contact (remember when I said journalists were busy?) but that’s because, by that point, she was probably more interested in writing her next article.
And that’s OK, because the next time I have a story I think she’d be interested in covering, and I email her, I’ll carry on the email thread and she’ll know that I was helpful, and quick to reply, and courteous. Things that go a long way in the world of PR.
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