As complicated as dealing with the media can seem, your success in securing media coverage will really come down to these three things; the right timing, the right angles and the right relationships.
While it won’t guarantee that your story ideas will get a run, having good relationships with key media personnel will greatly improve your odds; journalists are far more likely to come to you for comment rather than your competitors, give you feedback on unsuccessful pitches, and share insider information with you to improve your chances of getting covered.
Overall, when a journalist likes you and sees value in what you’re doing, they want to cover you and will work with you to make it happen.
There are three sure-fire ways to really peeve a journalist right off:
- Being a serial pest by following up incessantly and at the wrong times
- Constantly sending the wrong types of story ideas to the wrong journalists
- Having the wrong attitude
Here are some of the secrets to making friends with journalists and influencing the media that I can share, coming from both my experience as a journalist and as a publicist:
Before you do anything else, introduce yourself
If you’re yet to send off that first email or make that very first phone call to a reporter you’ve never spoken to before, halt! Let’s make sure you get off on the right foot right away. Instead, send an introductory email before sending any story pitches. It should be brief, include your name, title or position within your community, a little bit about your business, and, most importantly, ask the journalist what rounds (or types of stories) they cover, when their deadline is, how long they would prefer you to wait before following up, and whether they prefer a follow-up by phone or email.
When a journalist likes you and sees value in what you’re doing, they want to cover you and will work with you to make it happen …
Most of the time, you will get a reply. Not only are you gathering important information, you are demonstrating that you respect the journalist’s time and you’re letting them set the ground rules for future interactions. Cement the trust you’ve started to earn by strictly adhering to the ground rules the journalist sets.
When you already have a relationship with a journalist and things aren’t going too well
Maybe you’ve already sent a few pitch emails and you’ve never had a reply. Maybe you typically get a brief reply to let you know that they’re not interested. Maybe you’ve been doing follow up phone calls and emails and you just never get a positive response. Ever.
It’s never too late to turn things around – unless you’ve been specifically asked to never contact a reporter again (in which case, I really can’t help you). Instead of the introductory email I described earlier in this piece, send a request for feedback email. Your first chance to send this is when a reporter responds to your pitch email with a “thanks, but no thanks”. Reply by thanking the reporter for letting you know your pitch was unsuccessful, and then ask if your angle was wrong, if your timing was off, or if there is any information about the types of stories the publication likes to focus on that the reporter could share, so you can be more helpful in future (adopting a mindset of serving the journalist’s needs will go a long way).
Send a request for feedback email. Your first chance to send this is when a reporter responds to your pitch email with a “thanks, but no thanks”. Reply by thanking the reporter for letting you know your pitch was unsuccessful, and then ask if your angle was wrong …
If you don’t have the opportunity to send this request for feedback as a response to a recent email, you can send it off as a fresh email, or make a phone call. In my experience, this type of phone call is actually well-received. Begin by introducing yourself and reminding the journalist that you’ve sent a few email pitches to them recently, and you wanted to get some feedback about what you’re doing wrong. Always ask if they have a few minutes, don’t keep them on the phone for too long, and have the email dates and subjects in front of you so you can help jog the reporter’s memory and find your emails.
How to follow up in a way that wins friends
If you’ve done the groundwork and sent an introductory email, you should have eliminated 99% of your anxiety about following up. Of course, you’re going to follow the instructions the journalist has set out for you. If you haven’t done the ground work, your safest bet is to follow-up by email.
A journalist is not obligated to run your story or reply to your pitches. Be respectful of a journalist’s time …
In all email follow-ups, forward your original email – don’t send a fresh one. Don’t recount your original email; summarise your pitch in a couple of sentences and ask the journalist to make a decision about something. If you’re following up because you have new information, include it. Here’s what an example might look like:
“Hi John, I just wanted to let you know that we can make our CEO Jack Maximus available for a photo next week. Did you want to go ahead with the interview with John about why the price of fish has been steadily rising this year?”
And that’s it! If you don’t get a response, now you can make a phone call. Leave a message if that’s your only option. Once you’ve followed up by phone, it’s time to let it go.
When a journalist won’t call you back
Unless you’ve got an award-winning story on your hands, or a journalist has already confirmed that they’re going to run your story and the interview process has been set in motion, a journalist isn’t likely to call you back. If a journalist hasn’t given you the slightest indication that they’re interested in your story and you’ve already left two messages – stop calling. It’s time to put down the phone, and move on to another idea.
Approach with the right attitude
Adopting the mindset that you’re here to serve the journalist, and not the other way around, will put you in good stead for cultivating good relationships. Never ask a journalist to cover your story; you’re simply letting them know that you have some information they might be interested in. A journalist is not obligated to run your story or reply to your pitches. Be respectful of a journalist’s time; avoid sending long-winded emails with lots of attachments – keep your emails to four or five paragraphs at most.
Be resilient to rejection and don’t take things personally; it’s not about you or your business, it’s about what is and isn’t news.
If you found this information useful, you might enjoy a one-day PR and Public Speaking workshop I’m co-hosting on October 11 in North Sydney. Register here: http://www.pitch-pr.com.au/pr-public-speaking-workshop/