How not to pitch to journalists
The relationship between a journalist and PR has always been an interesting one. While their relationship can be symbiotic within the media sphere, it can also be filled with frustration.
Journalists have seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to their experience with PR people as well as dealing with the daily deluge of press releases. Conversely, communications executives have also had some 'interesting' days dealing with journalists.
But sometimes there are habits and little things that frustrate journalists to the point where they can block a PR advisor's number or email, which is devastating to a client who has that PR expert on a retainer.
At AZK Media, our communications experts and advisors were former leading and award-winning journalists, and we have encountered a combined total of tens of thousands of terrible pitches from public relations experts in our decades of experience. It's one of the reasons our clients choose us for our public relations expertise, because we know exactly 'how not' to pitch to a journalist.
Here are some habits we advise you avoid when it comes to pitching to journalists, and some expert tips to nurturing a positive relationship with the media.
1. Sending irrelevant pitches
Some PR pitches are good, some are bad and some are downright irrelevant. So don't pitch farming tools to a B2B technology journalist (real-life example, believe it or not)! Interesting to see, but irrelevant for the audience.
Make sure that your pitch is relevant to that journalist's readership or audience. If it isn't, you may find yourself on the firing line of a very grumpy journo.
Change the habit: Do some research on the publisher's website and see if they have discussed the topic or covered similar themes as the story you're pitching.
2. Sending information without the "why is this relevant" angle
Journalists get a daily barrage of PR releases and sorting through them is a daily ritual. If you want to make sure your pitch gets seen and written up ensure there is a "why is this relevant" angle. Sometimes journalists don't have time to read through all the PR emails so putting the relevancy in the headline is a helpful timesaver.
Change the habit: Tell the journalist that what you're pitching is perfect to their audience in the first few lines of your email.
3. Sending a pitch due to what's on the news, not because it is news
During world events such as COVID-19 or holidays like Christmas, there will be the standard press release that will focus on that event or holiday. If a press release is sent to a journalist focusing on a world event that wouldn't apply to their publication, or if it's clear the agency just wants to use the event/holiday to their 'promotional publicity' advantage, then email will either be ignored. If you're going to follow up, then expect a not-so-friendly email or call from that journalist.
Change the habit: Only send a release if you truly think there is a chance it will be published as it contains significant and relevant news.
4. Too many calls
I'm sure every journalist could tell you a time when they receive a call from a PR rep only a few minutes after they have received their email. It is very frustrating as a journalist to get call after call about one press release, especially when they have other priorities and calls to make.
Change the habit: Keep the calls to an absolute minimum. It saves time for both you and the reporter.
5. Not being personable
"Hey xxx, not sure if you've seen this email but I think your readers would enjoy this, thanks".
"Hi xxx, this product xxx has just been released and will change your life"
The list goes on.
These are examples of pretty mundane, plain emails which journalists have seen many, many times. It also smells of a stale mass email. If you're not personalising your email, you are reducing your chance of getting it read and having media coverage.
Change the habit: When sending a pitch make sure you include a name, a simple, relevant greeting like "hope you've had a good week" and personalised copy "since you've reviewed a similar product, I thought you would like to review this".
This shows you know who the journo is, know what they write about and pay attention. A reporter is more likely to reply to your email when you personalise and sound like a colleague rather than a stranger.
6. Sending too many pitches at once
Once you've sent a pitch to a journalist, don't try and send another one straight away. Overloading a journalist with several pitches in a day or even a few days can fracture a media/PR relationship.
Change the habit: If you have three pitches you want to send out, select the most relevant and send it. Ensure you give each pitch adequate 'air time' before sending through the next.
7. Calling after hours
This one is simple: do not call a journalist on the weekend, or contact them when they are on holiday. Some journalists in the past have received calls during their holidays, on the weekends or late at night which have not gone down well.
Change the habit: Call a journalist between 9 and 5, unless otherwise stated or there is a serious comms crisis.
8. Taking advantage of a journos email
Don't send a journalist an email or add them to your mailing list just because they are the editor or a famous name. You may have 100 addresses of journalists but that doesn't mean that they all need the same press release.
Change the habit: Only send a pitch to that journalist if it is relevant and newsworthy.
9. Not proofing your emails
It looks unprofessional when a PR release has typos, or has been sent to the wrong person, or the journalist's name is misspelt. Obviously, sometimes the mass sending software can glitch, but being super careful is a must.
Change the habit: Double check your email and make sure you have the journalist's name and gender right as well as who they work for.
10. No interviews
Unfortunately, sending out a media release without supporting interviews is a big no-no. This is because very few journalists will run the media release verbatim, and will want to put their own spin on it in order to make the story different or unique. So telling a journalist ‘All the information is in the press release you don’t need an interview’ will not help, and it will end up not being run unless we can speak to someone about it.
Change the habit: Make sure in every pitch there is someone the journalist can talk to.
Media is not a free advertising platform. If it is salesy, if it is not newsworthy, re-think sending it out. Sometimes it is a communication and marketing expert's job to tell the client what they have to say is uninteresting and to consider other marketing channels.
Change the habit: Think about the type of content you are sending out and whether a news publication is the right distribution channel.
If it’s a no, then it’s a no. Arguing with the media is not recommended and is highly unprofessional. Journalists aren't required to give you an answer on why they will not run the story. And please don't get your manager or your client's team involved in the argument. Move on.
Change the habit: Respect the boundaries of a journalist. When a journalist rejects your pitch, politely ask why, if they don't respond, move on.
14. Riddled with errors
Writing press releases isn't an easy task, even the pros struggle sometimes. When an agency sends a press release that is filled with errors both grammatical and factual, a journalist is more likely to bin it than use it.
Change the habit: Proof your emails and press releases, when you've done that, proof it again!
15. Overseas focus
Some regions like the Australian media landscape are very parochial. Unless it concerns the region directly, local journalists generally don’t care about it. This is particularly when it comes to local trade technology, business and finance magazines. Don’t send a global, US-centric media release to a local Australian publication, it won't be picked up.
Change the habit: Only send locally relevant news to regional news outlets.
16. Pray and spray
Again, a good targeted media release might be relevant for a number of publications, but don’t send it to 'everyone.' Even though it can be tempting when using distribution channels like Meltwater, which give you access to thousands of journalist details. Journalists can tell you've done a general 'blast', and they won’t read it. It is worth taking extra time, checking out where it needs to go, and personalising each email to demonstrate WHY it is relevant to a certain publication. That will get you a lot further than a spray and pray.
Change the habit: Make sure you personalise your pitch and refine your publication hit list. A seasoned marcomms expert can help you with this.
17. Resending it 5 times
“Just floating this to the top of your inbox”...’Not sure if you saw this, but…”. This is all too familiar for time-poor journalists. Feel free to send a follow-up email once, but if you get no response it’s a no. Journalists don’t have time to respond to every pitch we get individually.
Change the habit: Re-send it once, max and if it isn't written up, it isn't written up.
18. Pitching a story that's just been done
This happens alarmingly often. A journalist will get pitches based on what they have just written and published. If they just did it, they're not doing it again anytime soon.
Change the habit: Pitch fresh, newsworthy angles of a story to a journalist.
While we've highlighted the ways to pitch effectively, how to minimise 'annoying' journalists and boost your chances of organic media placement, we acknowledge that pitching isn't easy and is a skill that needs years to develop and refine.