Every journalist has secretly wished he could educate marketers and PR professionals on how to effectively send their messages. People bug the media too much, says Rhoda Weiss, chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America.
“It’s not about taking people out for drinks and steak dinners,” says Weiss. “Those days are over.” Instead, her advice is to provide reporters with information that is fast, factual and forthcoming.
Some of today’s PR professionals and marketers fail to successfully build relationships with media contacts, because they don’t know how to connect with them. The truth is that the two groups actually can benefit from one another. Journalists will tell you they respect their counterparts in other industries who are trying to inform them about the latest products and trends, but they want them to do a better job of telling their story.
Here are some important rules -- many from journalists -- that apply to anyone trying to sell an idea to a reporter or editor:
Acquaint Yourself with Editors and Publications
Probably the biggest mistake is sending out mass emails without tailoring pitches to your intended audience. Chandra Czape Turner, executive editor of CosmoGIRL!, says that she has received press materials for maternity clothes and alcohol, even though CosmoGIRL! is geared toward teens.
A marketer or public relations professional is responsible for knowing a publication’s personality, audience and regular columns. Then, he must tailor his pitches accordingly.
It’s not enough to just know the magazine well, says Turner. You also need to know the right editor for the story. She’s an executive editor and often receives releases about fashion and beauty products, which she deletes without opening because other editors are meant to handle them. Making a quick phone call to find out beat assignments at a publication saves everyone a lot of time.
Get Inside Their Heads
“You need to think, act and write like a reporter,” says Weiss. Identify yourself as a PR or marketing representative up-front in a pitch, but then write or speak as though you are a good freelance writer looking for an assignment, says Turner.
To do this correctly, in addition to tailoring your pitch to the magazine and editor’s needs, you also should include relevant stats or data, possible sources, examples of accompanying art and the story’s suggested fit in the publication. Obvious advice that bears repeating includes keeping pitches short and to the point and using clever, but informative, subject lines to garner the reporter’s interest.
If you’re pitching your idea on the phone or in person, you also should practice what you’re going to say ahead of time, suggests Weiss. Brevity is key. Just like a journalist, you should quickly inform your audience of the story. Ask yourself, “Why is this important to the readers of this publication and therefore this editor or reporter?”
Save Familiarity for Family
Some public relations professionals begin their conversations too familiarly with reporters. Reporters sometimes play along with a PR professional’s small talk, but reporters can quickly become annoyed. Your best bet, says Sunny Sea Gold, Glamour’s articles editor in charge of health, is to identify yourself and your company as soon as the reporter responds, even if you’ve worked together in the past. Common courtesy always prevails.
Mind Your Own Business
Do not ask what stories the journalist is working on now. Journalists are almost always juggling lots of stories and much of that is privileged information they should not be sharing. If you want an editorial calendar, which outlines the dates of publication of annual special reports, you can call the advertising department of any magazine, newspaper or Web site.
Don’t Be Discouraged
Refrain from complaining if your client gets interviewed but isn’t included in the story. Journalists interview lots of people and not everyone's quote makes the cut. Being available, however, means that the journalist might call the next time he's working on a relevant story. Lending a hand never hurts. “[PR professionals and marketers] can be your best friends,” says Gold. “There are those who I work with on a regular basis who have saved me at the last minute by giving me a quick fact or expert.”
Ask for Face Time
Offer to organize a desk-side meet and greet between your client and a journalist with whom he already has a working relationship. Sometimes, this helps put the expert or his product on the journalist’s radar screen. The only caveat is to avoid being pushy if the journalist declines.
If a journalist calls you with no prompting whatsoever, then you know you have a solid relationship, says Gold. Keep in mind that journalists need you as much as you need them. “If your topic or angle is interesting, there’s no way I’m going to let you pass me by,” says Gold. “I’m always hungry for ideas. If it’s good and it fits, I’m going to bite.” All you have to do is serve up the right bait.