At a “How to Pitch the Media” session sponsored by a local public relations organization, it was déjà vu all over again. The event featured several journalists who basically told the audience of PR professionals all the things that annoy them. Among their gripes, “you don’t understand what I cover,” “you call to confirm that I got the email you just sent,” and “why are you sending me pitches that are more about selling and less about telling a compelling story?”

So much of what their complaints boil down to is a lack of respect and awareness for what journalists need and value. And sadly, this is a very old and tired conversation. This session transported me back years ago when I was a journalist and provided the exact same advice to media relations professionals. Nothing has really changed.  The only difference is that instead of FedEx-ing press packets, today we email them.  And instead of calling, we email, text or reach out via social media platforms.

The challenge is the same—get attention, grab interest. If you want to work with the media, here are a few fundamental rules of the road.  And these tips can apply to other stakeholders you want to reach.

  1. Know your audience. The media is not your audience. Your audience is their readers, listeners or viewers.  Think through carefully which media outlets reach the people you want to reach.  It’s a big ego boost to be in the Wall Street Journal but your industry trade publications may be a better target.
  2. Understand your audience’s needs. There is no excuse in today’s information market not to know exactly who you’re addressing. Take the time to read the publication or listen to the podcast to understand the things they cover and how they cover them. Look at bylines.  Google reporters to see what they’ve covered in the last few months so that when you do pitch them, you can refer to past stories. Keep current with these reporters and influencers.  Tailor your pitch to specific reporters and their interests.  And before you hit send, make sure the “to:” box is filled with the right name.
  3. Be considerate. Get to know the deadlines, commitments and challenges that almost every reporter faces. Don’t browbeat, and don’t rush to follow up with a phone call when an email has barely had time to be read.
  4. Respect the reporter’s world. Don’t call or email on a day when you know they’re up against a publishing or digital deadline (unless it’s to help them with a request). At worst, you’ll be in the way. At best, your email or voicemail will be ignored. And for heaven’s sake, pay attention to the news cycle. If it’s a blockbuster news day, and you are pitching something that is several weeks away, reach out at another time. (Goes back to knowing your audience.)
  5. Tell, don’t sell. For the greatest success, put the reporter’s interests above your own. What’s in it for them? How important is it to their viewers, listeners or readers? What does the reporter most need to write or report on a great story? Apply the prism of value principle—what can you offer that makes the reporter’s job easier and how might you remove obstacles or challenges that reporters have in getting information and telling great stories?
  6. Answer the question, why now? Reporters have to have a reason to write about you now.  What is the urgency?  How does what you are doing related to what else is going on in the world.
  7. Be direct. Teasing a compelling story is about more than a catchy lead sentence or phrase. Get to the point quickly and succinctly. Reporters will thank you for being time-sensitive. Use bullets to highlight key points. If emailing, write a short subject line that tells them why they should read more.
  8. Don’t leave a reporter hanging. If you’ve pitched a media contact, make sure you have all your facts at hand and are available for callbacks and responses. And be certain your authorized spokesperson is available to answer questions or take a call for an interview.

Reporters are the gatekeepers who can give us audience access in more ways than we could possibly have imagined 20 years ago. But, even though the vehicles have changed, the guidelines for working with journalists haven’t shifted all that much. Respecting reporters and their universe and will keep media relationships strong, and provide the highest successes for any communications effort.