Pitching to journalists: know your audience, follow-up wisely, be personal, never clickbait

Pitching stories to journalists is a big part of any public relations role. Experienced practitioners might be able to put their clients in the first pages of nationals without much effort. But what about junior staff? I decided to get opinion of experts and make our lives a bit easier. And who’d be better people to ask about this matter than journalists themselves? I used power of social media (and traditional e-mail!) and I gathered some invaluable advice on how to pitch your clients’ story to media.

Journalist are PRs’ treasure. The absolute gold. Relationships with them need to be nurtured and cared about. Intrusiveness and lousy targeting might not be appreciated, some other practices might not pay dividends either. Here are the responses I managed to get from some of the journalists I reached out:

Gordon Kelly, tech writer, Forbes

“For me the most frustrating and most preventable element for new PRs is what I call The Irrelevant Follow-Up. Journalists accept not every press release they receive will be targeted specifically for them, but receiving follow-up emails and phone calls pitching you companies not remotely connected to what you write about is a basic error. It wastes everyone’s time and conveys the message that you don’t value a journalist’s time because you weren’t prepared to do a quick Google search before interrupting their day. For me this is PR 101, so please please don’t do it!”

Tim Johns, producer and reporter on the Jeremy Vine Show, BBC Radio 2

“Whatever you do don’t carpet-bomb. As soon as I get generic, mailing-list style press releases from someone I know to associate an email from them with the delete button. Other people only ever email me when they’ve got something which they know might specifically work on my programme – it’s personal and they’ve picked out a couple of key details which fit with our format. I’ll certainly have a read of that.”

Désiré Athow, editor, techradar pro & ITProPortal

“Quality over quantity. Be flexible in your attitude and approach. Sadly by the time they will join the market, things will have changed.”

Oliver Smith, senior reporter, The Memo

“The same golden rule applies to PRs as it does to journalists ‘know your audience’. That doesn’t mean you have to read everything we write (although that helps!), but it does mean having an awareness of the kinds of stories we’re looking for, and tailor your ideas and pitches to suit.”

Simon Neville, business journalist

“Target who you want to pitch your story to. A scattergun approach of working through a long list of every publication you can think of nearly never works because most of the time the story will not be relevant to that publication.

“Far too many times while working on a daily paper, I would get phone calls with pitches things to go in ‘product roundups’ despite that never being something I, or the section I worked for, did.

“Also, be careful pitching stories because a particular journalist wrote about the topic once three years ago. Make sure any pitch or story can pass the pub test – if you told it to your mates in the pub would they be interested. If the answer’s ‘no’ then publications will probably feel the same way.

“Make sure you know the topic you are talking about in your pitch. If a journalist asks a follow up question when your pitching that’s not in the release, make sure you know the answers or can at least talk about the topic more widely.

“Finally, manage the expectations of the client. Don’t promise them the world by making wild promises that you can get their press release into every newspaper. Sometimes an idea just isn’t strong enough.”

David Tebbutt, freelance writer

“When I’ve written a story on subject x, a PR (who’s spotted the story) offers me a client interview also on subject x. Pointless exercise for both of us.”

Ben Lovejoy, EU editor, 9to5Mac9to5Google

“Never send a ‘just circling back’ email re-pitching something I deleted the first time I got it. It’s annoying, adds to the clutter in my inbox and is the best way to get blocked.”

Emma Woollacott, freelance journalist

“Don’t pitch things that bear no relationship to the sort of stuff the journalist generally writes; and don’t keep resending the same email in the hope that they’ll suddenly get interested tomorrow…”

Twitter wisdom

I also reached out to the Twitter community. I’ve received some really shrewd advice and tips.

Writer, broadcaster and consultant Kate Bevan emphasised that being “overly matey” might be counterproductive:

Associated Press Becky Horsbrugh highlighted the importance of directness in pitches:

Tech journalist Simon Le Gros Bisson mentions the crucial keywords and phrases that should be included in the pitch:

Mary Branscombe makes an incredibly valid point about research prior to pitch:

TechCrunch‘s very own Ingrid Lunden says that you need to be clever with the angle of your pitch:

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If you have any suggestions, would like to guest post or give me a feedback, feel free to email me at kl.marcel [at] gmail.com, tweet me @marcelkl or see my LinkedIn. Thanks for stopping by, have a splendid day!

Author: Marcel Klebba

Junior Account Executive at M&C Saatchi PR. Working across the corporate & B2B accounts. Freshly graduated from the PR course at the University of Westminster. Interested in current affairs, tech, social and digital.

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