After working for four years in journalism, the game of life propelled me in a new direction and in June I took a job as an integrated communications specialist at Franco. I miss the spontaneous work of a journalist but have found the world of PR to be nothing like the “dark side” so frequently referenced by journalists.
Franco helps clients communicate, the people I work with are kind and understanding and I’m not overworked for the first time in a long time. While I have a long way to go before I become an integrated communications expert, I’ve collaborated with a lot of PR representatives from the other side of the screen and can draw from my time in journalism to offer some tips on how to work with journalists most effectively.
1. Include everything necessary to write an article in each pitch.
This includes a press release, a quote that sounds unscripted and a few quality images. It is important to encourage your clients to supply each of these things for a few reasons.
First, it makes the information seem worthwhile. It’s no secret journalists receive an absurd number of emails each day, so it’s critical to take the time up-front to make an impression the first time around. Ask yourself “why should this journalist care?” when crafting every pitch. More importantly, why should journalists’ audience care?
Second, journalists most often work on several stories at a time. A publication can and will cut potential stories based solely on a lack of information on heavy news days. Simply put, including all the details in your first email is mutually beneficial. Would you ask a friend to make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich knowing full well there’s no peanut butter in the house?
Also, a note on quotes: officials always say they’re “excited” in press releases. Not only is this repetitive across releases, but it makes those quoted sound like children going to an amusement park. Focus on including quotes that have some meaning – how will the announcement affect the organization’s place in the community or industry? Are there any statistics that can be included in quotes? Is the development the beginning of a bigger plan? Quotes should add as much to a release as any other paragraph.
2. Follow-ups are fine – via email.
Many PR representatives I have met fret over sending email follow-ups to their pitches – should they do it, or will they seem too pushy? These emails never bothered me as a journalist – it was just as easy for me to sort through those the second time around. There were even times when I took a closer look at the follow-up and decided to pass it to my editor after all.
There is a wrong way to follow up, however: calling to ask whether the reporter has received the pitch. Random phone calls interrupt the day’s workflow. Then there’s the 90-miles-per-hour “Hi, this [NAME] calling from [FIRM] in regard to [RANDOM EMAIL I SENT LAST WEEK]. Did you get a chance to look it over?” Now the reporter is frantically searching their email to see whether their editor approved this story. While email follow-ups are PR representatives doing their jobs, phone follow-ups are overkill.
3. Explain the context that makes your pitch relevant.
Most of the projects journalists complete revolve around more than just one organization, as stories typically follow bigger trends. It’s important to link your pitch back to an angle that is relevant to a wide audience and current events.
Talking about record pet adoptions at an animal shelter you work with? Add in some statistics about how country-wide pet ownership has increased during COVID-19 and how important pet health is as the numbers stress veterinary offices. Sending a release about a police gala? Add in how the department is responding to increased scrutiny due to police brutality across the U.S. and whether it will be addressed at the event. Talking about anything automotive-related? You’d better find a way to tie in that chip shortage!
Journalists think big-picture, and your brand is more likely to be considered as an expert source in the future if you make it clear they understand what’s going on outside of their bubbles.
Since layoffs, long hours and pay cuts over the last decade have significantly shrunk newsrooms, it is becoming increasingly beneficial for journalists to work with public relations professionals. However, journalists continue to uphold their highest standards and will collaborate most with PR representatives who help them maintain these standards. Keeping in mind these three tips will help everyone remain aligned as the media landscape continues to evolve.
Grace Turner is an Integrated Communications Specialist at Franco. Connect with her on LinkedIn.