Are you looking for pitching insights directly from journalists? As a follow-up to the State…
Today, on Coffee with a Journalist, we chat with Brena Nath of HousingWire. As Managing Editor at HousingWire+, she breaks down the daily news cycle for insights and analysis around the housing industry. Her coverage aims to connect, build relationships and spotlight top industry voices. During the episode, Brena talks more about HousingWire’s general coverage area and their move into the B2C space, the hundreds of pitches she receives per day, the importance of building connections with sources, and more.
Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
Her Work Inbox
BB: Speaking of, how are your pitches going? Are you getting blown up via email?
BN: Man, I was listening to all the other people you’ve had on the podcast. I love this question. It’s something that is fun to gauge, but what is normal when it comes to your email? I have a bad habit of trying to be inbox zero.
My favorite publicist always connects with me as a person. Maybe this is getting too redundant back to the relationship-driven person. I think most publicists don’t try to just swoop in, they know what I’m working on, they know what’s going on. Actually, they have a good pulse on the newsroom, or HousingWire, or even my specific role.
BB: That’s great. Me too.
BN: I probably shouldn’t let my inbox own me, as much as it does for me always checking it. But I would say, I probably get south of 500 a day.
BN: Not pitches. I’d say half of that is pitches, so probably like 200, 250 pitches.
Her Thoughts on Pitches
BB: Wow! Okay. How do suss out all those pitches? Do you read them? Do you delete them? Do you do one of those fire-drill deletes, you just delete all of them? I’ve had a couple of those.
BN: I am a fire drill. I’m not going to say this is the best tactic, so I’ll try to read pitches. I get a lot of emails that are not technically — like year-on other email things. I do select all for the 50. We have Gmail. I select all of them, and then I unclick the ones I want to read, and then I open the rest that I don’t want to read. Those are like your normal emails, maybe like someone ordered something, both something. Then anything else that I wanted to read, then I go through, and I open it, I read it. I am a big advocate for snoozing emails, so I can actually answer them all at once. So anything actually I want to get to our respond to, I’ll snooze for a time of day that I know I have time for. I often will snooze thing for the very end of day. Of if I’m checking my email throughout the day, I’ll snooze it for the next morning, so I can go through in one smooth swoop and respond to everyone. Trying to not like my inbox own me and try to be a little bit more strategic. I wouldn’t say I’m the best out of them.
BB: Yeah. Okay. Of those pitches that you are responding to, what catches your eye?
Maybe get a little bit more broad in your pitch, about what this person is an expert on, and then feel free to say, “This is what I think is an angle” or “This is my pitch.”
BN: Oh! That’s a solid thing that I wanted to think about after I heard the question, and kind of what would I open. I oversee a couple of things. There’s some podcasting that we do as well on our end, and so I tend to open a lot of things for like — we have a podcast on like female financial empowerment, so I’ll open like new area there. Anyone that I usually have worked with. I’ve been with HousingWire almost on an off for eight years now, so people who I’ve been connected with for a while. Then I would often go to the subject line. I’ll write a lot of the same things or have the same type of beats or things that I oversee HousingWire. Anything that I know pertains directly to what I’m doing, or could possibly an idea, or something we want to dabble in that I’ll open it. I wish I knew the percentage of what that was, of total, but I’d say decent amount of them. If it’s an actual pitch, I try to open. It just kind of keep a good pulse on what’s going on at least.
Tailor it to me, tailor it to who I am, customize it. I felt like that LinkedIn plugin really got at the heart of that desire.
BB: I’m sure also at this point, given your time that you’ve had at HousingWire, given the niche focus, you’ve got some of your favorite publicists. Like you know, “Okay, that person’s email. Oh, yeah. That’s who I know. I’m going to always open their email.”
BN: Yeah, 100%. In this industry, a lot of the PR people have kind of been also there for a long time. After eight years of kind of working with the same people, and I’m very much a relationship-based journalist, relationship-based person. I really value those relationships over the years, pre-COVID conference driven, so I’ve been able to meet a lot of these people in person. That connection definitely has value.
How She Writes Stories
BB: Okay. Brena, when you’re thinking of a great story, and you’re going to write it, or perhaps one of your staffers is because I know you’re an editor, where does such inspiration come from? In other words, do 85% of them come from pitches, or you want to walk, or you’re taking a shower, or you contemplating eating macaroni and cheese. I don’t know. What is it that makes you go, “Ah! We really need to do this type of story”? Obviously not when it’s breaking of course.
BN: I did have to put on breaking news the other day. It’s been a while. I was in a middle of a conference, and I was like, “Okay. We can do this. We’re going to multitask. We can be flexible.” But I am often not the breaking news person. But since we were all busy that day, for me, maybe a lot of this interview is going to come back to personality test, which clearly, I have a problem with. But I just took a new personality test called the Working Geniuses and it’s like the different types of ways you want to operate in work. My working genius is like the ideator, the person who likes to come up with ideas, so I really do. I feel like in my free time, when I’m just walking the dogs, or just doing anything, that’s when I really like ideator. I’m like, “Okay. What really do I feel like what’s unique? What do I feel like new conversation I had?”
You’ll get a response from me if you probably did your research. A lot of what I am working on is decently public knowledge to publicist, so you can see, I edit the magazine. We have monthly features, stuff like that. So if you kind of know what’s going on and if you’re proactive, a lot of what I do is also on a timeline with print deadline and online.
Then I try to fuel that thought process I would say, by constantly being in communication with industry, so we’ve been on clubhouse a lot, the new app that is quickly gaining steam. So spending a lot of time trying on the phone to not always just have a call with purpose, but really an open-ended conversation of what are they saying, what’s going on in the space. Because I’ve long been a remote employee, and so I don’t want to just be a person at a desk, connecting with an industry, but really also kind of be in it as well. Having a lot of those phone calls, or pre-COVID going to conferences, or going and meeting someone locally. I’m based in Colorado Springs. We’re a huge growing market meeting with people locally, seeing what’s going on.
I would say a lot of my ideas try to come from actually building connections with people, and then taking the top articles or the top stories that we’re seeing right now and looking deeper into that. A lot of the heart behind what I do is, my title is technically digging deeper into the why behind the news, so I get the benefit of saying, “Okay. Here’s what’s trending.” Well now, let’s ask some of the questions about why is this trending, why are people invested in this. What does this mean for five years from now? What does this mean for six years from now, and asking those questions to like, “Look a step further.”
BB: Got you. That goes back to relationships.
BB: Brena, we have an audience ask and I think you might even know who this is. Actually, this is from Bill Byrne for Remedy PR. Do you know him?
BN: I do. He is probably one of — eight years, you get to know this industry and he is that one who has been a great person to work with over the years.
BB: Amazing. Well, here’s your bestie, and he asked, “On average, how long do you spend on a story?”
BN: On average, I would say, at least currently, so I’ll answer in current day. With the magazine or HW+ pieces, I would say they probably float around in my head to having interviews, trying to develop the different sources. These types of stories are like your daily news one, so a little bit more deeper dives, would probably range a week to two weeks. That might —I don’t know what’s average, but as far as like my day-to-day is what at least I need in order to be able to sit down and write it. I’m the person wants to be able to sit down uninterrupted to write a piece. So usually, that takes me about two weeks to get to a point to be able to kind of execute on.
BB: Okay. He has a second question which is, “Ever turned down a story because of the length of time it would take to create and you didn’t have the bandwidth?”
BN: Boundaries have been another big lesson for me this year, about what you do and don’t have time for. I’m sure we all could use a lesson in boundaries. Or hopefully, if you have it all under control, take any tips. But that’s something I’ve never done, but there have been sometimes after the fact, and I’m very thankful for some people’s patients. One thing I tried to do a lot, maybe two years ago is actually give myself deadlines or verbally give myself deadline, since I want to be true to my word. So I’ll often say, “Hey! I’ll have this done at this day” or “I’ll have this day” type thing. There was a point there at the beginning of the pandemic when the news, you just couldn’t account for what was going to come out the next day, what’s the economy going to do, what’s housing market going to do. That I would give a day and then news would happen, and all hands-on deck. My dates were quickly moving with these evergreen type of news stories, so I rarely have ever said, “No, I don’t have the bandwidth, but I would like to write it.”
There have been times I say, “Hey, let me come back to you in like a month when I have more time.” Then I might put it off down the road, a little bit, and then I appreciate when they follow up, “Okay. It’s that time again. What do you think now? Is this a good time?” Especially if the story is a good story we’re telling.
BB: Got it. Well, thank you Bill for those audience asks.
For Brena, having a broad understanding of a pitch is important because she produces all sorts of pieces for HousingWire magazine, the website, and sometimes she even speaks about them on the podcast, Girlfunds. Check out the latest OnePItch eBook, The State of PItching Volume 1, to learn what 50 other journalists think about pitches and how they like them crafted.
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