Victoria Song, a consumer tech reporter at Gizmodo, joined us on the Coffee with a…
Ugh, pitching, the “lifeblood” of most public relations professionals’ roles and one of the most agonizing tasks for many, if not most, PR professionals. It’s no wonder there are countless articles on this subject, many of which provide numerous tactics and advice that may or may not be beneficial at the end of the day.
While you take pride in knowing the best ways to pitch journalists, there’s also a large list of tactics to avoid like sending countless follow ups or misspelling a journalist’s name. Regardless, here are 5 pitching mistakes every public relations professional should avoid from the start of a campaign all the way to the point of contacting a journalist.
The start of any media relations campaign begins with understanding your client or brand and the strategy you plan to implement to generate media coverage. Next comes the brainstorming phase where you suss out what news you want to share. Then comes the research phase where you must identify the most relevant journalists who will cover the news.
This last step in the beginning phases is crucial. It can make or break your chances of connecting with a journalist and securing coverage for your client or brand. As with any campaign, accurate research can help provide clarity as well as understanding on a given subject.
When it comes to researching journalists, make sure you are going beyond the headline. There are countless tools, like OnePitch, which enable you to pitch more effectively. Some of these tools also assist you with the research phase of pitching. It’s important to know the journalist’s work and this includes more than just reading a bio or scanning the first page of their recent articles. I recommend diving into articles that resonate closely with the who, what, and why of your pitch. Learn how the journalist positions a company or source within a story, how they navigate the narrative, and why this story is considered newsworthy.
For example, create an outline or spreadsheet of your top 5 journalists. List out the name(s) of the people within the article, what is being said about them and, in turn, you may understand why this story was shared with the public. This takes practice but the more practice you have, the better you’ll start to understand the “profile” of the journalist you want to pitch.
Misleading Subject Lines
For many journalists, a subject line is the main reason they open an email. For others, it could be related to familiarity with a source or a company. Either way, crafting a well-written subject line has a dramatic effect on your pitching being read and responded to.
One of the first mistakes when creating a subject is to make it misleading. You want your subject line to reflect the information you are sharing within the email, or as I say it, “make sure the subject line reflects WHAT you are pitching!” Another common mistake is using odd formatting or special characters in place of normal text. While there are some PR pros who have had success using this tactic, most journalists prefer an easy-to-read, straightforward subject line that they can easily scan.
Don’t believe us? Take a look at our State of Pitching: Volume 1 report where we uncover pitching preferences, and subject lines, from 50 journalists from Season 2 of Coffee with a Journalist. Here is one stat for your reading pleasure, “Nearly 46% of top tier journalists mentioned the subject line is important to them when considering opening and reading a pitch.”
If you’ve gotten to this point, chances are you have done your research and found a handful of journalists that are the best fit to cover your news. However, this step is also one of the most important and pivotal in gaining traction.
As we mentioned above, doing your due diligence and identifying the best journalists to pitch can make or break your chances of connecting with a journalist and securing coverage for your client or brand. Next, you need to understand what types of stories they cover and how you can insert your client or brand into the mix.
I’ve seen countless examples of journalists posting about #PRfails on Twitter which covers most of the pitching mistakes you should avoid in this post. Some other examples of this include:
- Funding Rounds: pay attention to the dollar amount a journalist typically covers.
- Product Reviews: make sure your product is physical and actually works.
- B2B or B2C: make sure you pitch an outlet that also reflects your client or brand’s audience.
- Interview with X: paint a clear story of the person being offered and differentiate it from what’s already out there.
Taking into consideration the examples above, your news must not only be timely but also relevant to the recipient. While a particular journalist may cover product reviews, chances are they might be hard goods and not soft goods. Make sure that if you are pitching a funding round it’s within the wheelhouse of the reporter. Make sure if you offer someone from C-Suite for an interview they have a unique story to tell and not one that’s been told hundreds of times already.
Simply put, just because you think you have “news” doesn’t mean it’s going to be covered.
Contacting the Wrong Person
Do you know which role within a newsroom is most likely to write about a pitch? Or, are you familiar with what an editor’s responsibilities are versus a reporter’s? While these might seem like basic questions, oftentimes PR pros are at fault for not knowing who does what within a news organization.
Another question to consider, how effective is pitching a freelance journalist or contributor? Do you have a higher opportunity of pitching them and securing a placement? The answer, in my opinion, lies in the pitch itself.
When you’re identifying journalists to pitch and when you start contacting them, make sure you are reaching out to the right individuals at the publication you are targeting. For some that are lucky enough, journalists might even forward your pitch to the best person or team, however, that is rarely guaranteed and often not the case. Know not only what the journalist covers but also what their role is within the news publication and how their role influences the news that breaks.
For more information on the difference between each role within a news organization, keep an eye out for our upcoming post about the distinction between a reporter and editor.
Numerous Follow Ups
If you’ve made it to this point, then you have completed most of the difficult part of the pitching process. You’ve identified the right journalists, done your research, crafted a strong subject line, and drafted a pitch that’s relevant and newsworthy.
You’ve hit send and now you sit back and wait…and wait…and wait some more wondering if they’ve opened your pitch and want to learn more. After a few hours you ask yourself, “Should I send a follow up?,” and the answer is NOT YET.
Most journalists don’t hate a “follow up” to your first email especially when they are bombarded with hundreds of pitches a day. What they do hate are:
- Multiple follow ups (i.e. more than 1 or 2)
- The literal words “follow up” or “just following up”
- A new email following up separate from your original email
- A sneaky subject line edit such as “re:”
- Sending another message through a different channel (i.e. email then social media)
As a best practice, I always recommend avoiding these 5 mistakes above at all costs. I’ve found that replying to the same email thread 3-7 days after I’ve sent my first email garners more responses and tends to yield a response, whether it’s what I’m looking for or a simple “No thanks.”
While you may be inclined to pester journalists into a response this only creates a further divide between yourself and them. Remember, they have hundreds of emails to sift through, deadlines to meet, and a life to live just like you and me.
For more pitching tips and tactics that can help you reach journalists, read this post by one of our recent podcast guests, Rebecca Bellan, about ways you can pitch her effectively.
Keep an eye out for the latest news about OnePitch and be sure to subscribe to our weekly podcast newsletter for pitching tips directly from journalists!