By Stephanie Jo Peksen, Account Executive, Business Wire New York
If you’re like most public relations professionals, you have a list for everything – a to-do list, a client list and, of course, a media outreach list. When time gets tight, you may occasionally succumb to the temptation to send out a blanket pitch to your entire press list, and then cross your fingers while hoping that all your clients’ dreams come true. A word of advice: don’t. The key to garnering coverage in 2014 is by helping reporters help you. Otherwise you risk landing in the junk folder – permanently.
To help you connect with the press who really do need your input, we compiled comments from editors, outlining the top eight reasons why reporters occasionally hate you – and how to make them love you.
1) You Didn’t Tailor Your Pitch: “It’s hard work, but work worth doing: tailor your pitch to me. Know who I am and what I cover and exactly what might interest me about your product/person/idea other than just ‘IT EXISTS!’” says Allen Salkin, author of From Scratch: Inside the Food Network, and freelance journalist for NY Times and other publications.
In other words, make sure you’ve at least looked at the publication and understand its audience and news stance. Are you pitching a local publication about a product launch and including a general press release and product sheet? Fine, but find an authentic local hook – don’t just say “people chew gum in New York, so your New York publication should cover our national launch of chewing gum.” There needs to be an honest connection with the reporter’s readers, and the issues covered by the media outlet – find that connection, and use it as your lede.
2) Your Headline is a Snooze and Your Lede is MIA: “If the subject line of your email pitch isn’t interesting and concise, you will get deleted before you’re read. Same goes for your press release headline: if you leave the meaty stuff at the bottom, it will never get read,” says Nicole Bode, Deputy Editor of News, DNAInfo New York.
It may seem self-explanatory that brevity is the soul of wit, but we dare you to review your last few press releases or press pitches. Could you read the headline or subject aloud without the need to gasp for air? Are the most crucial details easily found within the headline/sub-head or first paragraph? If not, get cracking – and revising. Same goes for voicemails, elevator pitches and topics for short meetings.
3) You Had Truly Bad Timing: “Not understanding a publication’s production schedule is a problem. If a magazine goes to print on Tuesday, Monday night is not the time to say ‘Ok, we’re ready to go on the record now!’” and think that you’ll make it into that issue. There are always exceptions, but they are not made with ease. Get to know the publishing schedule of a media outlet you hope to do lots of work with. It’s not an excuse to say that you waited to the last minute because you were afraid it would get out before an agreed upon date. If you think a writer or editor is that unprofessional, you shouldn’t work with them anyway,”says Xania Woodman, Senior Editor, Vegas Seven Magazine.
If you don’t know your key outlets’ timetables, start gathering them now, and act accordingly. No sending press info about a Super Bowl-related product two days before the game: No editor will have time to review and your client will be shortchanged. Similarly, unless it’s breaking news or you specifically know the editor or reporter is working that day, don’t pitch press on a major holiday. Take a break yourself – the media will respect you more if you’re not emailing them while they’re BBQing for Memorial Day or July 4th.
4) You Were Too Chummy: “Among my pet peeves are publicists who address me as Mr., and others who write to me as if we know each other, when we have never before spoken or met (e.g. ‘Hi Jamie! Hope you’ve been having a great week…’ How about just ‘Dear Jamie, I represent Tazo Teas, and I would love to get to know you. I have a new product that I thought might be an excellent fit for your publication…’” says Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh, Editor-in-Chief of CarleyK.com.
A simple LinkedIn search would reveal that Ms. Kiffel-Alcheh is in fact, female, and yes, sometimes the simplest declarative introductions can be best. Does your client watch its channel’s daily segment on XYZ, and you think the client is a perfect fit for this reason? Say it clearly and professionally, and you may be surprised at the very pleasant response.
5) You Ignored the Media’s Main Requests: “In business journalism, some publications require that I find out the revenues of a company–or they won’t accept a story from me about that firm. Every once in a while, a publicist will, after hearing this, go around me to see if they can persuade an editor at the publication to bend that rule, which will usually annoy the editor. Or they will set me up on an interview with a business owner who clearly has no intention of sharing financials, even though we’ve agreed ahead of time that this info will be part of the interview. It’s not always the publicist’s fault, but it ends up being a waste of time for all concerned, since I can’t use the interview in the end,” says Elaine Pofeldt, a contributing editor at Crain’s and a contributor to Money, Fortune and Inc.
Reporters get frustrated when people set up follow-up interviews without all the information at the ready – so unless you are prepared to burn a bridge, don’t offer a brick wall. Pre-plan and know what information you can offer and to whom. Even if you have limited resources, come up with a Plan B. If the editor says it’s super important, believe it and get that info, or simply decline and come back another time when you have everything he or she needs to build the story. If you build a good rapport, you may wind up quoted in a trend feature or commenting on another company in print. But don’t ignore their original must-haves.
6) You Sent a Wall of Text: “I might be different than lots of publications. I don’t want to copy/paste/print your release. I want the mechanics to find my own angle. That means links, bullets, bites. I could care less that ‘We are pleased’ was quoted by this or that important person. I agree deeply with David Meerman Scott’s jargon buzzword bingo opinion, where it seems that every solution is ‘next generation, world class, scalable, blah blah blah.’ Skip the adjectives and save me some time in finding my own angle into the story,” says Chris Brogan, Publisher of Owner Magazine, and New York Times best-selling author of six books, including The Impact Equation (with Julien Smith).
Stop calling your client “ground-breaking,” and please do take care in how you set up a press release or a pitch, with easy-to-grasp formatting, so the reporter can review it and figure out if it’s a good match. Business Wire releases are distributed in XHTML, so use bullets to focus on key points, send your release with boldface and italics to highlight issues, and make sure you include multiple relevant and easy-to-access hyperlinks. It’s not just for consumers to engage and generate click-through data for your client (although that’s a plus), but for reporters who need to know very quickly how to reach you, your client, or get more information about the product/event/issue you’re promoting. Adding a photo to your release also helps paint the clearest picture – just make sure to include a proper caption in case it’s used.
7) You Gave Way Too MUCH information: “You’re likely not to get any coverage if you send over so much stuff that it won’t download, or if you send a giant press release that’s too long. Simplicity works best for me. Instead of a huge file, I’d click through to see media at a link,” says Tara Cox, Managing Editor, Men’s Journal.
While each editor and reporter will have different needs and timetables, crashing someone’s computer with your pitch is never a good idea. Whether you’re sending a well-crafted email blast or a wire press release with well-chosen multimedia, use these digital missives to clearly show your assets and pique interest. Video, images, and multimedia are great, but make sure the links work and files are easy to open.
8) You Were Boring: “Journalists are busy and some get hundreds of press releases a day (I know I do!), so use a bit of humor in your email to me and include a story with some passion so it can really stand out. A press release can be more than a collection of data. Make me truly excited about what you’re trying to promote. If you were a reader, what story would capture YOUR attention?” says Katherine Brodsky, freelance writer for publications like Variety, Entertainment Weekly, USA Weekend, Mashable, and MovieMaker Magazine.
Media professionals face tight deadlines and tough demands, but the ones you hope to reach for coverage are people, not robots- they do respond to genuine feeling. Don’t forget what the R in Public Relations means and try relating and connecting for a change, and yes, add some style and interest where you can. If you can use that to establish trust and connection, and deliver on your promises, anything can happen.