by MJ ONeill
October 26th, 2017

In the final instalment of his three-part series on Media Relations, Weber Shandwick Asia Pacific’s Head of Editorial Content Michael O’Neill outlines the best practices for pitching to media with care and precision. 

We’ve all read the stories. Some of us may even have had to listen to the complaints over the phone. But, one of the major issues journalists have with PR teams is the perceived lack of knowledge of the media or the journalist they are pitching to.

The pitch and the follow-up to the pitch are essential parts of the media relations process – whether for a press release, an op-ed or a CEO interview. It is where your relationship skills really come in to play.

Here are some guidelines to help you on your way:

Know Your Target

Above all else, research your target media and journalists. Know their beats and their tone and style. Reference articles that they have previously published – especially if they relevant what you are pitching.

What’s In It For Them?

We know what’s in it for you, but what is the value of your story for the journalist? How will it help them sell in the idea to their editor? How will it resonate with their audience and drive traffic. Your pitch has to show value.

Don’t Prevaricate

Be upfront with what you want from the media engagement. What are your objectives? Your expected response? Journalists understand this is a reciprocal relationship.

Be Exclusive

Journalists pride themselves on breaking news and exclusives. If possible, help them out. If this is not possible, then you MUST be up front about it. Nobody holds a grudge like a journalist who has been burnt on an exclusive.

Be Human

Journalists are not robots and neither are you. Write an email as you would to a friend. Keep it informal but professional. You are, after all, in the relationship business. Similarly, steer clear of email templates, mass emails and repeat sends. Keep it personal.

Time It Right

Know the best time and format to contact the media. According to a 2016 PR Newswire survey, between 9am and 11am is the best time and email is by far the preferred contact medium.

Avoid Attachments

Attachments can lead to tech issues. To be safe, place your release in the body if the email.

And that’s that.

Well, not quite. The final piece in the jigsaw is the follow-up.  This is not something you should rush into. Give a reporter a day or two (depending on the urgency of the story) to read your email, pitch to their editor and potentially respond to you before you check in with them again. No one likes the “did you get my email?” call that comes in before they have had a chance to even open the email.

In addition, keep your follow-up short and to the point. This isn’t another pitch – that was already in your email. This is where you  check the response and ask if there is anything you can do to provide more assistance.

If the worst case scenario emerges and they pass on your story, asking for brief feedback is okay. If there is no feedback, don’t push it. Try to always leave on a nice note – a thank you email or call, regardless of whether the story is to be published or not.

Finally, and most importantly, respect how a journalist works. Follow deadlines. Deliver on promises. Don’t ask for revisions once the story is published. If it was in the release or an on-the-record quote, they have every right to use it. And never, ever try and go over a journalist’s head to get changes made. If you do, wave goodbye to the relationship.

Need to craft an effective press release for your pitch? See Media Relations 101 – Part 2. For the trends at the heart of successful media relations, see Media Relations 101 – Part 1.

Michael O’Neill is Senior Vice President, Head of Editorial Content at Weber Shandwick Asia Pacific.

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