A room full of journalists from publications such as Fast Company, TechCrunch and Triangle Business Journal who are eager to share their advice is a PR pro’s dream. Needless to say, I was excited to have the opportunity to attend Experiential Communications’ media event on entrepreneurship and innovation on March 22 at the PNC Triangle Club at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The event included panels of local, national and global journalists who gave their advice for PR professionals as well as opportunities to network with academics, PR professionals at schools, policy professionals and startup founders and communications directors.
If you’ve read some of the posts I’ve written for the Crossroads blog before, you may know that I worked in journalism before trying my hand at PR and marketing. Although I used to be on the other side of the reporter/PR rep relationship, I always enjoy hearing perspectives from other journalists with different experiences about how they like to work with PR pros. The speakers at the event came from a wide variety of media outlets — print, web, podcasts, TV, radio — and all shared invaluable advice for how to work with them. I’ve rounded up a few of their tips below.
SEND PITCHES WORTHY OF PUBLICATION
Lauren Ohnesorge, a reporter for Triangle Business Journal who spoke on the panel for North Carolina journalists, told the audience she gets hundreds—yes, hundreds!—of pitches a day. Obviously, you need to make your pitch stand out if you want to get coverage for your client or business. Building relationships with journalists in which they see you or your client as a trusted source is essential, but there are a few more tips you can try even if you don’t have an established relationship with a reporter yet.
1. Pitch via email
The journalists at the event overwhelmingly advised that PR pros pitch them via email. Laura Baverman, editor of ExitEvent (pictured in the right with the microphone), said she will sometimes take pitches via Twitter or LinkedIn, but she prefers email overall. And definitely avoid pitching over the phone — according to John Newsom, editor of the Greensboro News & Record, phone calls “can be terrifying.”
2. You don’t necessarily need to send a press release
Reporters are people, too, so don’t be afraid to email them like you would anyone else. David Bracken, business editor of The News & Observer, said he appreciates receiving press releases for important business milestones, but if you’re pitching a larger story about the company that’s not tied to a specific news event, he suggests just writing a succinct email to the journalist explaining the situation and why the journalist should consider writing about it. One tactic my Crossroads colleagues and I typically employ is sending a brief, personalized email to a reporter and including a full press release below your email signature in case the reporter needs more details.
3. Tailor your pitch to the publication
Of the hundreds of pitches Lauren receives a day, she said around 20 end up actually being relevant. Make the journalist’s job easier by personalizing your pitch for each publication. If it’s a local publication, make sure you say your company is based locally; if it’s a national publication, include a value add that shows why your news would be of interest to a national audience.
Research what the journalist has covered in the past and see if you can relate it to your pitch (e.g., “I really enjoyed reading your article about the growing popularity of underwater basket-weaving last week. My client Basket Cases, Inc. started a social network to connect underwater basket weavers with one another and recently reached 3 million users. I thought you might be interested in covering it as a follow-up story.”). Overall, keep the publication’s audience in mind — why should they care about your recent news? If you can’t answer this question, you should find a more relevant publication to pitch to; often industry-specific publications will be your best bet, depending on your pitch.
GIVE A GREAT INTERVIEW
So you’ve managed to stand out amongst the piles of pitches in a reporter’s inbox —great! But your hard work isn’t over yet. When it comes to interviews — whether it’s you or your client being interviewed — there are a few things you should keep in mind.
4. Remember the ABCs of interviews.
As someone who loves a good acronym, I really appreciated this tip. The ABCs of interviews are:
– Answer the reporter’s question.
– Form a bridge from what the reporter has been saying/asking to the key messages you want to get across. You can use phrases such as, “It is worth adding…” and, “Building on that point…” to do so.
– Conclude to your talking points.
Overall, the ABCs help you turn the interview into a conversation—which many of the attending journalists emphasized as important—rather than a stiff Q&A, while seamlessly getting your key messages across. Although it’s important to establish your key messages when prepping for an interview so you know what to focus on, there’s nothing worse than an interview with a PR robot who can only say those bullets over and over.
5. Avoid jargon
Since most of our clients at Crossroads are business-to-business companies in the technology and pharma spheres, we have to be extra vigilant about avoiding complicated terms that not everyone understands. Although you have a little wiggle room with jargon when it comes to industry publications whose reporters and readers are well-versed in your field, for the most part, try to avoid using jargon in your interviews.
Remember the three S’s (another great acronym!): Keep it short, keep it simple and use stories or analogies to explain your ideas. Kevin Anselmo, founder and principal of Experiential Communications, suggests testing out a few sound bites on your friends and family who don’t work in your field. If they understand you, you’re good to go; if not, rework your phrasing. An experienced PR professional can help you position these messages clearly and effectively.
6. Prepare for a question you can’t answer
Although it’s important to practice and prepare for interviews, you might still get a curveball question that leaves you stumped. Laura Lee, WUNC’s assistant news director for Talk, suggests commandeering the conversation by starting with, “That’s a really good question,” and then segueing into a related talking point with a bridge such as, “But first, you need to know…”
WORK WELL WITH REPORTERS
Nobody wants to be “that annoying PR person.” Your goal as a PR professional should be to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with reporters whereby you provide them with reliable sources and they provide you or your client with media coverage. The panelists provided a few best practices for how you can make their lives easier.
7. Send photos to include in the article
Lauren said this is an easy way to help a journalist out. Make sure that any photos you send are large and high-resolution enough to be published (ask the reporter for dimensions/DPI if you’re not sure what will work).
8. Don’t ask to read an article before it’s published
It’s tempting to want to ensure an article paints you or your client in the best light, but most publications have strong policies against letting sources read articles pre-publication—they want to ensure that sources don’t request edits and potentially add bias to the piece. Your best bet is to prepare well for the interview by writing out key messages you want to convey, coming up with a few questions the journalist may ask and practicing your answers (but not memorizing them; again, you don’t want to come across as a PR robot) and keeping in mind the ABCs and three S’s I mentioned earlier in this post. Remember: The journalist is in charge of the content, not you.
9. Don’t ask to edit an article after it’s published
In a similar vein, most publications have policies against editing an article after it’s published. Don’t ask the journalist to do so, or you’ll risk souring the relationship (the exception is if there is a factual error in the article; then it’s okay to alert the reporter so the publication can issue a correction). Remember that when you’re being interviewed, everything you say is fair game for an article unless you specifically agree that something is off the record before you say it. Adding, “by the way, that was off the record” after you share something won’t cover you.
Thanks to the journalists who shared their advice at the event. Overall, PR pros and journalists work best when we work together. If you respect reporters’ needs, send them helpful pitches and offer up good sources for their articles, they’ll look to you as a reliable resource in the future and you’ll get more coverage.