As a seasoned public relations professional, I’ve shared many story ideas and spokespersons’ bios with many journalists. I’ve successfully convinced journalists to cover something, when it made sense. I’ve learned a few things along the way.
Note that a PR person’s goal is a response. We know it’s ultimately results but a response can start to build a relationship which can lead to a story later. Note that there are three response levels. Level one is the auto response that says something like, “I’m back in the office Thursday,” or “Thanks for your note. If you want to give us a guest post, send back something that’s 300 words, punchy and original with a 100-word bio.”
Level two is personal like, “Sounds good. Get back to me in a month.” Note that reporters often receive 75 -400 emails per day so they may not have time for any response. Level three response is something that creates or starts an editorial opportunity. This might mean answering a few questions or setting up an interview either by phone, video chat, in person or via email.
Digging deeper into this topic, here are a few reasons you may not get any response:
- It’s not timely. The journalist is devoted to only covering top world news event and your pitch does not relate to it. Joseph Menn just joined the Washington Post to cover digital threats. He has graciously accepted quality pitches and agreed to meet interesting smart spokespersons over the years but he typically only cares about the news making top headlines. I just checked his last several stories and they were on the Russia-Ukraine conflict cybersecurity. What you can do about it: Don’t pitch that reporter unless what you have fits what they are covering at that time. According to Meltwater, 94% of PR pros agree that 1:1 email is the best way to pitch journalists. This includes easy file sharing, a personal introduction, and quality communication tracking. My interpretation of this stat is to not use the same pitch for 50 people. One to one means it’s easier to do a better job.
- The journalist does not need any more sources. Entrepreneur Editor Jason Feifer produced a podcast that included a logical tip. He says he does not need PR suggestions as to whom to interview or what to write. He has his own sources. He elaborated quite a bit on this. On the other hand, it seems to me that if you have some sort of “aha” story or unique character that you truly love for Entrepreneur, then he’s worth a shot once in a while. I appreciated his tip that if someone is a long shot, why bother them? He says when he responds, “No thanks,” many PR people say back, “I knew it was a poor fit but I had to try anyway, right?” Feifer’s attitude is that, no, you didn’t have to try. If it’s not a great fit, don’t do it. What to do about it: Pitch someone else. Move on, unless you are 100 percent sure it’s a perfect fit. By the way, I think he’s being kind of grumpy when he says, “I don’t need anything from PR people.” He likely actually does.
- Your pitch is not tailored or missing an “aha.” The account leader writes a pitch that the client, a CMO or product manager, loves. It’s finalized and shared with the whole agency team. Each person shares it with 20 reporters. No editors respond except one who asks for an interview non related to that client. Maybe there’s an opportunity with another client because you have a good relationship with that editor and they remembered something you pitched them weeks prior. The problem is that the perfect PR pitch is tailored for one reporter or at least one media outlet only, or maybe at the most two to three. The more tailored it is, the higher the chance you have of it sticking. What to do about it: The solution is to edit the pitch so it’s interesting to each person you contact. It’s fine if you start with the “boring” pitch. Jazz it up some. One fix is to simplify the wording of the pitch so your 12-year-old child could understand it and say, “Aha.” Some pitches that I think are simple and effective are along the lines of: “This executive is a fifth-generation female entrepreneur and her company just went public,” “This is the first female Eagle Scout in the entire Bay Area,” and “Their AI technology taught a car to teach itself how to park.”
In summary, be aware that timing is everything. Check what a journalist has been writing very recently before you send that email or message them. You might realize what you were about to pitch doesn’t make any sense. Lastly, if you are a startup founder having trouble getting journalists to respond, hire a PR consultant or agency to help.
Michelle McIntyre is an award-winning freelance technology public relations consultant in the Silicon Valley and IBM vet. Follow her on Twitter at @FromMichelle. She is also a member of PRSA-Silicon Valley.