Q: What is the best way to reach out to journalists at big pubs to pitch a story?
A: You are already ahead of the game if you are asking this question, as many people simply fire off an email to an editor without first identifying if they are the right contact, or how and when a journalist should be pitched.
I often compare pitching the media to dating. If you were single, walked up to a random stranger without knowing anything about him or her and straightaway asked for a date, would you have a high probability of getting a yes? As much as you believe in your swagger, you haven’t qualified if the person is even single and looking for a date, let alone into dating someone like you.
The same goes with journalists (and editors, contributors, producers, bloggers, etc.): You must get to know them first before asking them to commit to writing a story about you. Before you consider reaching out to a member of the media, you need to determine who is the best person at the publication for your pitch.
Related: Here's How to Write PR Copy That Will Get Your Business Noticed
Here’s how to find the right person to contact and start building a relationship:
If your target media outlet is online, go to the website and find the search bar. You’ll want to search for two things: your competitors and industry keywords/key phrases.
For example, if you represent a vinyl turntable brand, you would search for a leading competitors like Crosley Radio and newcomers to the space such as House of Marley to see which editors wrote about those specific competitors, and in what context. Was it a product review, a mention in a trend piece or an executive interview discussing a company announcement? Understanding how each editor is writing about your competitors will help you form the best message (and make the right ask) when making outreach.
Next, search for industry keywords that relate to your space. In the turntable example above, you might search for key phrases like “vinyl resurgence” and “record players” to see which editors are writing related stories that may not mention your competitors by name. Once these editors have been identified, click on their profiles and see if you can locate their contact information. Often times, the email is listed in their profiles, as well as a link to their Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. Write this information down with a link to the relevant stories they authored that you uncovered in your research.
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Read what they write
It seems obvious, but ask any journalist how often they get contacted with an off-topic pitch and they will tell you it happens every day — which is why you may encounter members of the press who are disgruntled with PR people.
After identifying the editors or reporters, read their stories over a span of 30 days to learn their personality and viewpoints. If you are compelled, leave a comment on his or her columns offering your own insight or send an email with the same, but do not push your own agenda.
In addition, follow the individual editors on social media, where you’ll not only get a little more personal information that your can use for common ground in a later conversation, but insight into what they are working on as well. Often, editors will put out a call for sources on Twitter, or post an update on LinkedIn stating what story they are tackling next. Interact with them intermittently on social media so that your name becomes familiar and be a resource in a way that is not self-serving.
3, 2, 1 contact
Once you feel confident that you understand the journalist's media personality and have taken steps to build familiarity, you are ready to make outreach the next time you have something interesting to say about your brand.
At this point, you are prepared. Your research tells you that he or she is interested in your industry, and you should have an article or two ready to reference as backup. Open up the conversation by being transparent about why you are calling (you have been following the column, enjoy his or her take on A, B and C) and ask to take a minute of their time to get their perspective on what you have to offer.
The K.I.S.S. principle (keep it simple, stupid) is key here, whether you are reaching out via phone or email. Be up front about your intentions and have a clear call to action as to the next step. Do they want a product sample to review? An interview with the founder? A copy of the data report? Whatever they need next, get it to them quickly to keep things moving forward.
If you do not get interest the first time, don’t panic. Thank the editor for his time and ask if it’s OK for you to keep him up to date on your company and what would be of most interest moving forward. Note: this is not an opportunity to become a Stage five clinger, rather to continue the subtle relationship-building techniques described above.
Related: The 'When' and 'How' of Using PR Correctly
The number one thing to remember when reaching out the media is that they are people, too, and want to be treated as such. Be patient, kind and human, and you’ll get the same treatment in return.
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