Have you wondered what makes a journalist respond to a specific email? Let’s look at the mistakes to avoid while approaching journalists
I recently had a discussion with a young Corporate communications professional of a leading IT company. As we sat there, enjoying the sudden change of weather in Gurgaon with our Green Teas. I noticed her face change on reading a message. She had got a stinker from her manager on the recent product launch. And that got us talking. Her last product launch had got just a handful of journalists engaged. And that triggered me to tell her our experiences of the media fraternity.
A journalist receives 20 to 30 pitches from different PR agencies and corporate communications, every day. Some get even more depending on their experience in the industry. But, how many of these pitches eventually get a response back from the journalists? Have you wondered what makes a journalist respond to a specific mail and call and ignore most of them?
The rules of PR revolve around a crisp yet informative pitch, made using the right tone, at the right time, using appropriate words. Now, the question arises – If you think you have been doing a fair job. Then why is your brand not the talk of the talk?? Why aren’t you receiving enough coverage even for the significant achievements of your brand?
Yeah, we know how amazing our leaders are. We work with them, we interact with them, and see them every day. Remember the journalists you just called, write about politicians, ministers, celebrities, and all famous personalities; Therefore, unless your client is a Mukesh Ambani or a Vijay Shekhar Sharma, don’t brag about them. Instead, begin by talking about the uniqueness of your launch or an exciting bit about your founder’s recent accomplishments. Remember, help a journo understand that how can they use him in their story. One cannot and would not just draft a story around your client because he is a famous man; a journalist loves relevant facts more than their history. This is the most important mistake to avoid while approaching journalists.
You must also ensure that you send your mail to a single person than a group of people. Receiving a bulk mail is a significant put-off and would certainly not fetch you a response. Addressing a mail to a person by writing his name builds a personal connection with him or her and increases your chances of grasping their attention.
Also, it is essential that your target journalists are specific to their beats than send emails blindly. If you pitch a story that would help a scribe, there are more chances that they would use it. Also, throwing a story about the Idea and Vodafone merger to a reporter who covers health will be a waste of time and efforts of both you and him. Therefore, it is essential to segregate your media lists per beat and pitch accordingly.
Oh yes! – Never talk to a journalist touting how his rival newspaper or journalist was so interested in your story! Remember, if another media organization has given coverage to your brand, that isn’t a reason enough for another journalist to cover it as well.
Journalists look at the relevance, importance, any significance if it is carried later, effect on familiar people, and many more such things. It is essential to understand that journalists work under high work pressure and short deadlines. It might be urgent for you to get coverage for your client, for an event, but the same might not be significant or as critical for the journalist. Therefore, it will be wise to give them room and time to decide if a piece of information deserves coverage. Remember this to avoid this mistake while approaching journalists at all times.
Imagine receiving irrelevant emails from the same email id in bulk over and over again. You would probably mark that id as spam and not take it seriously. Likewise, if you write to a journalist, expecting an article over every small event, you are most likely to end up in their spam box. Ensure that you only pitch with very unique and out-of-the-box story ideas.
Something which affects the life of a common man in any way, something which the world needs and wants to know is what makes news and is likely to get space in a newspaper or a magazine; If you pitch selectively and only with relevant information, a journalist is more likely to remember you as a useful source and would take you seriously every time. Pitch to a feature magazine or a newspaper supplement for a soft story like an art exhibition or a product launch by a celebrity.
Proving a journalist with a piece of information and telling them to hold on to it before the specific date and time is called an ‘embargo’. If a journalist is working on your story and needs valuable inputs related to the same, it is always wise to give them the same, so that they have time to prepare. If you want to hold on to a piece of news, put an embargo on it. Telling the journalist about the information in advance helps them make time for your story and in turn, helps you as well.
A professional doesn’t break the embargo as it is strictly against ethics, and no one wants to lose a good source of information. For example, if you are handling the PR for a listed IT company, which is about to announce its recent million-dollar acquisition; It is advisable to provide the details to a trusted journalist so that it gives him ample amount of time to prepare as many stories as possible around it. The same is going to be helpful both to you and to them as well.
Another thing to be kept in mind is to always provide information about your contact details in the emails you send. Don’t just throw a mail at the journalist, expecting them to have your number because as told before, they get multiple calls from PR agencies every day and one cannot save everyone’s phone number and cannot remember anyone by name. A journalist is more likely to remember you by the name of your brand or the story idea you pitch.
I consider this a very important mistake to avoid while approaching journalists. In fact, the most significant mistake which a lot of PR professionals make is to pitch a story to a journalist by slapping posts on their social media, either by tagging them on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. It is vital to learn that it is smarter and more professional to send a private message, than broadcasting your story idea over the airwaves where everyone, including the competition, can see. No journalist wants the competition to have the same story idea as them. It is a game of who does best and who does first. The second you post it on their social media, it becomes accessible to the whole world and therefore loses its significance.
It is essential to understand that every piece of information is only information till it is drafted into a news article by a journalist; therefore, the second you post it on Twitter or LinkedIn, it is no more worthy of getting published as news. We should strictly follow that we must not post anything on social media, instead use direct email or be even more unorthodox and make a call.
It takes a day or a day-and-a-half to draft a good story. A journalist puts all his heart and tries to make his or her story stand out with facts and quotes and further decorates it in the best way possible. The story is later proof-read and beautified with a catchy headline. The information may be yours, but the story word by word is their baby. It’s a big no-no to tell a journalist how to do his job. After you have provided them with a piece of information, leave the writing part to them. Let them decide what all information should go up and what must be held back. Let the styling decision be theirs.
To elaborate it further, if by any chance the name of your leadership team has been misspelt in a published article, don’t think twice and make a call immediately to get it corrected! But, if it’s a small typo error, a style decision or you don’t believe the piece supported your product sufficiently or the way would have liked, you might consider constraint and keep that information to yourself. It is imperative for you to understand that- You want to be happy more than you want things your way. It is indispensable to know that a scribe would take you more seriously if you are comfortable and cooperative than someone who is fussy about everything.
Remove the adjectives and give them the Five W’s- who, what, when, why, where and an H- how; and let them take it from there. Having unnecessarily lengthy press releases do no right and bore the reader. If your statement is lengthy, no matter how important, it is likely to lose one’s attention in their tight schedule. (Remember, KISS!) Keep it short and simple, stupid!
You may also provide hyperlinks to the profile of your CEO or MD. It saves the writer the time and helps in making their copy more detailed. It is a must to know that the purpose of a press release is to gain attention and to provide information. If you want to make a feature out of your news release, give the professional that prerogative. Please don’t task them with having to remove an overabundance of adjectives surgically. Making it long by incorporating unimportant information only makes it looks shoddy and uninteresting.
Every time you approach a media professional with tall claims and brags about your client and their achievements, ensure that you have enough proof in any form to back your claims. If a journalist will designate your CEO with ‘Asia’s biggest ABC’ title, he has to be sure if the fact is true or he is misleading his readers. We must know that we are doing a PR job, whereas, they are doing a job of educating and informing lakhs of readers and viewers, therefore backing up such facts is a good practice. The same can be done by attaching relevant documents which attest.
And for those of you who are interested, my Corp Communication friend, who inspired me to write this one, had written the most fantastic pitch to the journalist, however, she missed 1 vital thing. What is it that she wanted a journalist to do basis the release? Meet the leadership team, write about it or just an FYI email. And since there was no clear objective defined, the journalist had decided to read and save it for later usage. It is an excellent idea to end your pitch with a simple – “Let me know if you need further details to think of a story around this” to the journalist.
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