Any PR professional knows the drill. Your client has a news announcement and it’s go time to initiate media interest and start setting up those interviews. You have a press release ready to go, and you’re excited; you’ve been waiting on this announcement to be public for weeks! It’s finally time to pick up the phone and starting talking to media.
You send a flurry of emails with the official press release, and soon after start picking up the phone to get the conversations going. You’re surprised at how many voicemail boxes you’re hitting, but that’s alright because with a story like this, there’s no way they’ll ignore you.
You leave dozens of voicemails, following the same script over and over again. And you’ll start this process all over again tomorrow and the next day as you want to make sure they got your news.
This is how a lot of PR professionals work. There’s an announcement, and their job is to get the news into the hands of as many news people as they can, right? Build a lengthy media list, create a master pitch, then press send. Boom, hundreds of people now know about your news.
That’s where a lot of PR professionals get it wrong. Throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping it sticks doesn’t work. And more importantly, the duty to determine newsworthiness no longer falls on the shoulders of journalists, news writers or editors. Instead, once a news announcement arrives into a journalist’s inbox or voicemail, it should have already been vetted, filtered and customized by the PR professional for the journalist.
It’s no secret that the news world has seen some incredible shifts in the last decade. In addition to being understaffed, underpaid, and underappreciated, journalists today are also inundated with hundreds of pitches every single day.
Take for instance an editor who covers the broad topic of “automotive”. How many different news announcements in one day could be tied back to an automotive theme? From Tesla announcing its latest company update, to new tire technology created by Michelin, to the latest automobile road crashes report, there are thousands of stories that could fall into such a broad topic. The strain of having to filter through all these story ideas and pitches on a daily basis is becoming more and more of a stress source for journalists.
Filtering through journalist profiles on media databases drives this point home. It’s becoming more common to see specific instructions from journalists on how they want to be contacted by PR people. Take for example a profile from a Managing Editor at an Automotive-related media outlet. They say:
“Send all your materials by e-mail only. I am flooded with press releases. Do NOT call me to ask me if I received your pitch. If I am interested I will call.” Contact them by e-mail ONLY.
A good PR professional knows exactly what this means. It means do not send them an email, a pitch, or a press release unless you’ve done your research and know it’s relevant for them. They are bombarded with bad pitches, irrelevant stories and insensitive PR people regularly. It’s our job to be the diamond in the rough.
The biggest misstep PR people take is ignoring the individual needs of journalists. It’s more critical than ever to ensure the pitches and materials being sent to journalists are relevant to their work and timely, and that the time and care is taken to highly customize. Inundating the same person over and over again with generic follow ups and never being heard back from is a red flag. Take a step back and reassess what could be done differently.
There is no master guide to handling media. Every single writer, editor, producer and journalist is different from the next, but it’s important to look at them as an individual, not just another email address to send a press release to.
Building a relationship with media takes time, patience and lots of practice. It doesn’t happen overnight. Every piece of insight you receive back from a journalist should be analyzed for how you can do better next time. In the end, you’re not going to land 100% of the shots you take. It’s the nature of the business.
But what you can do is continuously self-assess and improve. How can I tell this story differently so that it better fits their niche or their audience?
It’s a question PR people ask themselves every single day.