By Gene Law
Public Relations Consultant, Coldwater Communications
You hit send and now your press release is on its virtual way to dozens of media outlets. Assuming it was crafted with care and targeted at the right reporter and outlet, this is what happens next.
Before jumping into the public relations industry, I worked as a reporter and news director at a small market radio station, then at a major market television news station at the overnight desk. While the number of pitches received at each station was very different, the way I treated and reacted to those pitches was the same. Newsrooms get flooded with pitch emails and during my time I’ve seen good ones and many bad ones. Here are my tips to maximize the chances your pitch email will be read.
Don’t bury the lede. The first thing that caught my attention when pitch emails appeared in the inbox was the subject line. Is it clear from a glance what this email is about? If I’m busy and an email with a convoluted subject line comes in, often I’ll gloss over it because I don’t have time to decipher what the email is about. But if it’s clear and concise, I can make a decision about whether it’s something that demands my immediate attention or I can make a mental note to come back to it later when I have some downtime.
A subject line that will catch my immediate attention is a concise one that I can scan and it lets me know if the pitch aligns with our station’s direction when it comes to news stories.
Then there’s the importance of targeting your pitches. Nothing gets deleted or ignored faster than a subject line that clearly shows the sender didn’t do their research on their media list. One of the best ways to get me interested in a pitch was to “newsjack” it in a timely and thoughtful manner. Newsrooms are always looking for “sidebars” to a larger story and it’s easier to get attention when the pitch is relatable to something bigger. This is important with newsrooms having fewer resources, linking your pitch with something bigger creates relevance.
Again, when it comes to the content of the pitch email, don’t bury the lede. Keep the copy simple and straight to the point. Newsrooms are busy, and when I was working at the desk, I was often juggling multiple items at once. For the morning show I worked on, my deadline was often in minutes.
An email that is a wall of text that doesn’t clearly state why I should care often led to me not caring until much later when I had more time. Using as few words as possible, let me know why I should care, and that means explaining why my audience should care.
There have also been times when a good pitch is sent to the newsroom, but it didn’t take into consideration the medium of the broadcaster. As a radio journalist, I required copy, but including a quote was even better, and the best was making a voice available. Photos were also appreciated for the website. Television requires good visuals. Often a poor story with good visuals will get more attention than a good story with poor visuals.
A pitch that is properly targeted and includes all the relevant information and media assets has a much better chance of getting run. Newsrooms can always download photos and pull videos from links. Making the newsroom’s life as easy as possible by providing all the elements they need to run the story, makes it a lot more likely that they will.
If I decided to chase a story, the first thing I’d do is initial research. As a rule, I never take the word of a pitch email without my own due diligence, and that often means a Google search. There was no quicker way for a pitch to lose credibility than for me to be unable to verify its statements or claims. This saves me from needless work or suggesting a story that turns out to be a dud.
I’ve seen enough pitch emails that I automatically know where to look for certain information. Personally, I’ve never paid enough attention to notice if the writing was in perfect CP-style or if there weren’t any spelling or grammatical errors—I never had the time. If there were glaring errors, they would be noticed and provide a good laugh at the expense of whoever sent the email. But a good story was never canned because of a spelling mistake in the release.
If the pitch was successful and I decided to chase the story, the first person I’d contact was the person who sent the email. A quick response is important, particularly if we wanted this story for broadcast on the same day. As the communications person, it’s important to establish what the journalist needs and the deadline they’re working on. A fast reply was always appreciated given my quick turnaround times. There were situations where a slower response was understandable, but if you as the point of contact becomes a barrier, the newsroom will look for ways around you or not chase the story.
As a former journalist (and this may sound self-serving as someone who has jumped to the so-called “dark side”) working with former journalists in public relations was always ideal because they understood the pressures of the newsroom and would accommodate or even give suggestions on how to do the story. But more importantly, they understood what elements are needed to make a good story and they would anticipate and provide them.
So what happens after hitting send depends on what is being sent. Fundamentally it’s knowing the story you want to tell, and convincing the outlet that it’s a story they will also want to tell to their audience. It’s the first impression that makes a lasting impression, and that first impression will determine if a journalist, will open your email.
Coldwater Communications is a PR agency that provides refreshingly unique public relations solutions to tell your story. We’d love to continue the conversation and help you develop a strategy that will move the needle for your business, event, initiative or brand. Contact us to learn more about our services and how we can help!