How to talk to the media

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By journalist and writer Penny Carroll

Media and PR go hand in hand. When it’s working well, it’s a beautiful, mutually beneficial relationship. When it’s not? We all know what it’s like when it’s not.

If I had to narrow this whole blog post down to one piece of advice, it’d be this:

Think about the publication you’re pitching to.

You’re better off researching a few top, targeted outlets and refining your pitch to suit each than sending out a blanket alert to everyone. There is nothing more annoying than receiving an email about something that’s completely irrelevant to your brand, or a topic you just ran an article on.

Journos have egos

If you send them something that’s irrelevant to them, or shows that you haven’t done your research in some way, they will be personally offended. So, workshop some angles that are relevant to the brand you want to pitch to. Do you have an expert who can comment? Recipes to share? What’s the unique selling point or sweetener? That doesn’t mean you have to do their job for them, just make it easier for them to do theirs.

Journos hate phone calls

There are always some exceptions, of course, especially if you’re contacting newspapers, but most people I know really dislike picking up their phone. Why? They hate it mainly because some PRs will send out a press release and then follow up with a phone call an hour later. You might not have had time to read the release, or you might have filed it into a relevant folder, or you might still be thinking about how you could make it work for your brand. Feeling harassed by the PR shopping it out will not make the journo want to help you, it might make them angry and ranty and rude, and your release is likely to end up in the deleted folder.

 Have a coffee catch up

If you can, go for a coffee catch-up. Keep it brief – half an hour to an hour – and use the time to make a genuine connection. When you’ve met someone and like them, it automatically makes you so much more open to their pitches. Also, if you’ve got an expert who’s a little hard to describe or pitch out, bringing them to a meeting with a journo is a great idea. A couple of times, meeting someone has meant I’ve gotten stories on them that I might otherwise have passed on.

Keep it short and sharp

Emailing a pitch? Keep it short and sharp. Add a media release if you need to flesh it out. One paragraph should be plenty of room to sell your idea, and if you’re having trouble honing in on your message, think of the old ‘who, what, when, where, why’. Don’t write the story for them. Again, journos have egos, so they want to write the story themselves. I guess the exception here is if you’re pitching to a big website that needs new content every day/hour – just make sure you’re sending them relevant, quality content that fits their brand.

Work on your relationships

If you can’t get in front of them, develop friendly banter over email, social media or with (very carefully placed) phone calls. They might pass on the first pitch, but if you have a good rapport you can trust them when they say they’ll keep something on file. A good idea is to check in with emails every now and then – maybe once a month or every two months – and let them know who you’re working with, what experts you can offer etc. Don’t ask them for their features list or editorial schedule, they do not want to send that out. 

Research the publication's core themes

All magazines (and this applies to digital too) have core themes that they’ll cover every year at certain times of the year, or even in every issue. For Women’s Fitness, this is stuff like: running, body confidence, nutrition, summer shape-up, yoga, meditation. For a food mag, it’d be quick weeknight dinners, indulgent desserts, entertaining, seasonal ingredients etc.

The holy grail of pitching

Journos are bored of covering the same topics over and over. The holy grail is a fresh spin on a tired topic. So, don’t pitch out an expert who can talk about why meditation is good for you. We’ve done it. A million times. Pitch out an expert who can talk about why meditation is good for getting ahead at work, or for smashing your fitness goals. Think laterally for every topic. Find new research, or fresh pop cultural concepts (bonus points for a catchy phrase to go with it).

It needs to be a story

A common mistake is shopping around a person or business that doesn’t have an angle. It’s not enough to say, this person launched a business! It needs to be a story. Think about how your client fits into a larger trend. It’s much easier to sell the trend than the product. On that note, be aware that a journo might hook off your angle or trend, and bring in other experts or products as well. This is good! Media outlets want a well-rounded story and adding more experts in or expanding the topic will make it stronger and more likely to get your client in front of more eyes.

Be timely

Give journos plenty of time, if you can. Magazines work months in advance. Even newspapers and websites will have as much planned in advance as they can. Calling me up the day before Mental Health Day on October 10 is no good when my October issue is already on the stands.  

Say thanks when a story goes up

It’s a simple thing, but it will go a long way towards building your relationship with the journo or outlet. Likewise, share it on social media. Be proud of the coverage, and do your best to get more eyes on it. Positivity breeds positivity.

If all else fails, send a gift

Jokes – but really, sending a sample of the product or jazzing up a less-than-sexy release with some flowers or food is a good idea if the client can afford it. If nothing else, it’ll get you a mention on socials! And food always wins over a hungry office on deadline.

Now go forth and conquer, nail and land that pitch! 

Follow Penny's magic brain on instagram.