PR is about building relationships, not destroying them. As one of the disciplines of PR, good media relations can often feel like a sales job, albeit one where you are trying to sell an often news-less story into a publication. A good agency should never let it get to this.
In so many agencies, there is a culture whereby all calls or emails need to have some form of response. This leads to pressure to call every journalist on a list and get a response from them, one way or another. One of the worst questions you can ask is, ‘can I ask why you won’t be covering it?’
You should never need to ask this question because you should know the response. You should be aware before contacting the journalist whether the story is going to be relevant for them. You should know the audience of the publication and pitch your story in a way that makes it relevant to the journalist. You should know if the story is right and if it will be compelling enough for readers.
Doing PR well takes a lot of time. You have to invest a lot of time in understanding, researching and getting to know different journalists. It’s all part of your media relations strategy.
More often than not, you can often also be on a retainer which means you are limited in your ability to spend this time. This can be an advantage of being in-house. You can focus on developing effective media relations, nurturing and building relationships and pitching stories with the luxury of time.
A list of journalists to call is often just a list of journalists to piss off. A good media relations campaign is built upon knowing who is going to be interested in the story and selling it to them. If it’s a good enough story, it will spread further. As a PR, you should be able to tell your client or your bosses that the story isn’t as big as they think it is. You should be able to tell them PR isn’t the right medium for every single story. You should have a good enough grasp of the other mediums and be able to use the many channels we have at our fingertips.
I always like to use the following as a general rule of thumb when assessing how newsworthy a story is:
Test the newsworthiness
Take a story you’ve got and tell a friend who wouldn’t need to care about it. If it’s interesting enough, they then tell someone else, unconnected, it’s a story.
The more niche it is, the more targeted you’d need to make it and the smaller the number of friends or friends of friends would care.
Think about the wider impact of irrelevant pitching with media relations
When you sell in a bad, irrelevant story to a journalist, you risk damaging your relationship, your client’s relationship and agency’s relationship. I’ve heard of too many journalists who blacklist whole agencies because of a bad pitch.
PR is meant to help journalists to write good stories. Being aggressive in your approach won’t achieve anything. We have all experienced aggressive sales calls; none of us like them.
Today, being a bit creative about the way you sell a story in can help. Being personal is vital.
Knowing who you are selling to will help build a relationship with them. The more a journalist recognises you for being a reliable source of news; the more they will speak to you.
Am I always good at doing this? Hell no. I fail on a regular basis — time is not something you always have on your side. When time is on your side though, try to think about how to create a better story. Consider to make it more relevant. Sometimes you need time to pitch in a story, which means taking the same principles of a basic release and using it to build the release schedule:
Who: Which publications or journalists is this going to be relevant for? Today, many publications would like to have stories as an exclusive. If it’s a big enough story, it will likely get covered by other publications. If it is a big story, you should talk about how it will be promoted and where it will be on the site. If it’s not going to get pride of place, maybe it’s not worth being exclusive.
What: Is it a big enough story? Do you have anything to backup whatever you’re talking about?
Within this, what media content do you have to go along with it? You need good imagery, video (if suitable) and as much as possible to help the journalist. If it’s rubbish, your story will hurt as a result.
How: The Wire is a good place to stick a release; yet, it’s just a feed of news, where journalists will likely miss your story.
You can do a mass email send out. Many tools (such as Yet Another Mail Merge for Google Sheets) let you use mail merge to personalise the name and a couple of other pieces. Though, it’s clear you’ve done this — journalists can always tell. The likelihood is, your story is only relevant for a select number of journalists. Just as you likely hate getting irrelevant emails or calls, so do journalists — as we’ve discussed already. Be relevant, timely and show that you care. It will take more time, but you’re paid to get coverage for your clients. Doing it well will lead to better results.
When: Timing has always been essential with the media. As a technology company, there is no point in going out with a big story on the same day as Google, Microsoft or Apple is doing a major event. Most of the technology journalists will be otherwise engaged. It’s also generally not advised to send out a release and expect a journalist to cover it the same day.
Journalists are not sat there waiting for press releases to come through. They are not sat there waiting for PR people to call them incessantly. They are there to write news. If you want yours written well, giving them a couple of days can help them — especially if you’re giving it to a journalist as an exclusive.
Anyone working in PR knows that 90% of the time with media relations you will be trying to polish a turd to turn it into a diamond. It’s why we will spend much of our time sending creative ideas to clients in the hope that they do something worthy of a news story. We bang our heads relentlessly and feel the pain every time a client who rebuffs every idea and suggestion asks where coverage is.