Pitching to media – should we call to follow up?
By Kim Harrison,
Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com
The most effective media pitch is by telephone to a direct media contact – preferably a reporter who specializes in the topic of the pitch. This gives us the opportunity to find out the reporter’s attitude and to send them tailored material tuned to their hot buttons. Most PR professionals do their pitching this way. (Bloggers, Twitter and other social media are a different matter, of course.)
However, many PR people often email a media release cold and then call the reporter to check if they have received their carefully prepared missive. In my experience, this tactic works with television news. I found it amazing when I phoned to see what they thought of my gem of a release, how often a TV news desk would claim they have lost the release and could I send it again… Perhaps they threw everything in the bin or used the delete button unless it was thrust under their nose.
But with other media such a tactic can antagonize them. When pitching a story angle to reporters or chiefs of staff at newspapers and magazines it is very tempting, if not compelling, to call them to check if they have received the media release. In reality this is an opportunity to find out their attitude and try to do a fall-back pitch by telephone if we sense some reluctance.
However, the pushback from many journalists is that they don’t want to be hassled by such follow-ups.
Esther Schindler of the Internet Press Guild, says, “Nothing sets a writer or editor's teeth on edge more than an eager young voice saying, “I'm calling to see if you got the press release we sent.” It is all too-common practice to have follow-up calls made by the most junior, inept, PR officers. But “when we're in the middle of a tight deadline, the last thing we want is a phone call that contains no new or useful information whatsoever.” She says such calls harm the sender’s reputation.
The quandary is that unless we do speak to the reporter about the release in question, we won’t know what their attitude is, and the story might never get off the ground for reasons that we will never know about. If we know the reasons, we can try another angle or at least we can report to the client or boss about the facts of what happened. This means we remain under pressure to follow up, even if the reporter doesn’t like it.
Email and telephone pitching tactics
Use sensible subject lines in emails. Don’t say “Hello Linda,” “Press Release,” or other unintelligible subject lines. The subject line is the most important line in the whole email, so write it after you have written the body text and have your head around the subject. Make it short, less than 60 characters including spaces, and put the keywords up front – in the first 3-4 words, even if you need to use the passive voice. There is so much competition and clutter with emails these days that you need to hit the spot immediately or your chances are gone (with the delete button).
Avoid using subject lines that look like spam. Anything with repeated exclamation points, dollar signs or all caps isn’t likely to get past spam filters, much less a reporter.
Use a signature file with your full contact information. If you seriously want a journalist to respond, always give your cell phone number in your sig file.
Don’t ever start a phone call by saying, “Is now a good time?” How can they know, if they don't know what you're calling about? It's always a good time to call with big news. However, if the journo is struggling to write a story that's already hours late, it's not a good time to call to ask if they received your email!
Likewise, get straight to the point. Don’t waste time in starting with pleasantries unless you already know the journo or unless you can make a complimentary remark about one of their recent stories.
About the Author
Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.
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