If you’re embarking on a PR campaign, you’re going to need to get your head around how to contact journalists. Fortunately there is a definite process for reaching out to journalists, and as a B2B PR agency we have been refining this process for decades.

The high level summary is that getting journalists interested is all about the story. And if that sounds obvious in theory, the reality of doing so is a bit more complicated. Here’s what you should do.

Define and refine the story

Is your story news, an opinion, a feature, a case study (find out about how to make a case study video), an event or a request for an interview?

If it’s an opinion, consider:

  • The expertise, profile and credibility of your spokesperson (it’s useful if they have an active Twitter profile).
  • Why their opinion is different, unique or particularly insightful.
  • How this opinion story can be hooked to the current news agenda? In other words, why is it relevant now?

If it’s an event, think about:

  • Why should the journalist give up their time to attend? Will they learn something they cannot learn elsewhere? Meet people they cannot meet elsewhere? Or see or experience something new, interesting and exciting?
  • Which elements of the event will be most of interest to the journalist? Lead with that.
  • Timings – no journalist wants to be invited to an event at the last minute. It’s unlikely they will be able to drop everything just to attend.

If it’s an interview, consider:

  • The credibility of your spokesperson.
  • The insight they can add.

If it’s a case study, consider:

  • How does this person / business relate to the journalist’s readers, listeners or viewers?

If it’s news, then you should apply news values:

  • What is the audience impact and relevance? Which readers / listeners will be most interested and why will they be interested now?
  • Is this relevant and relatable to the journalist and their target audience? If not, can you make it more suitable?
  • Does it involve conflict? What is your viewpoint and why is this newsworthy?
  • Who is your spokesperson and why are they an expert in this field? Why would the journalist want to quote them or run their piece and why should the audience take them seriously?
  • Is it relevant? Does your story relate to a current trend? What’s the impact? Why will the audience care?

Research your journalist contact

Before you even try to contact a journalist, you need to research them. That will take a bit of time, but will pay dividends. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Read / watch / listen to their media: You want to do your research around the topic, find out where and how the subject has been covered in the past, which section it might work best within.
  • Research the journalist: check their social accounts, previous stories they have covered, likes and dislikes. You need to understand their beat – that means, what kind of stories they are interested in and what their agenda is.

This kind of background research will give you a really good overview of how to contact the journalist and how to tailor your pitch for maximum success.

Find their contact details

If you’re getting your head around how to contact journalists, you will need to know where to go to get their contact information. If you don’t have access to a media database like Muckrack or Roxhill, then you will need to do some investigating. Look at:

  • The media website – you might be lucky and find their email address there. If not, you should contact the general email address, or complete the contact form saying you have a story for that particular journalist and you would like to request their email address.
  • Social media – journalists tend to be quite active on Twitter and LinkedIn, making these social networks great channels for contacting them.

Craft your pitch

Whether you are contacting the journalist by phone by email, or by social media, it is always worth writing out your pitch to organise your thoughts. We recommend starting with an email pitch and following up over the phone.

A good pitch will include:

  • A clear headline, such as Potential opinion piece on the impact of new Brexit legislation on SMEs.
  • A very brief greeting, followed by a message that gets straight to the point. Avoid clichés, like “I’m reaching out to find out if….”
  • Give them a flavour of what the story is about and, if relevant, link to videos, or blog posts or interviews done by your subject matter expert.
  • Indicate whether you are offering an exclusive or not. You will have more chance of a favourable result if it is an exclusive. If you’re pitching on Twitter you need to be careful not to give the story away in your tweet – because then it won’t be an exclusive anymore if it’s there on Twitter for anyone to see. Rather give them a taste for the story and ask if you can contact them directly.
  • Summarise the story, including why it’s relevant to your journalist’s audience and why it’s relevant now.
  • Simplify where you can – this is especially important for complex B2B topics (we cover this in our post on engineering PR).
  • Make sure they have all the information they need – if it’s an opinion piece, how quickly can you pull it together? If it’s an interview, when is your spokesperson available? If this is a down the line interview for broadcast, does your spokesperson have access to a studio?
  • Leave them wanting to find out more.
  • Include pictures if you think they could bring the story to life (link to these rather than attaching them).
  • Finally, end with a strong call to action – “do you want to run this piece?”

Once you have written down your pitch, run through it a few times to see if you can make it even more concise. Then deliver it, either via email, Twitter, LinkedIn or over the phone.

Follow up and build on the relationship

You will want to follow up on this particular pitch to find out if the journalist is interested, and we usually recommend doing this over the phone or by email. But your follow up should be about building a longer term relationship.

So even if there’s no prospect of immediate coverage, you want to position your spokesperson as a useful source on the topic, so that the journalist might come to you for comment in future when she is covering the topic. This strategy will also make your future pitches more likely to be successful. It’s much more likely that you will have a positive outcome if the journalist knows you.

Build ongoing relationships by:

  • Seeking the journalist out at conferences or trade shows and introducing yourself.
  • Introducing new spokespeople within the business over email. By introducing we mean providing background information on the spokesperson, their area of expertise and availability – not actually introducing them to the journalist (who probably is too busy to handle cold introductions to new people).
  • Carefully curating what you send to the journalist – making sure you’ve done your research and only send them stuff that’ll be of interest.
  • Being available to help them at the last minute when a spokesperson has fallen through – and always being responsive.
  • Not annoying them by imposing. Don’t ask them to meet up until you’ve gotten to know them, and don’t invite them to events that are just self-promotional.

If you do meet up with a journalist for lunch, don’t just sit down, pick up your knife and fork, and launch into talking about clients – it doesn’t need to be that formal. It’s more a case of seeing if you get on, exploring interesting topics and hopefully having a good time.

If a lot of the above sounds like common sense…well, it is. But common sense is less common than you might think. Ultimately, you want to treat a journalist like you’d treat a prospective date, or investor, or any other person you want to impress: respectfully, and with the assumption that they’re an intelligent person whose time is valuable. If you have an interesting enough story, they’ll treat you well in return.

Building great relationships with journalists can be invaluable for your career in PR – the contacts you have and the network you build can amplify your chances of success when it comes to getting coverage/interviews for your clients.

Other useful posts on PR and marketing:

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