This blog was originally published in March 2021 and has been updated for accuracy and relevancy purposes.
- Team planning
- Check your dates
- Create your media list
- Define and refine the story
- Craft your pitch
- Five pitching tips to engage journalists
- Following up with journalists
- Building ongoing relationships with journalists
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 them, and as an award winning B2B PR agency with a globally renowned media relations team, we have been refining it 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.
The first step toward getting your company’s name in the headlines is to assemble your team. Work out what roles you’ll need and who is ideally suited for each. You’ll need people to gather data, write pitches, contact journalists and record results. The whole process must be coordinated and be a team effort.
Check your dates
Sometimes you have no say in when your campaign will launch because it’s tied to other business activity that cannot be moved. However, it’s important that you understand:
- What other activity is taking place that day that might take precedence on the media agenda?
- What other dates or events might tie in nicely with your story and make it easier to sell to the media?
It’s always better to time your story strategically, based on the known news agenda, rather than be surprised on the day, when another story breaks and yours gets spiked.
When searching for dates to hook your story to, look out for:
- Special days or weeks, such as World Environment Day or London Tech Week – Twitter publishes a useful list (with a country filter)
- Anniversaries, such as the number of years since the first iPhone launched – you can Google ‘What happened in <month year>’ for clues
- Regular news stories, such as the monthly statistical indexes – in the UK for example, the ONS publishes upcoming releases so you can plan well in advance
Create your media list
Building an effective media list is a critical but often neglected step toward the success of a campaign. Start by building a long list of outlets from the team’s recommendations, your understanding of the media, previous coverage, online searches, social media, your media database and anywhere else you can think of.
Collect the contact details of individual journalists, and sort them into sectors such as tech, retail, and finance. Don’t forget to include freelancers, too. TIP: lots of journalists at top tier publications will list their contact details on their Twitter profiles so don’t despair if you do not have access to a media database.
Research every journalist and understand their specific niche and expertise. Look at their past work to find whether they focus on news and or thought leadership, and who might offer interview and video opportunities (you will need something worth filming and potentially pre-recorded footage to target this group). If they aren’t a good fit for this campaign, set them aside for the future.
Divide the outlets into the top five for each sector, and then into first and second-tier priorities. This is your media list. It’s a dynamic document so be sure to update it as you go.
Define and refine the story
Your campaign planning would have started ages ago, but now it’s time to get into the specifics. Once you’ve established where you hope to get published, next you need to determine what you hope to publish specifically. This means developing the news story and media release well before launch day and collecting all your assets, including photos, case studies, and interviewee information. It’s also a smart move to prepare thought leadership angles that can be pitched once the news element is over.
Research is an important part of B2B PR, so investing in it is a must. We often work with companies who are sitting on a data goldmine, but don’t realise what they have. Numbers might look boring when you’re staring at them every day, but the wider world may think differently. You need to analyse it for interesting angles – check out our blog on what makes for newsworthy content for tips. You could also use the new Chat GPT code interpreter – it’s currently in beta and you have to be prepared for your data to be absorbed by OpenAI and used to train its foundation model, but we’ve seen some promising early signs regards its ability to pick out trends that would make for pitch-worthy content.
If you really don’t have internal data to mine for a story, then invest in external data. You can either spend time doing desk research and securing your own exclusive insights using tools like the FoI act or invest money in external research by commissioning surveys.
Remember to be specific. Commenting too broadly on trends isn’t going to cut through. Instead, be specific in the stories you tell and the analysis you provide – this works particularly well for trade titles.
You should also understand, and be prepared to explain, why you’re pitching the story now. Find news to hook your story to, and that will prove why you should be spoken to, or about, now.
And finally, people buy into people, so, if it’s relevant, tell your personal story. Where did you grow up? What is the biggest problem you’ve had to solve? What do you like to do outside work? People want to learn about other people, and journalists want to talk to a person, not a company. Be brave and tell your story. Even better if you can lead your pitches with pithy little anecdotes that will grab the media’s attention!
If you’re pitching an opinion, consider:
- The expertise, profile and credibility of your spokesperson (it’s useful if they have an active Twitter/public LinkedIn profile)
- Why their opinion is different, unique or particularly insightful
- How this opinion 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 – likewise think about the structure of a journalist’s day – national journalists have daily deadlines – early morning and evening timings therefore work well
If it’s news, then ask yourself:
- Why are you pitching your story now? What is happening in the market, or indeed the world, that makes your story relevant?
- Does it involve conflict?
- Do you have exclusive data? Is it actually news? Think man bites dog, not dog bites man – more on this here
- Who is your spokesperson and why are they an expert in this field? Why would the journalist want to quote them and why should the audience take them seriously?
Craft your pitch
However you choose to contact the journalist, it is always worth writing out your pitch to organise your thoughts. If you have a breaking news story that you need to talk about right now, then don’t be afraid to pick up the phone, otherwise a well-crafted email pitch plus a follow up message, is suitable:
A good pitch will include:
- A clear, catchy subject line e.g. “Turning Apple’s trash into $442M cash” (use Chat GPT to generate subject line ideas)
- A very brief greeting, followed by a message that gets straight to the news in the first line. Avoid clichés, like “I’m reaching out to find out if….”. In a way, an email pitch is a lot like a press release: start with the most interesting detail first and then expand. Most journalists will only scan the first couple of lines of every email, IF they make it past the subject line that is
- Give them a flavour of what the story is about and, if relevant, link to videos, 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 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 exclusive anymore if it’s there on Twitter for anyone to see. Rather give them a taste of 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
- 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
- Finally, end with a strong call to action – “Are you interested in this story for <name of publication>?”
Five pitching tips to engage journalists
- Journalists increasingly create stories to work on multiple platforms. For example, at the BBC, one journalist will often work on a story that they will present to camera and on the radio. It will also be written up for the website and used on various social media channels. If you have the assets to make your story work across platforms, then make a point of that in your pitch.
- Anecdotal evidence can be just as valuable as hard data. An education reporter at the BBC recently told me that anecdotal stories and evidence are just as valuable when working on a story. If you’re noticing a trend in your industry, and you’ve spoken to your peers and/or customers and they’re in agreement with you, that can be enough to pitch to a journalist.
- Comment on interesting stories. Journalists read the comments and engage with the commenters on their stories online, and they can often indicate what their next story will focus on. This is particularly true of FT journalists – they’re great at interacting with commenters on their articles, and sometimes publish reader comments in their newsletters.
- Newsletters are increasingly important. The Guardian has over a million unique subscribers across its 50 newsletters, and The New York Times’ newsletters reach some 15 million people a week. Featuring in a newsletter is extremely powerful, especially as the audience is already engaged in the topic, by virtue of subscribing to, and reading, the newsletter. This also applies to Substack and LinkedIn newsletters, all of which usually have regular editors you can target.
- Images and interactive assets can help you sell a story. Story success in the news world is often measured by ‘dwell time’ – the amount of time readers remain on the page. Graphs and interactive content help to keep the reader on the page for longer, so consider creating those assets to go with your story.
Following up with journalists
You will want to follow up to find out if the journalist is interested, and we usually recommend doing this 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 they are covering the topic again. 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.
Building ongoing relationships with journalists
Great media relations professionals take any opportunity to improve their relationships with the media – anything that might increase pitch email open rates!
- Seeking journalists 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 areas 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 journalists – making sure you’ve done your research and only send them stuff that’ll be of interest. This goes beyond news – journalists will freely admit they struggle to stay across everything, even within their beat, so update them with little titbits of genuinely interesting information that might help them pitch new stories to their editors – become useful!
- Being available to help them at the last minute when a spokesperson has fallen through – and always being responsive
- Don’t waste their time! They’re incredibly time poor so don’t invite them to events that are just self-promotional for example unless there’s an obvious value trade-off
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. The human relationship piece and shared interests in relevant topics is key.
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, 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.
Want to win big with your target media? We’re here to help – contact us to find out more.
Written by: Katie Chodosh, media relations director at Definition.