In one of my previous blog posts I had gone into detail regarding how to successfully write a pitch letter to a journalist. During a student development conference hosted by Eastern Michigan University’s PRSSA, one of the main topics discussed was how to interest a journalist through a press release or pitch email. Stephen Kurily, account coordinator for Airfoil marketing communications, gave the following tips for media relations:
- Brand key messages
- Know industry trends
- Monitor the news cycle
- Know who you’re pitching to
While all of these tips are quite useful, monitoring the news cycle and knowing who you’re pitching to are especially important. The whole point of being a journalist is to report the news in a timely manner as to “outscoop” other publications in coverage of a story. Because newsrooms are shrinking and journalists are always pressed for time, being able to pitch a journalist a story idea at the peak of a news cycle should be one of the highest priorities of any PR practitioner who is pitching emails or writing press releases.
Kurily mentioned that a PR practitioner needs to know a journalist’s beat and not send out hundreds of general pitches. Most pitches should be personalized to grab a journalist’s attention; by knowing what a newspaper publishes and what a journalist’s usual beat is, it ensures a higher engagement rate between the two parties.
As the news editor for the Eastern Echo my inbox is usually filled with 50+ emails per day, which is relatively small compared to larger publications. Out of those 50+ emails, I may only read five of them (excluding emails pertaining to my staff writers). Most of the emails that are sent to my inbox are random press releases that don’t have engaging subject lines that stand out.
Those emails usually don’t even pertain to the Eastern Echo and are simply spammed to hundreds of random newspapers. The Eastern Echo’s beat is Eastern Michigan University as well as the surrounding Ypsilanti area. Here is a partial example of a pitch email that I received this week and why I didn’t respond to it:
Subject: 2016’s States with the Best Elder-Abuse Protections – WalletHub Study
With the share of U.S. adults aged 65 and older expected to comprise more than a fifth of the entire population by 2029 and 23 out of 24 elder-abuse cases going unreported every year, the personal-finance website WalletHub conducted an in-depth analysis that identifies 2016’s States with the Best Elder-Abuse Protections.
To determine which states fight the hardest against elder abuse, WalletHub’s analysts compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 10 key metrics. The data set ranges from “share of elder-abuse, gross-neglect and exploitation complaints” to “total expenditures on elder-abuse prevention per resident aged 65 and older” to “financial elder-abuse laws.”
The subject of this pitch email is boring, as is the lead and nut graf. More than these two glaring issues it also doesn’t pitch anything related to the Eastern Echo’s beat and most likely uses a generalized layout. The only specialized portion pertains to who the email addresses; Mona was a previous news editor, so even if I was interested in covering this story I’m instantly turned away because this PR practitioner or company isn’t even aware of who the current news editor for the Eastern Echo is.
CisionPoint is an excellent resource to gather contacts to pitch to, allowing PR practitioners to see what newspapers are in the surrounding area, what topics they cover, what beats their reporters cover, as well as contact information. Not only is it important to get coverage on press releases or company news, the main goal of public relations practitioners is to build relationships with reporters that are mutually beneficial. By establishing that relationship it ensures a higher chance for news coverage.
I briefly described why a PR practitioner shouldn’t send generalized pitches to reporters. Here is an example of a pitch email that received news coverage from the Eastern Echo:
Subject: Cory Booker at EMU – Interest in Interviewing?
Wanted to make sure you saw the advisory I sent around – Cory Booker is actually going to be at EMU tomorrow evening, and I wanted to check in and see if the Eastern Echo would be interested in covering him? If so, I can probably get your reporter a short one-on-one interview with him at the end of his rally.
Please let me know if ASAP if you’re able to send a reporter to the event, and if they’d like to interview Senator Booker? Details below.
Thanks so much!
Notice that the PR practitioner mentioned me by name, provided details on an event that was taking place at the Eastern Echo’s beat, and ended with a call to action by offering an interview opportunity at the end of the event. She then added the press release with event information below as part of the email instead of attaching it as a word document (which several journalists dislike from what I understand, although it doesn’t bother me). It was personalized, we built a relationship and it led to several other campaign events being covered by my news section.
Even if a PR practitioner crafts the perfect pitch email and provides content that is relevant/may interest a reporter, it doesn’t guarantee engagement. Kurily noted that about 10 percent of his personalized pitch emails receive some form of initial engagement, which is standard for my news section. While some may recommend a pitch phone call, journalists may interpret this negatively and either won’t answer the call or won’t bother following up on the pitch.
As a journalist I’m particularly glued to my inbox rather than my phone; unless I’m receiving a text message, I won’t answer an unknown phone call and will rarely call back. According to a 2015 study by Cision over 83 percent of reporters prefer to be pitched over email and I find this information to be relatively accurate.
At the end of the day journalists are incredibly busy covering multiple stories and may not have time to follow up on a personalized pitch email. The goal of any PR practitioner is to monitor the news cycle and know who they’re sending pitch emails to; doing this shows interest and even a sense of professionalism that will foster relationships. Journalists and PR practitioners synergistically work together and it all starts with that initial email, which should be personalized and relevant to a journalist’s beat.
As a PR practitioner how do you tend to write pitch emails to journalists? If you’re a journalist, PR practitioner or writer, what entices you to open and read an email? Leave your thoughts below in the comments section!