A Guest Post By Heather Whaling
As PR people, we’re constantly told, “Target your pitches” or “Build relationships with journalists” or “Help journalists meet their deadlines.”
But, are we practicing what we preach?
I recently used HARO (helpareporter.com) to find sources for a Mashable article I was writing. Normally, I’m the PR person responding to queries and pitching my clients, so it was a bit odd being on the receiving end of the pitches. Talk about an eye-opening experience.
While some of the pitches were fine – a few were even really good – a number of responses were examples of what not to do when responding to a HARO query … or pitching a reporter in general.
With that, based on my HARO experience, here are seven dos and don’ts for pitching media:
- Don’t be an annoying Twitter follower. I experienced two kinds of PR people through my HARO experience. The first kind sends a direct message before responding to the query, inquiring if the writer is interested. If you have a story that fits their query, then it’s safe to assume they’re interested. Respond to the query. Follow up after!
And that leads me to the second kind of PR person: The one who sends a random “at reply” just to say “Hey, I just sent you an email.” Well, great. I know sometimes we want to follow up with media via Twitter, but the message may be better received if it’s worked into a conversation. The out-of-the-blue reply felt a little spammy to me.
- Respect deadlines. If the writer’s deadline is Friday, that means he/she needs the info on Friday. (Seriously, I received multiple emails from people offering to send me information or schedule interviews the following week.)
- Pitch on target. My article was specifically looking for tips and best practices for incorporating Facebook into a product launch. I received multiple responses from PR people who went into extensive detail about their product … but didn’t tell me how they used Facebook. Don’t go on and on about your product, unless that’s relevant to the pitch. If I’m looking for tips, focus on that first. Then, give me the context.
- Offer enough “meat” in the pitch. Don’t just send a reporter an email offering to schedule an interview. Offer some insights about what kinds of tips, facts or anecdotes the interviewee can offer. Reporters will naturally gravitate toward the interview opportunities where they’re most likely to receive quality information for their story.
- Know who you’re pitching. I was working on a story for Mashable; yet more than one person sent me links to coverage their client received on competing sites. Even better, one suggested I pull information from that article. Why would I want to repeat information that’s already been published? And, if a reporter feels like your company’s story has already been well publicized, they won’t want to reiterate the same story. Give the reporter something fresh to work with.
- Be readily available. If you’re going to say, “Would you like details?” be standing by, ready to offer those details. Frequently, journalists work on tight deadlines, so they can’t wait days for you to respond. (And, yes, this means sometimes you even need to be available over the weekend.) I can’t tell you how many people took literally days to respond to my follow-up questions.
- Don’t respond and then go into hiding. Someone replied to my query and then went out of town. Everyone’s entitled to a vacation, but if you’re offering to connect a writer with a source, you can’t go into hiding. Turn on your out-of-office response and make sure it includes alternate contact information (either your cell phone or a back-up contact person).
What other tips would you offer to help PR pros brush up on their pitching skills?
Heather Whaling is president of Geben Communication, a boutique communication firm specializing in traditional and digital PR. Connect with Heather on Twitter (@prTini) on her blog (http://www.prTini.com) or on the company’s Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/gebencommunication