Every brand reaches a fork in the road when it’s time to level up. You’ve grown. Attracted investors. Converted leads into regular customers. But you still need to get people talking. Public relations (PR) is the way. PR is how companies, organizations and solopreneurs boost their brand recognition, increase their credibility and zero-in on key stakeholders and target audiences with the right messaging. But securing great media coverage can feel like the holy grail for brands struggling to break through the noise and pique the interest of busy, overworked reporters.
Here, the dream team at Trust Relations shares their knowledge — and their best go-to strategies and tactics — for snagging a journalist's attention to land impressive media coverage. This way, you can write every press release and pitch knowing that if a reporter ignores you, they are either drowning in work, on a tight deadline or dead inside.
12 Tips to Attract a Journalist for Great Media Coverage in 2021
1. Do Your Homework.
This is one of the most time-consuming steps of any media pitch, but it’s arguably the most important. Newsrooms are crazy, beats change and both reporters and their editors are trying to stay afloat in an industry where things can drastically change from one minute to the next. So how do you get press coverage?
The easiest, most authentic way to get in front of a journalist is to give them a story idea that was made for them. If you work for a startup, read stories by tech reporters who have written about companies similar to yours. Pay attention to the kind of stories they cover. Do they focus on seed funding? Must-have gadgets? Apps that make life easier? Get to know the names of reporters that fit your pitch at local, national, industry and trade outlets. In your pitch, mention that you have read their work before, and cite examples.
Once you know who you’re pitching, send each journalist a different, tailored email pitch that tells them right from the start why you have the story idea they’ve been looking to take to their editor. Match the tone of your pitch to their outlet, writing style or ideology. Make it sincere. Friendly. Professional. Short. Do not send a generic or mass email. Reporters can smell that a mile away. Your pitch will be deleted and forgotten about after the first sentence.
2. Put Your Hook in a Great Subject Line.
Subject lines are the worst. We get it. But don’t blow this off as not important. Why? You’re not the only PR practitioner trying to get their attention. Most journalists are bombarded with pitches — hundreds or thousands per week if not more. They don’t have the bandwidth or interest in opening every single pitch email if it doesn’t grab their attention from the start.
Don’t be too cute and don’t come across as clickbait. If it’s too over the top, the reporter’s spam filter might flag it. Be short and sweet. Make it interesting. Personalize it. Opening your email is the first step to coverage. Don’t let a boring subject line ruin a great pitch.
3. Give Them Good Story Ideas.
This seems like a no-duh, but you’d be surprised at how many reporters will yawn at a story idea dreamed up by corporate executives who thought it was a slam-dunk. So how do you pitch a reporter? Again, start by reading the kinds of stories your media targets cover. If you’re pitching local reporters, offer them a story about how your product or service impacted the people in their community. Or, tell a national reporter something they didn’t already know. Give them something to take to their editor that makes them look good, and think about what you would want to know if you were in their shoes.
4. Write a Cut-and-Paste Worthy Press Release.
Seriously. Make your press release so spot-on — totally on point with AP Style — that the journalist can tweak it to fit their own writing style and either send it to their editor or post it online straight away. With newsroom cuts galore and staffing resources dwindling, many editors use wire stories to fill space. They don’t love to do this; however, if you can send them a press release that is written so well that they’d write it themselves, you have a home run. This is especially true for smaller publications.
Added benefit? If the journalist uses your awesome press release nearly verbatim, you can ensure your brand’s key messages, quotes and tone remain intact when the story comes out. Write the hell out of it. Write it well.
Along those lines, consider pitching contributed content. This is an article that is written by a company or its agency and submitted for publication. Again, media outlets are hungry for original copy. Many appreciate the effort and will take your offering.
5. Make Sure Your Copy is Clean.
Use proper grammar and punctuation. We shouldn’t have to say this, but you’d be surprised at how many crappy, error-riddled press releases are blasted to the masses every single day.
There is nothing worse than a press release that is missing a comma — or one that includes the Oxford comma, which goes against AP Style. Misspelled words? Using “their” when you mean “there,” or “your” when you mean “you’re?” Come on. You know better than that. What’s more, so does a reporter.
We have a lot of former journalists on staff at Trust Relations. Every one of them will tell you that a PR practitioner who sends out a press release with grammar, punctuation and word use errors will be judged for a lack of professionalism and likely ignored.
Moral of the story: Pay attention to detail. Have your team proofread your work. Check for mistakes and check again. You’ll be glad you did.
6. Get to the Point.
If a reporter has to read past the first paragraph to know what your pitch or press release is about, you’ve lost them. End of story.
7. Include Photos and Graphics.
The better offerings you have, the more it is likely a journalist will pay attention to your pitch. Consider including photos, graphics and other ways to show data that backs up your pitch. Many outlets will use your photos and graphics if they're well done and have high enough resolution to look great online, on the TV screen or in print. Make sure you source all of those extras so they know where to give cutline credit.
8. Follow Up.
Don’t be a pest, but don’t be afraid to reach out a few days to a week after your initial pitch if you don’t get a response, or if the reporter says they will get back to you but haven’t yet. Again, they are usually slammed; the news cycle is ever-changing and as a result, a lot of reporters get sidetracked from stories they were planning to cover. Their inboxes are full of unanswered emails. Send them a friendly note following up. Many stories get published after a few tries and reminders that you exist.
9. Respond Quickly.
So, you finally get a reporter to show interest — but are slow in responding to a question they have about the product or service mentioned in your pitch. What??? Don’t do this. If you take your sweet time, they will move on. Probably forever.
Respect their time and they will respect yours. If you don’t know an answer, let them know you are looking into it and will get back to them as quickly as possible. Ask them what their deadline is, and help them meet it. Such steps are key to building a longtime relationship with a journalist who will start covering your story ideas in part because they know and trust you.
10. Start Small to Go Big.
If a reporter is interested, they will probably research how their competitors have covered your brand in the past. Having a few media hits under your belt gives you brand credibility and a little street cred. Consider pitching smaller publications to ensure your pitch is covered before going to the big guns. Once reporters see you’ve been covered in the past, they’ll know you aren’t the only one who sees your brand as newsworthy.
11. Don’t Focus Only on Traditional Media Sources.
It’s 2021, folks. Media goes beyond newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets, both in their original forms and digital formats. Consider pitching other types of media, including:
- Social Media
- YouTube Channels
12. Be Honest, Authentic and Grateful.
Trying to thwart the sharing of information, spinning a tall tale or avoiding questions will backfire. It may even lead to negative media coverage or a viral social media share that instantly puts your brand in negative light. That’s the kind of online chatter you don’t ever want for your product, service or brand.
Be honest. Be yourself. It’s by far the best strategy.
Finally, be sure to thank the reporter for their time and for the story. It could be that not every detail was exactly the way you wanted it to be, but in the grand scheme this shouldn’t matter. Focus on the positives, such as the reporter or editor taking a chance on you to cover your client, or that you likely developed a new relationship with a local newscaster or podcast host you can call upon and bounce additional story ideas off of in the future.
For more of the best PR industry tips, tactics, advice and trends, visit our Trust Weekly blog or catch an episode of the PR Wine Down, our fun and popular podcast that covers all things PR and then some.