By Blair Mulzer, Account Coordinator
My first call to a TV-station went horribly wrong.
I called the station, asked for the news desk, and waited for my call to be transferred. But then, once connected, I unloaded my script, ahem news pitch, as if every second wasted would result in less coverage for my client. Producers, news directors, reporters – all were scary, practically celebrities and too important to listen or care about my news tip, right? And then the fear of being rejected – being told “no thank you, we aren’t interested”, or even worse the lack of a real response, “we can’t promise anything, thanks.” – was all quite disheartening.
After venting to my coworker about my lack of success, it became evident that I had been doing it all wrong when she said, “Did you ask them how they are doing?”
Being relational, my friends, is the first and far most important ingredient I have found to be successful in media relations.
You, me and the news desk assistant, reporter, news director and producer all have something in common – we are all plain human. Regardless of our positions, we each have friends and family, a history, hobbies and lives outside of work, strange right? Not at all.
Therefore, it’s very important that you pitch your news like a person, not a robot. Have a discussion, not a one-sided lecture. As a PR professional, you need to build your media contacts. And you’re not going to get anywhere with people if you are a monotone individual who calls on occasion to pew out a news tip then hang up.
Let your personality free! It’s okay, actually great, to bond over your love for Kentucky if your reporter mentions she studied there – this actually happened, and as a result, is someone I now work often with. It’s a win-win relationship, you have a good story to sell, and they need a good story to broadcast.
Oh, and when your new Kentucky-loving media contact doesn’t use your story one time, it’s okay. Respect their right to choose the best story – because sometimes it’s just not the right fit or time.
This brings me to my next point, target someone who your story might actually make sense to, and be smart about it.
As a former editor-in-chief, I received numerous pitches a day. The ones that stuck out were not the 300-word, detailed story ideas, they were the short, direct and personal ones – A targeted, personal phone call or email that aligns with that reporter’s beat or topic of interest will go a long way for you.
And once you understand how to tell your story like a relational being who has done their homework, it’s time to follow up. Many pitches get buried in a reporter’s inbox, so make sure your story is top of mind without being pushy or forceful. That means, don’t call repeatedly. Send a follow up email later in the day with the charge that you will give them a call the next day or so to check in.
In addition, make their job as EASY as possible. Reporters often run around like chickens with their heads chopped off.
A longtime Indianapolis reporter told what a typical day looks like for her and other reporters. Most mornings she has no idea what story she will be submitting to her station that day. So when she is scrolling through her emails in the morning, she looks for the story idea that is both relevant and engaging to her audience and makes her life a little easier. That is, it is a huge bonus if you can offer up pictures and/or b-roll, interviews with a variety of people – because all news stories need to be well-rounded – and if you have a track record of being easily reachable.
While there are many other tips to offer up, these are the absolute basics. Be relational and respectful, create personal and targeted pitches, follow up, but don’t harass, and make a reporter’s job easy by covering as many of their needs as possible.