Five PR Tips From a Former Journalist

As traditional media outlets see more newsroom cutbacks, reporters are working harder and longer in the face of tightening budgets and increasing public skepticism. With fewer reporters bearing heavier workloads, you have to be savvy when trying to place your news and reports.

When I was a reporter a short time ago, nine out of every ten pitches I received ended up in my digital trash bin, for a variety of reasons.

Here are a few tips to make a better impression with reporters – and grab more coverage.

Develop a rapport

We’re not splitting the atom. People are more likely to interact with — and be more receptive to — people they’ve spoken with before.

Before you do anything, be sure to do your homework. This means having a working knowledge of reporters, news directors, editors and digital content managers – who they are and what they cover.

Once you’ve zeroed in on the people who might be interested in your pitch, reach out to them on the phone.

I know, nobody relishes phone interruptions. You know what else nobody relishes? Sifting through an inbox.

Put a voice with a name, and, if they’re local, consider asking them to grab a cup of coffee. They’re all busy and strapped for time, but if you make the right first impression, have something valuable to offer, and can work around their schedules, they may be willing to get to know you.

Don’t waste their time and get to know their deadlines

Time is a priceless asset for anyone in a deadline-driven industry, but especially for reporters, who work (and live) in a 24-hour news cycle that is also driven by the Internet.

So ask them to grab that cup of coffee in a low-pressure setting when you’re not pitching anything specific, and instead use it as an opportunity to learn more about what they need. Reporters are always looking for good sources and stories (and free coffee doesn’t hurt).

Make it quick, give them a business card, and stay in touch every few weeks.

When you do pitch them, don’t do it an hour before their evening deadline or at 3:30 p.m. on a Friday. This is a great way to get permanently banished to the “deleted items” section of their email.

Try to understand the places where reporters work — and tailor your pitches accordingly

Sometimes it’s not feasible to personally sit down with reporters, but always make the effort to speak with someone before pitching them for the first time.

Reporters are always looking for fresh angles and good reporters always try to include as many voices as possible in a story. If you’re in the food service industry, for example, pitch your story about your company’s efforts to reduce childhood obesity to a reporter in an area where obesity rates are prevalent.

If you’re a venture capital firm, don’t just pitch to business journals in big cities. Pitch smaller outlets about your efforts to spur investment in gateway, urban and rural areas.

Even if the reporter or editor says “thanks, but no thanks,” you’ve at least put yourself on their radar as a future resource, and sometimes that’s even better than one individual story.

When you pitch, write — and think — like a reader

In the last newsroom I worked in, we had a banner on the wall that said just that: “Think like a reader.”

You should always strive to do the same. When pitching, remember your reader is the gatekeeper and his or her audience may end up seeing a slightly reworded version of your press release in print.

These days, editors and journalists are always looking for low-hanging fruit they can turn around quickly for their outlet’s social media feeds, the next broadcast or the next day’s edition.

Send the pitch first thing in the morning and list the most relevant information in bullet points. Write it tight, spare the flowery language and give them a number where they can reach you. This will make a reporter’s job easier and the editors happy — and it’ll make that reporter even more likely to talk to you in the future.

Don’t get discouraged if reporters don’t write back

Reporters today are all trying to squeeze a dollar out of 15 cents and an extra 15 minutes out of every hour.

Some days, it is not humanly possible to file two or three stories and respond to every email and phone call. There’s only one Clark Kent.

Become familiar with the work of the reporters you’re pitching and keep up to date with their content. Have a good story ready for them when they need it.

By following these tidbits, you can strengthen your relationships with the media – and get some solid press in the process.