Gini Dietrich

Get Media Attention: Six Tips to Pitch Journalists on Your Own

By: Gini Dietrich | April 23, 2013 | 

Get Media Attention- Six Tips to Pitch Journalists on Your OwnWhen I began my career, like many of us, I was thrown into the deep end of the media relations pool.

The expectation, of course, was if I could create relationships with journalists, I’d eventually be able to do the same with the executives within our office, and finally with the executives at our client’s offices.

To do that (and to be seen as someone who was motivated, driven, and promotable), I spent many years cultivating relationships with journalists: Getting to know their beats, understanding what they would or wouldn’t cover, and even knowing when they celebrated their birthdays so I could send a card or cupcakes or booze.

And then 2008 hit. Newspapers folded, popular magazines went under, and a lot of my friends – those I’d known for more than 10 years – lost their jobs.

Suddenly the journalists who were left had to cover automakers, small business, and manufacturing…even though small business might have been their only beat previously.

They were too busy to take phone calls or go on media tours or even sit with you for an hour to talk about what you had upcoming.

And the role of a communications professional changed, when it came to media relations.

Get the Attention of Journalists

Almost exactly four years ago, Steve Strauss – the small business expert at USA Today – wrote an article called, “Should Entrepreneurs Twitter? Uh, No.

I read it with great interest, mostly because I had had amazing success using Twitter to build our brand.

In it, he detailed the four reasons entrepreneurs should not use Twitter. I very thoughtfully responded on his article and pointed out the four reasons they should use it…and the other social networks, too.

Because my comment was thoughtful and professional, he called me and we talked about social media, in general. About 30 minutes into the call, he asked if we could go on record.

What came of that conversation was, “Twitter for Small Business…Reconsidered.”

Because he’s like everyone else – swamped with little to no time to listen to pitches from PR professionals – he reads the comments on his articles to see if there is anything worth revisiting or diving into more deeply.

Pitch Journalists on Your Own

Hence, the response campaign was born.

It’s not a very creative title, but my team and our clients know what it means: Spend the time to read and respond to journalists and they’ll eventually add you to their Rolodex of trusted resources.

Here is a step-by-step process to create this magic for yourself:

  1. Choose one newspaper, magazine, or blog that makes a difference in your industry. It can be Wall Street Journal or it can be one of your trade publications. Choose just one.
  2. Once a week, comment on one article, blog post, or editorial. If you disagree, fantastic! Say so. But do it professionally. Being negative or criticizing without a solution isn’t helpful. Professional discourse is.
  3. Keep this up.
  4. After about six weeks, the journalist will feel like he or she is beginning to know you and will call you for a story in the works.
  5. Every quarter add another publication, so you have four that you focus on each year.
  6. Don’t be afraid to go after the big publications. If your expertise adds value to the stories they’re reporting, comment away!

If you are consistent and post intelligent comments once a week, you’ll soon have developed relationships with journalists who call on you when they need someone to interview.

Yes, it takes some time. Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, it requires that you keep up with your reading. But it works 100 percent of the time. Wouldn’t you rather do that than send a news release to 1,000 journalists and not get a single bite?

A version of this first appeared on Successful (and Outstanding) Blog(gers).

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • belllindsay

    Or boozy cupcakes.

    • belllindsay Or maybe just wine with the cupcakes? Booze in them sounds kinda gross.

      • belllindsay

        ginidietrich Boozy cake is heavenly!

  • I heart this.

    • Sean McGinnis That might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.

      • ginidietrich Sean McGinnis I better go to the hospital… Clearly something is urgently wrong with me.

  • Very nice Gini. This is something I’ve done as part of blogger relations but never thought of taking it further to journos. I always imagined they’d be to busy to listen to little old me, but it does make sense. I always read the comments on my blog (though they are few and far between nowadays).
    Be interesting to see how well this would work over a long period/few publications.

    • Andrew_Isidoro It really works well. Especially if you take the time to cultivate it, just like you would an offline relationship. If you try it, let me know how it works out!

  • Kato42

    I love this. I recently helped to teach a course, and as part of it, was helping students learn to pitch stories to the media. I read a LOT of articles about pitching searching for the best ones to share with them, but this approach is completely different from all of those articles, and is also kind of brilliant. Thanks for sharing, Gini!

    • Kato42 I think the difference is, lots of PR firms are still stuck in the old way of doing things. Lots of mass emailing news releases and spamming journalists. This approach works because a) it requires you to read what they’re writing and b) no one else is doing it.

  • Great article and advice, as usual, Gini.  This’ll work for us media buying types, too!  I am going to share also with my fellow Medill/Northwestern IMC grad student classmates while we’re all fretting over our blogging assignment.  Thanks for the great tips!

    • SusanMcLeod I’m so happy it was helpful! And thanks for stopping by. Good to see you!

  • Love it! That is all. 🙂
    Oh, and welcome back! I hope all is forgiven after my episode with Sean McGinnis!

    • lauraclick Sean McGinnis I’m just glad you saw the error of your ways.

      • ginidietrich lauraclick Sean McGinnis Wait wait. What error?

        • Sean McGinnis ginidietrich lauraclick Would this be an appropriate time to say “no comment”?! 😉

  • John_Trader1

    I like this “subtle pitch” approach. It’s not “in your face,” “disruptive,” or “brazen.” I like the fact that you kill multiple birds with one stone too – listening, engaging, adding value, pitching, etc. What I don’t like is when reporters ignore your (meaningful) comments after you have been diligently researching and writing intelligent responses for months. Does this mean that they aren’t worth pursuing or you should give them a gentle prod through some other means of communication?

    • John_Trader1 It means either they’re not paying attention (there are some journalists who believe they’ve had their say, post their article, and don’t read the comments), what you’re saying isn’t of interest to them, or they’re just too busy to use this approach to find contacts. At that point, you have to decide how important they are to your media relations plan and find another way to approach them. 
      But reading their stuff always, always, always will get you in the door…no matter which door you use.

      • John_Trader1

        ginidietrich This happens to me ALL the time in healthcare. Strangely, journalists there pay very little attention to the comments on their articles. It’s frustrating, especially when you bust tail to research and offer an intelligent response that adds value to the discussion.
        Thanks for the advice mon ami.

  • tnfletch

    Wonderful advice! As a communications professional a big part of our job is relationship building. The digital landscape has proven to be very tricky territory, even for those who are skilled in the art of relationships. I love this practical tip that is doable for anyone who is serious about making connections and building solid relationships. Thank you!

  • I love this advice. But then … you already knew that. Media relations takes time and persistence. It also takes courage.

    • KateFinley You remind me…I need to send you a note.

  • What a great step-by-step “how to” post ginidietrich. This will come in handy for so many people, who want to build out relationships  with journalists but don’t know where to start.

  • rdopping

    So, that’s how it’s done.

    • rdopping Not for you, though. For you it’s a different process.

      • rdopping

        That’s because I am “different”

  • Lara attended a session with Mitch Joel at NMX this year where he gave very similar advice for connecting with influencers – particularly those with large followings. The nice thing about social media is that it makes people who used to seem inaccessible without a great deal of effort become accessible. And I think the value of local media can’t be underestimated. We’ve had great success promoting Social Capital Conference within the Ottawa region through the local media channels. Social media extends our reach, but the core news starts in Ottawa.

    • Karen_C_Wilson Well, you know Mitch is my social media husband so it makes sense we’d agree. And speaking of the conference, I think the whole world is attending!

  • Nailed it.

  • This is absolutely wonderful!  I love the fact that you note that it’s a process that takes time.  It is rather difficult if you’re just starting out to really build relationships with journalists, and for someone who did not really know where to start, this is excellent for me!  Thank you!

    • sumnerj14 One of my favorite things is when a prospect comes to us and says, “We want to be in the NY Times tomorrow.” Um…even with relationships that doesn’t happen overnight Sorry.

      • ginidietrich sumnerj14 Exactly!  Although I may work a little magic from time to time, I am not a magician!

  • trontastic

    I love you for posting this. I was really on the fence about you until this. Now I heart you. Question, when you say choose a publication, do you suggest a single writer from said publication per quarter, or are you suggesting the possibility of multiple writers from the same place? As you know, I’m way too impatient to just work one at a time. Thoughts?..ready go…

    • Levi Wardell And here I thought our love for one another was sealed many years ago. So sad.
      Typically there is only one reporter at said outlet that would work for the kinds of things you need. But if you’re working with USA Today or NY Times or one of the other big guys, I think it makes sense to do this with more than one. It’s really less about the number of writers and more about what are you reading to stay up on your industry? Those are the people you want to start with.

  • I am not a communications person (I just like you people so I hang out here and soak up your interesting-ness). However, one of my side gigs is proofreading and editing. That sometimes leads to helping the author get the word out about their book. Some of your tips here relate to that — I stay up on the local journalists who have even a remote involvement in the reading community and try to establish a good connection with them so that when there is a book I want to mention or (more importantly) I want them to notice, it’s easy to approach them. My mother in law (one of my authors) is not on social media but she caught on quickly to the fact that you can’t just have a blurb in a newspaper anymore for something like a signing. I established a Facebook event. She sent out a lot of emails. I am sure that increased traffic and exposure. Thanks for these interesting thoughts!

    • biggreenpen When you edit, do you use a green big pen?

  • It is about building a relationship and establishing a level of trust. People don’t like to feel used. When you demonstrate that you value someone be it personally or professionally good things come for both of you.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Speaking of not liking to feel used, could you tell thejackb to take it down a notch? He’s really abusive.

  • Your second point is near and dear to my heart but I think you might be a tad too christen when you say…criticizing without a solution isn’t helpful…. My take: criticizing without a solution is just plain bitching and I don’t want to hear it

    • jdrobertson Well, our social media policy prevents us from swearing online so I couldn’t say it the way you did.

      • ginidietrich jdrobertson  I’m sorry it never occurred to me the offending word was/is obscene. I have always felt the reason profanity exists at all is because some people count themselves so superior the only way they can communicate is in language they feel rest of us can understand. Deliver me from that!

        • jdrobertson Ha! Not offensive at all. We just don’t allow it internally because we’re a client service business and you just don’t know who will find it offensive.

        • ginidietrich jdrobertson Interesting (co-incidental) you say that! Just last week I was speaking to a group of young people in a civics class and had this , in part, to say:
          is irrelevant to me how ridiculous or specious or insulting citizens may be in
          their attempt to communicate with their elected officials or their
          representatives – they are entitled by right of constituency. Conversely, the
          targeted official does NOT enjoy that right. Nor does he have the right to
          insult or belittle. His sole sworn obligation is to honestly and without
          insulting the dignity of the inquisitor answer his concerns or outright solve
          his problem.

  • My first “real” job at 17 as the “summer” editor of a small-town newspaper (yes, the editor took summers off) and several years later as the editor of another small paper proved to be the best training ground for news writing, covering a variety of topics, and developing an appreciation for journalists and the value of story. This made it much easier to understand and work with media contacts once I moved into PR. And this is one of my favorite posts ginidietrich. Excellent.

    • Word Ninja I can’t get past taking the summer off. That’s so funny!

      • ginidietrich Even funnier how I got the job… I was her waitress at lunch one day, and she found out I was a journalism student. She asked to see my writing, so I brought her a couple class assignments to read, and she hired me.

  • susancellura

    Very timely, Gini. I am trying to explain how to work with journalists to my younger colleagues, and this sums everything up perfectly! Thank you for sharing!

    • susancellura Thanks, Susan! Glad you thought so!

  • FollowtheLawyer

    Gini, I am so glad you wrote this post, particularly for its relevance to small businesses. In reality, a handful of media outlets — local and trade media — move the needle for small business lead gen and branding campaigns. This approach is eminently doable as part of a small business social marketing strategy.

    • FollowtheLawyer I feel like it’s doable, too and, you’re right, media are still natural influencers for organizations. Nice to see your face! Hope the blogging is going well in your sphere.

  • 4 years ago I did a big personal study on a silly little network called twitter. The basis of the study still holds true. The chances of your tweet being seen by your followers is really really really small. I bet I see 200 of the 8000 I get every day in my feed. 
    But then I started finding people I wanted to network with. And noticed some people I wanted to see what they shared. Some big names I stopped following. Brain Pickings (too many tweets for me). Brogan. Kawasaki. But I found some really sharp people that I could talk with. That sending a tweet is less intrusive than cold calling on the phone. Then it got fun. I remember when someone linked me here and we became friends over mocking Mashable (before I got banned from there). I think that was the big moment….psst! ginidietrich what are your thoughts of Mashable….expecting ‘Pete Cashmore is my hero Howie’ boy you let me down! LOL

    It is an amazing networking tool. I helped a client get friendly with media and get media mentions and reviews. That is why I wrote the Twitter is Sales Facebook is marketing post here on Le Spin De Sucks. 
    Not surprised you convinced that writer to change his mind. And this is a great post. Also proves you are more tactful than me. I would of started Tweeting and Linking that article telling everyone I know how crazy this writer is LOL

  • patmrhoads

    ginidietrich This is yet another great article. The step-by-step instructions are awesome. What I love most may be that I can see the deep truth in this – if you want journalists (or anyone else who’s really busy) to listen to you, you must dedicate the time to building a relationship. Everyone wants to be an expert, but only a few will take the time to professionally show their expertise in a non-pretentious way.

    • patmrhoads The non-pretentious is really the key. We get so stuck on our egos, we forget it really gets us nowhere.

      • patmrhoads

        ginidietrich Agreed!

  • “Choose. Once a week.. Be professional.. Keep it up.. After 6 weeks.. every quarter..” Sorry Ms. Gini, you clearly won the hearts of hard-working PR types everywhere, but you’ve already lost ’em. Seriously I can hear it in my head “What.. like I can’t just post ‘Good story.’ I have to actually read the story, then offer meaningful commentary? For weeks, months? For a chance to ‘pitch’ a story?!” would say almost every DIY marketer I’ve met. 
    I mean I LOVE this. It’s methodical, it shows all the work and details, the research and planning. All I can add is a #7: when you do pitch, skip the self-serving hype; have real news and expertise. It’s just.. I don’t know any ‘on your own’ types willing to work this hard. They want to move offices, repaint and add new carpet, call it a grand opening and expect the daily, weekly and TV news to show up w/ bells on. Sorry, don’t work that way.. it’s this, you have to $pend the time. FWIW.

    • 3HatsComm You’re 100% correct…and not many people are willing to do the hard work. I have a very good friend who says to me all the time, “I don’t get why you work this hard. Can’t you just find an easier way and be happy with the result?” I always just smile and nod at her, but what I want to say is, “I don’t get how you can be so lazy and be happy with the result.” Different strokes.

      • ginidietrich I’m all about working smarter more than harder, streamlining and simplifying. But cut too many corners, odds are it’ll show.

  • Culture_Content

    This was exactly what I needed ginidietrich. Thank you. You complete me.

    • Culture_Content Ahhhh. That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me!

  • Kimcan1

    Great thoughts here Gini – I am having trouble finding journalists here in Australia who are using Twitter in this way – but I am hoping its only a matter of time. As a PR professional, cold-calling a journo is so demoralizing – I like the way that Twitter can ‘even-out’ the relationship between the PR professional and the Journo – we both have something valuable to offer each other if there is a good relationship….

  • Bobby Rich

    FYI–first time visitor here. I only found you after following the link in this tweet:
    How a Two Sentence Email Became a Top News Story via

    • Bobby Rich I hope you enjoy the blog, Bobby!

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  • CommProSuzi

    Gini: I love this, particularly the bit about Twitter.
    I successfully used Twitter to pitch a television reporter in Canada, and it resulted in a lovely on air interview for a client this past January. I was stuck in the hotel room during a blizzard, so I turned on the local channel. And listened to the loop for a few rounds. The reporter asked for story ideas, so I took a shot!
    Give it a go! You never know what will resonate!

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