Gini Dietrich

Three Ways to Pitch Journalists—and Get Results

By: Gini Dietrich | February 7, 2017 | 

Pitch JournalistsMy email inbox is a testament to the fact that many PR professionals are equating busy-ness (the ways they pitch journalists through sheer numbers) with working hard at their jobs.

If only it were that simple!

Here’s the thing—most of the pitches we receive for Spin Sucks are ice cold.

They’re from someone we don’t know, and whom none of us have seen interacting with our community.

It’s incredibly rare these folks hear back from any of us.

(Although, I did once respond to an account executive, mostly because I could tell she was doing someone else’s bidding. And then we became friends. And that was awesome.)

If you’re pitch journalists with an ice cold email without building relationships with them first, you’re wasting your time.

When their inbox is overflowing with emails, they’re going to scan for names they know.

They scan for subject lines that show the sender knows them and what they’re interested in editorially.

Even with a great media list and media database, this level of connection takes time.

Unfortunately, it’s no longer practical or often even possible to wine and dine your favorite influencers to butter them up.

(It was a sad, sad day when the advertising columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times told me he was no longer allowed to meet me for coffee, even if we each paid for our own. Sad.)

So, without coffee dates and cocktail hours to fall back on, how can you build those relationships?

Prioritize Your Influencers

Although your or your client’s influencer wish list might be pretty long, you can realistically only focus on building strong relationships with a small number at any given time.

How do you decide who to approach first?

Consider who is actively engaging on social or to those who reply to comments left on their articles or posts.

If you prioritize a reporter who uses their social channels only as a one-way distribution feed for their content, it’s going to be significantly more difficult to catch their attention.

It’s much, much easier with those who actually use social media to, well, be social.

Conduct an Ongoing Engagement Campaign

Today’s journalists are often compensated in whole or in part based on the level of engagement their content generates.

That’s why engaging with a journalist’s content is a great way to get on their radar.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Identify a newspaper, magazine, or blog that makes a difference in your industry. Who is the one journalist who most frequently writes pieces in which you’d like to be mentioned?
  • Each week, comment thoughtfully on one piece of content by this journalist. It’s OK if you disagree, as long as you do so professionally and back up your points. Take time to write a comment that provides value to the readers of the post, while at the same time showing your subject matter expertise.
  • Keep this up every week. After a couple of months, your name will become familiar to the journalist, and you may finally receive a call from them regarding a story in the works.
  • Every quarter add another publication, so you have four that you focus on each year.
  • Don’t be afraid to go after the big publications. If your expertise adds value to the stories they’re reporting, comment away!

Amplify Their Content

When a journalist writes a piece of content you wish your organization or client had been included in, make a point of sharing that content on your brand channel.

As a bonus, this demonstrates you value their expertise and reporting and you are providing your community with valuable content that helps them with their day-to-day business.

In addition to retweeting or re-sharing updates the journalist posts on social media, curate and share links to their content that you can post with your own commentary.

By showing you have interest and expertise in an area they are actively writing about, you considerably increase your chances of being on the reporter’s short list for interviews the next time the topic comes up.

Building strong relationships with reporters takes time, but social media gives you unprecedented access and insight into what they need from PR pros.

Commit to taking the time to build a relationship that will last and you just might be surprised at the long-term benefits you can accrue.

Now it’s Your Turn: How Do You Pitch Journalists?

I know many of you have had really good luck with earned media, particularly when you use this approach to pitch journalists.

Perhaps you’ve worked with Michael Smart or you’ve had a really good mentor who taught you the correct way.

Or you have just rolled up your sleeves and taught yourself.

In any case, I’d love to hear some of your tips to get results from your hard work.

A version of this (minus my snarky comments) first appeared on the PRSA blog.

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. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • John Trader

    Great post Gini, thanks for the tips. Increasingly, more news outlets are closing off their comments so it’s not possible to leave a thoughtful note on their posts. Any suggestions on how we combat this?

    • Meghan S

      Try Twitter. More often than not, they’ll share their stories on Twitter. Share & respond to that tweet there. I’ve found on Twitter journalists are apt to start a conversation there.

      • John Trader

        That’s practical – thanks! It can be a tad frustrating when you search for them on Twitter, and they aren’t there which is apparently quite common in the healthcare industry, my main area of focus.

        • For you, Trader, you might actually have best luck with phone and email. I have a client who is in that space and that’s how she gets their attention. Sometimes old school works best.

          • John Trader

            Thank you!

  • Edward M. Bury

    My strategies center on: Being selective in relation to the media being targeted; and making sure the nature of the pitch is timely and relevant. In terms of tactics, I send very brief — 150 word — messages via email with links to news content posted on our website.

    • Brief is ideal. No one does more than scan anymore.

  • YES! “Even with a great media list and media database, this level of connection takes time.”
    It is NOT just about pulling a list from a database and pushing out a bazillion releases . The really sad part is that seasoned pros are not guiding and teaching young pros the “correct” process. 🙁

    • I know. It makes me sad. I can’t decide why that is, either. You and I can both remember a time where we had to actually pick up the phone and call journalists. So we do know better.

  • Paul J Kelly

    Excellent post!

    I grew up in a family of salesmen. My father sold steel for 35 years. One brother sold pension plans for 25 years. The other brother has sold lumber for 30 years.

    I saw the importance of relationships on a human level in sales for my entire childhood and young life. My father knew his clients’ kids names. He and my mother went out to dinner with the client and his wife or husband. My dad remembered birthdays and sent cards, etc.

    It’s no different in PR; that ethos works. Even in this world of apps and tech, PR is still a relationship business.

    Using digital tools to develop relationships on a human level is just as important in PR as building a fact-filled infographic, measuring campaign metrics, using social media for targeted audiences and writing a bright, tight press release. None of those proper elements of a PESO-based campaign will develop as much traction as possible without a foundation based on strong personal and professional relationships.

    • I. Love. This. Might you be interested in expanding this comment into a blog post?

      • Paul J Kelly

        Of course! I would be honored! You just hatched a butterfly colony in my stomach! 🙂

        • I hope you put that phrase “butterfly colony” in the blog post! 🙂 You’ll hear from Erika or Corina on this. Thank you!!

          • Paul J Kelly

            Will do. Thank you! And now the lyric “And butterflies are free to fly” from Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” will rattle around my brain for the rest of the day. 🙂

          • paulakiger

            Canva has butterflies right (for the image)?

  • Such common sense actions, and yet…

  • Great post Gini. I will be implementing these tips immediately.

  • paulakiger

    Remember the guest post you had a few weeks or so ago about how audiences shouldn’t be “friends” with reporters & journalists? While of COURSE there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed, interacting with them outside of times when we need something from them (or vice versa) creates a rapport that comes in really handy when we actually do need them.

    • I used to tell the sales guys who worked for a client of ours that they absolutely could not go to the hotel bar at a trade show and sit and talk with the journalists, as if they’re not on the clock. One guy got the company in so much trouble because he was gossiping and it made it to the trade publication. Sigh.

  • Mark Simko

    I prefer snarkiness

  • These are all good points. Here are three other points that I would make:

    1) Think about non-traditional ways to bring value to a journalist while also building relationships. So as opposed to pitching a story to journalist, one could think about reverse engineering and instead ask to interview a journalist. The reality is that brands are media organizations, and some reach significant audiences. On my niche little podcast, I interviewed a senior editor from Harvard Business Review, the editor in chief of Yahoo Finance and the CMO editor for Forbes. I have maintained contact since then with these individuals and they certainly will remember me by having spent 25 minutes conducting an interview with me in which I put the spotlight on them. At the same time, I tried to position myself to them as a knowledgeable communicator who would only send them relevant stories related to their editorial priorities.

    2) On several occasions, I have invited journalists to participate as speakers in events, both when I was working full-time at a business school and also in running my own business. Again, there is a different value proposition involved as opposed to the hundreds of pitches a journalist might receive offering some expert for analysis on a topic.

    3) Make it a point to discover when journalists are speaking at different events and attend in person. I don’t live in a big media city, yet many prominent journalists come to speak at different events in my area. It is great to attend such events, tweet about their activity and if the opportunity presents itself, meet the journalists in person.

    • I LOVE these ideas, Kevin! We should turn this into a guest blog post. You and Paul Kelly are killing it in the comments on this one.

      • Thanks for the feedback, Gini! I would be delighted to flesh out some of these ideas in a bit more detail for a guest post.

  • Laide Akao

    Great post and thank you for the insight! As a publicist I feel that sometimes coffee dates are no longer working. This approach is new and will definitely catch an editor and/or writers attention. Thank you for this! I am going to share this article with my the staff at my PR firm!

  • As a T.V and radio producer/editor I could always tell when someone has taken the time to figure out what I need. Now I teach entrepreneurs how to pitch journalists and I ALWAYS stress research and building relationships. Know who you are pitching and what they need. I think it is essential to remember it isn’t really about you… when you pitch the media it should always be about being of service to the journalist and how together you can deliver great stories/content for the audience.

  • Eli Glancy

    As a student learning the ways of the industry you always hear about the importance of networking. Networking to not only make shareable content but also networking that might actually help you get a job one day. Not until recently have I learned the importance of blogging and how helpful it can be to help make those valuable connections. Reading through the comments also intrigued me because of how important relationships still are today even in a world of technology. People talk about how there are breakdowns in relationships today because of technology but, to hear that they are still such an integral part of the business is exciting to me because I enjoy interacting with others.

    • You’re already a few steps ahead of your competition, Eli. Commenting on an industry blog will definitely help you network yourself into a job!