Earlier this year, we discussed reaching out to journalists as one of the most challenging factors for PR and communications professionals and provided tips for this process. Now, we’ve spoken with BIGfish PR Founder & CEO, and Emerson College PR Professor David Richard to discuss the tips and tricks of the outreach process in closer detail. BIGfish PR is an agency focused on media relations for B2C and B2B innovation, lifestyle, and technology brands.
On any given day, a professional journalist receives hundreds of emails containing pitches for stories that they should write or produce. Media coverage in any form is extremely valuable for those looking to generate awareness for their business or brand, which is why publicists and brand managers seek to connect with journalists who have the potential to cover their story.
How do you make your specific email stand out among the hundreds of other pitches?
David says that he encourages his students and team members to be empathetic and put themselves in each reporter’s shoes.
“The first thing that I tell my students and that I tell my team members is to think about what it’s like being that reporter and how do you break through all the noise coming at them daily. A good place to start is just to be a human, and not send a templated email or pitch.”
David said that common sense, such as ensuring that emails have the journalist’s correct name and information, surprisingly can go a long way in an industry flooded with mass-produced mail-merged pitches.
“Oftentimes I liken media relations to dating — you’re not going to get anywhere if you call the person you’re looking to ask out the wrong name.”
Another critical element of an outreach email is the subject line. How engaging, compelling, and clever your subject line is can determine whether a journalist opens your email and reads your pitch or moves it to the trash bin.
“The subject line is actually my favorite part of sending out a pitch. It is the equivalent for reporters — of being able to write your own headlines,” David explains. “It can be humorous, it could be punny, it can be shocking, it could be any number of different short and punchy string of words. Think of the subject line as a headline that’s sole purpose is to get the reporter on the receiving end of the email to want to see more, click on it and read the pitch.”
The next step of a successful pitch is crafting the contents of your email.
Congratulations! Your subject line was compelling and clever, and the journalist you’ve reached out to has opened your email. While it is impressive to have passed through this first hurdle given the avalanche of PR emails a journalist receives, the content of this email must once again stand out. David explains that it is vital to do prior research on these journalists through their previous reporting in order to make this email as .
“All you have to do is take a little bit of time to read and watch their news reporting and you’ll get a sense of the kind of stories they like, the kind of reporting they do,” David said. “How they connect with their audience, what their audience wants to see and hear, what they want to give their audience. There are so many tells that you can take from a reporter’s previous stories.”
While in depth research on one a myriad of different journalists may seem like an improper use of your time, David believes this process is worth it.
“It takes a little bit of time to do this, but the payoff is so much greater than sending the same pitch over and over to 500 people.”
Make sure to keep your outreach email short, direct and to the point. Not only will a busy journalist appreciate this, but a great story can very easily be lost with a bloated email.
Some things to keep in mind
Ultimately, David contends that working with a journalist to cover a certain story is somewhat of a “controlled fall” — while you can’t control what the journalist ultimately writes, you can put all of the right narrative and assets in their hands. Getting to the final step is difficult, but with a unique subject line, a well-informed and timely pitch, reaching out to the media can be a significantly less daunting task.
“The best you can do is get the story as bulletproof as possible and put it together in its various components on a silver platter, give it to the reporter, and sit back and trust that they’ll do their job. And the way that you trust that they will do their job is by looking at their previous reporting and knowing that they are a solid reporter and that they do put out really good work and that they are objective and not biased in their reporting.”