People looking to start their career in public relations are enticed by the glitzy peak of the industry, with its glossy campaigns, frenetic pace and fancy lunches. However, be prepared for the hard work that goes into getting your work wherever you want it to appear. Pitching news stories to the media is one of the key responsibilities of people in this industry and you need stellar communications skills to survive.
You’ve picked up the phone and you’re probably scared. A daunting list of names is written in front of you and you have to convince these people to publish a story about the new ingredient in your shower gel. What do you do?
Hopefully, most of the hard work has already been done. Preparation really is the key when pitching PR stories to the media. You need a good story, one with robust data, which is newsworthy and insight-driven. It doesn’t just obsess over your company’s minor comings and goings. Like any piece of marketing, it should exist because your audience wants to read it, not because your Chief Executive wants to send it.
You need a full suite of assets to deploy when required. Most importantly, you need a solid press release. If it doesn’t say version five somewhere, it hasn’t been read enough. You need the extras – the media friendly photography, video, valuable content like tips, guides and offers, case studies and spokespeople – all ready to go.
Master the technical vocabulary that the industry is steeped in, so that you can learn to speak without jargon when you can. Learn about sell-ins, embargos, exclusives.
Your media list is your most powerful weapon. Tools like Gorkana can help you refine it with any imaginable filter, from geography, audience, sectors and publication type, so there is no excuse for a generic and bland contact sheet. Prioritise the publications you genuinely have a shot with and personalise your emails to them.
Only then, is it time to pick up the phone and start the most intimidating part of the process. You will be nervous. Particularly when you start out, but it probably never truly goes away.
Condense your story into a five second soundbite, because that is all you have to make them understand. Don’t be technical and tell a human story. This should help you avoid the dreaded PR slush pile. Make sure you personalise every approach you make, by getting to know their niche and name-dropping some of their most relevant, recent pieces.
If someone on a national newsdesk is rude or abrupt, then engage your empathy and appreciate their workload, deadlines and saturation with stories like yours. Use wire services as a last resort to pump your stories out into the ether. Monitor services like ResponseSource where journalists are actively looking for expert comment, free products, or an unusual angle on a story.
Media has changed. This gives you more opportunities (and work) than ever before. Personal relationships with journalists are key to helping your brand cut through the noise. Take a journalist on a press trip and have a good time with them. Spot them a free lunch now and again to catch up without the hard sell. The dream is to be on text terms with journalists because these are the people that will pull through for you when you need them most.
Everything has changed now. Pitching to the media can now mean working collaboratively with a news outlet on an advertorial or sponsored content. It means cultivating a relationship with key influencers and giving them experiences that genuinely mean something to them. Use social media to pitch stories intelligently and sensitively, without blurring the professional and personal boundaries that we need to hold on to.
Best of all, work somewhere where your stories are interesting enough for the media to come to you.